"In just the seven months since the stock market began to plummet, the recession has aimed its death ray not just at the credit market, the Dow and Detroit, but at the very ethos of conspicuous consumption. Even those with a regular income are reassessing their spending habits, perhaps for the long term. They are shopping their closets, downscaling their vacations and holding off on trading in their cars. If the race to have the latest fashions and gadgets was like an endless, ever-faster video game, then someone has pushed the reset button."
Although many people are confident that this turn away from conspicuous consumption will end when the economy rebounds (these people are the same ones who are confident that the economy will magically return to its pre-2008 ways), others see this shift as more permanent: "To many, the adjustment feels less like a temporary, emergency response than a permanent recalibration, one they view in terms of ethics rather than expediency."
Whatever the global economic future may bring, the current recession/depression brings into sharp relief the relationship between the credit bubble and the nation's response to the catastrophic attacks of 9/11. The Times article takes note of the much-ridiculed advice of George W. Bush that Americans should respond to 9/11 by going shopping. The reason for this advice is that 9/11 produced both a security crisis and a economic one. In the weeks following 9/11 the stock market suffered tremendous losses, unprecedented until the current crisis. What now becomes clear is how this frantic shopping spree, which spread like wildfire from retail shopping at the mall to car leases and sales to domestic and commercial real estate--all of which was financed by credit that buyers could not afford--functioned as a collective affective response to the dual shocks of 9/11, an attempt to protect the US public from having to face the real possibility that such shocks (to our nation's security and to its economy) could happen again.
As I have been arguing since 2003, the attacks of 9/11 intensified a shift in the temporal logic of mediation in US and global media--particularly in the print, televisual, and networked news media but also in info-tainment media as well. Increasing almost exponentially in the run-up to the Iraq War, US and global news media began to focus less on reporting the actual news of the immediate past and more on pre-mediating the potential news of the near- and long-term future. This premediation manifested itself initially in the run-up to the Iraq War, where for more than a year before its commencement, the print, televisual, and networked news pre-mediated its execution in as many possible variations as news reporters, ex-military commentators, and government officials could imagine. The aim of this premediation, I have argued, was in large part to try to ensure that the US public would not be caught unaware as it had been on 9/11, would not have to suffer the same kind of collective media trauma that the attacks on 9/11 provoked. Premediation functioned as the media logic of the Bush doctrine of preemption, particularly insofar as the Bush administration used premediation of additional terrorist attacks to frighten the American public into accepting a regime of securitization that threatened many of the fundamental civil liberties on which the nation was founded.
What is now becoming clear is how the Bush credit bubble followed the same temporal logic of premediation, through the proliferation of positive, rather than negative, scenarios. As we now know, the credit frenzy of the post-9/11 years (including the lengthy bull market that eventually succeeded the post-9/11 crash) was sustainable only in the face of a future in which housing prices continued to rise, in which capital appreciation never ended. Where security officials stoked the public's fears by premediating the possibility of additional terrorist attacks on American soil, financial officials stoked the public's hopes by premediating the possibility of an endless appreciation of capital and real estate values, literally of the economic value of American soil.
What may now also be coming clear is that, just as we had been living in a post-9/11 credit bubble, we have been living in a post-9/11 security bubble--fueled by preemption and fear rather than appreciation and hope. In other words, after 9/11 premediation in the US media took a double affective road, simultaneously fostering among the American public security fears and economic hopes. Both affective states were contagious, and both functioned to orient the US public to a rosier future in which the economic and security shocks of 9/11 would never happen again.
We have now seen that such hopeful economic premediation could not succeed forever in maintaining the subprime credit bubble. It seems only inevitable that it will not be long until the post-9/11 security bubble suffers a similar fate.