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Recession Porn: A Hard Spot for Soft Times

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The New York Times just dutifully explained how entry-level workers in the fine-art auction world -- perky, white sorority types/trust-fund girls -- are weathering the recession. One girl chirps that she doesn't mind that Christie's has substituted lavish catered soirees for potluck suppers.

The recession has hidden benefits for these lowly-paid art-world girls -- "social correction," which puts them "on more equal footing with their friends working -- or formerly working -- on Wall Street." The penetrating expose is a howler, just the type of unwitting toady-to-the-rich comedy that NYT excels at.

White-collar types can recite a bevy of unexpected "blessings" unleashed by this recession. "I get to reconnect with my family now that I lost my job." "Oh, the kids actually love public school!" "Adversity enriches my spiritual practice." "Coach-class fits the Obama zeitgeist." "This is just the incentive to get our finances in shape and learn to live within our means."

OK, now that we have enjoyed the obligatory pleasantries and dispensed with the mawkish, existential benefits of the economic horror, we can get down to business and discuss the more nitty-gritty, less pious perks to this nasty downturn.

Interviews I conducted nationwide reveal just how other Americans are braving the recession:

* "Buying a home might become affordable again," says Barry Heckard, an IT specialist at Time, Inc., not even half-joking.

* "You find that $13 bottle of wine you bought last week is just as good as the $30 bottle of wine you bought last year," Sara Bardin, a 37-year old DC zoning specialist, dryly notes.

* "Employment law is cyclical," says Lynne Davis, one of those fortunate (or savvy enough) to work in a mostly recession-proof industry. The 38-year old L.A. attorney is a partner at Employment Matters Counseling & Consulting LLP, an all-female firm. "Companies are hiring in good times and firing in bad times, so employment lawyers tend to keep busy regardless of the economy: I am counseling companies now on layoffs and downsizing strategies, and counseling executives on separation agreements and severance packages."

* "I take a flask around with me so that I don't waste money on tea/ coffee, and only eat food prepared at home," says Sukhdev Sandhu, an NYU professor and chief film critic for the Daily Telegraph. "Result? I have saved almost $300 in slightly more than a fortnight, and have lost more than 12 pounds in weight."

Besides a wooly, overgrown Afro (fewer haircuts) and a tricked-out H&M overcoat (Barney's is on stand-by), I'll now cop to another silver lining to the recession, one that is often swept under the rug: Recession Porn.

You'll notice your friends, co-workers, or spouses obsessively doing it. They're checking out Recession Porn in all its sundry glory. Eyes ogle the plummeting NADASQ figures. On any given weekday, the bigger the market swing, the hotter the payoff. Pulses quicken. Eyelashes twitch. Lurid details beckon, from the $50-billion assets lost by Madoff Securities (headquartered in the Lipstick Building) to the pulsating news announcing which financial institution is on the verge of bringing an other to its knees. Pay closer attention: you may catch loved ones in the act.

"Like real porn, the economic variety gives you the illusion of control, and similarly it only leaves you hungry for more," writes Hugo Lindgren in the last issue of New York magazine, outing himself as an "econo-porn" hound. "Econo-porn feeds a powerful sense of intellectual vanity," he reveals. "You walk the streets feeling superior to all these heedless knaves who have no clue what's coming down the pike. By making yourself miserable about the frightful hell that awaits us, you feel better. Pessimism can be bliss too."

The article's tagline is "a soft spot for hard times." It should have been a hard spot for soft times. Quelle jouissance.

I contacted Lindgren to follow-up on his tantalizing NY Mag missive: What other Econo-Porn can the connoisseur recommend?

He informs me by email:

Oh geez, there's tons. I like Paul Kedrosky's Infectious Greed. Very smart guy and he's totally in love with doomsday. Barry Ritholtz at the Big Picture isn't afraid to let a little sunshine in, but he can go dark, too. But my all time favorite is this weekly newsletter called Greed & Fear. I think clients pay a lot of money for it. It's written by a guy named Christopher Wood who lives in Hong Kong. His main theme is that the Asian growth economies are going to take over, which is a fairly conventional view, but he puts a hard edge on it, and he believes the US and the UK are in major, major trouble, in our case because of the coming "debasement" of the dollar. To him, there's no dirtier, more vile term than "Western financials.

Well, it turns out that I haven't saved any money forgoing haircuts. All those Aveda products required to make my Afro look kinky and unkempt (conditioners, elixirs, moisturizers) cost a pretty penny.

Meantime, I have nakedcapitalism.com, my own favorite Recession Porn. A favorite of Lindren's also, he singles out Naked Capitalism as "good for a bolt of learned dread."

As one gadfly respondent to Lindgren's article also points out, "In this type of porn, you are watching YOURSELF being f*cked."