It hasn't been a good week for what is sometimes referred to metonymically as "the street." Is Depression just around the corner? Perhaps! But with great economic downtowns come great cultural possibility, and if it takes the collapse of the Chinese manufacturing bubble, the dollar, Web 2.0, and VH1 Classics to give the two-year-old Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition a reason for being, then we are ready to do our part and stand in a breadline or two. Indeed, with the Dow downward spiraling and the post-Greenspan, post-nation-state Fed floundering, this week's WSJ Pursuits section hits on such grandeur and tragedy that it might well mark the birth of a novel expressive form; magic realism for the MBA caste.
Of course, at the heart of every coping-mechanism fantasy is the impossible escape. For tens of months, now, the nobly savage Neverland Shangri-la for depressed New Yorkers has been Philadelphia—a town, we hear, that's only a magic-carpet Acela ride away and basically has no cost of living.
But step aside, failed t-shirt-designers, the traders are coming through! On P6 (that's page 6 of Pursuits for the uninitiated), the "Power Table: Where the Business Elite are Dining" column-infographic profiles Le Bec-Fin, a French place at "1523 Walnut Street." Disbelief is suspended; logical inconsistencies elided. That is to say, Philadelphia has a business elite? Ditto, power?
We can only assume that conscientious Journal writers are trying to telegraph warning of the impending crash to the 401(K) hoi polloi: to wit, this "Le Bec-Fin" apparently features a "mussels la Spain," named after alleged Philly business elite-ist Bernie Spain, who made his fortune, such as it is, by selling his Dollar Express chain to rival Dollar Tree. (One suspects that dollar stores are ideal investments in times of catastrophic deflation.)
Meanwhile, over on P9, Eric Felton's "How's Your Drink?" column conducts a New Historicist reading of the Bloody Mary. Fascinating stuff—despite a rather unsavory predilection for abreving the drink as "Bloodies," Felton's archeology nicely uncovers the alcoholic's gazpacho in its intended form: no ice, no horseradish, no celery. But one can't help but notice that the tone's a bit off, what with the NEAR-CONSTANT INVOCATION OF MASSIVE HUMAN SUFFERING. Taking it from the top:
"The Tehran meeting of F.D.R., Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin in 1943 was at times a bloody-minded affair—in the strategy discussed and the cocktails consumed. Stalin suggested executing 50,000 to 100,000 German officers once the war was won.... Churchill argued that war criminals should be tried and get their due, but political mass executions were right out. The rest of the conference, Stalin needled Churchill repeatedly, insinuating that he harbored a secret love of Germans.... I like to think that Churchill—who oversaw every last detail for this birthday party that night—chose the drink with a purpose. Could it be that Churchill was getting in a sly dig at the man he toasted that night as "Stalin the Great" by serving the dictator a drink sanguineous in name and appearance, with a Russian spirit at its core?"Yes, that is the blood of Gulag martyrs you're using to wash down the eggs Benedict.
It's a similar story elsewhere in the paper: beer that's always already flat (P1), the technology-driven "de-skilling" of professional golf (P7), the ongoing miscegenation of couture and pr t- -porter (P3).
In good times, the wacky doings in the weekend WSJ just read like run-of-the-mill conspicuous consumption. But as the indicators turn gloomy, Pursuits seems to be morphing into something altogether more interesting; nowhere else is nihilism this brutal.