The Big Issue : Edition 499
culture police Fiona Scott-Norman THE BIG ISSUE 27 NOV – 10 DEC 2015 25 ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY FOR A CARDIGAN? CENTS AND SENSIBILITY them. Government corruption. The routine poisoning of rivers and waterways by corporations who could care less about their toxic waste. We have put money on a pedestal above all life, which is, frankly, a sub-optimal way to run a planet. Factories collapse in Bangladesh. Indonesia is still burning. BP sought permission to mine in a whale-breeding sanctuary. And when the Commonwealth Bank took over BankWest it allegedly fabricated defaults on loans to some of that bank’s customers for its own financial gain. Then there’s Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical company CEO who, before backing down, raised the price of a medication used to treat a parasitic infection – potentially deadly to HIV patients and others with weak immune systems – from US$13.50 to US$750 a pill. Who are these people? The costs of aspiring to Scrooge McDuck status are legion. I know it’s tricky to raise sympathy for Gina Rinehart, but her family has appeared to eat itself alive over money. It’s horrible, and happens all the time. What’s that joke? Where there’s a will, there are relatives knifing each other over the inheritance? There are advantages to being an only child. Early in November, the Murdoch Press published a finance article that listed the five money questions you should never ask your friends. Four of them were: “How much do you earn?” “How much money do you owe?” “How much do you spend on your vices?” And, “How much did you pay for that?” I couldn’t disagree more if they advised virgin sacrifice. The article’s basic thrust was: It’s really awkward to find out people earn more or less than you, or admit how much you pay for things. Don’t make people uncomfortable. Bollocks. It’s the secrecy and shame around money that’s the problem. We do appalling things for money, because we’re not open about what we have or where it came from. We’re ashamed about having too little, and, maybe we should be ashamed of having too much. And if you’ve just spent $200,000 on a cardigan – trust me on this – you have too much. IN DISCONCERTING NEWS recently, Kurt Cobain’s stained, cigarette-burned olive green cardigan sold at auction in America for almost A$200,000. The buyer is undisclosed at time of writing, and I’m presuming it’s due to shame. I’ve had buyer’s remorse myself (like when I’ve purchased yet another stunning vintage coat that’s too tight across the shoulders). And if anything’s likely to wake me in a cold sweat, it’s realising I’d just blown a fifth of a million bucks on a shapeless acrylic/mohair knit whiffing of stale sweat and despair. Two hundred grand, up against the wall. Yes, I know it’s Kurt Cobain’s cardigan, as worn during his legendary ‘Unplugged’ performance five months before he died. But let’s acknowledge that he was no David Bowie; an exhibition of Kurt Cobain’s stage wardrobe could be replicated by rummaging in a Salvation Army dumpster. I have nothing against Cobain. He was a brilliant musician, but it’s bizarre to drop almost $200,000 on a dirty cardie. For the same chunk of change, the Fred Hollows Foundation could save the sight of 8000 people. No biggie. With that kind of dosh sloshing around, what kind of douche-canoe chooses the cardigan? I caught Casino Royale the other night: the 2007 James Bond-film starring Daniel Craig. As per usual, there was fun and violence galore, but the plot required a large number of people to be murdered, or go to their deaths, over $150 million (just under A$210 million). Or, to put it in another metric, more than 1000 stained Kurt Cobain cardigans. As I get older, I understand money less and less. Not so much the making of it – as my comprehension of that black art drifts along at the exact same low-water mark. What perplexes me is how possessing scads of cash absolves folk from basic humanity. Not everyone, of course, and hats off to philanthropists. But it’s pretty clear that when money is used as the scale to measure worth, values distort like they’ve been run through a Photobooth filter. Poor people are viewed as a resource to exploit, and those who’ve accrued big bucks feel entitled to deep-fry $100 notes as novelty canapes, and serve them on a leather platter made from the last white rhino. Mankind’s rap sheet of atrocities committed in the name of money is bleak and as long as time. Slavery, for starters. Ivory. Blood diamonds. Child labour. Blankets with smallpox in » To donate to the Fred Hollows Foundation, go to hollows.org. For virtually more FSN visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her @FScottNorman.