Every year, Fortune magazine publishes a list of the 500 largest U.S. companies. North American executives and businessmen go to the newspaper kiosk every month to search for their names in the pages of this financial magazine. Numbers are more important than people. The more your benefits increase, the more you sell, the more you produce, the more your assets will grow and the likelier your name is to appear in the list. It doesn’t matter how you treat your employees or how many you fired. It doesn’t matter if you don’t pay overtime or if you threaten them with throwing them out. It doesn’t matter if you violate customer rights or if you moved your business activity to Mexico to take advantage of its lack of labor and social legislation. The point is to make more money and to have bigger numbers than your rivals. Then you’ll appear in Fortune list.
The magazine editors (owners of a media empire including CNN, several T.V. channels, Warner Brothers and other publications, such as People and Time) commissioned the cover for the May issue from the well-known cartoonist Chris Ware, author of the graphic novel “Jimmy Corrigan, the smartest kid on Earth”. Ware created a cover intended to be a portrait of the profound economic crisis that is taking place in the United States and to incorporate its main characters, those who caused it and its victims.
On his cover, the 500 figure consists of three huge skyscrapers placed right on the United States map. On the flat roof, several executives dance and drink, celebrating, while a few helicopters rescue money from the Federal Fund, millions of dollars that will go to bail out banks that went down because of the excesses of those who dance. In this portrait, we also find homes whose tenants have been evicted, acres occupied by toxic assets and the Advanced Paycheck Office named after Milton Friedman, one of the neoliberalist theoreticians. As this comic artist takes a look outside the borders and beyond the wire fences, we can find an “exploitation factory,” as it reads on the sign of a facility that could perfectly well be one of the many North American companies that have recently settled down there in order to exploit Mexican employees “legally.” And Guantanamo inmates are not forgotten, either.
Finally, Ware presented to the editors a harsh picture of twenty-first century capitalism, a severe vision of a crisis lived as a party by those who created it in the first place, and that is causing a lot of pain and suffering to its victims. A portrait that would be poorly accepted by the regular magazine readers. So censorship showed up and all this was stopped. The author of “Jimmy Corrigan, the smartest kid on Earth” was being a clever clogs. And, after all, his work won’t be on the cover of the May issue. Instead, the cover will be the image of three ingots that represent the 500 figure, but no partying executives, no exploited employees, no evicted tenants and no money used to give a solution to the financial excesses. Daniel Pelavin is believed to be the author of this new and official cover, but that golden and glamorous number could have been done by a toddler randomly pressing a few computer keys.
What has happened to the Fortune cover is a perfect reflection of what’s going on right now in the world. Most of the media are giving us the Fortune editors’ version of the crisis: numbers without human faces, no one to blame, no victims. We are told either to keep working hard, or to resign ourselves to being unemployed. Our goal is to get those ingots back again. We must go back to the path of economic growth and, in order to get there, “unpopular measures have to be taken.” It’s the statement we hear all the time these days from the economic and political right wing. We hear it from Díaz Ferrán (Spanish employers’ leader), Mariano Rajoy (Spanish conservative party leader), Paulino Rivero and José Manuel Soria (Spanish politicians)… The members of President Zapatero’s cabinet present themselves as the good cop, declaring that “not even a single social right is going to be cut,” while other big shots, such as the president of Banco de España (Spain’s financial regulatory state institution) or the minister of Labor, are backing the labor legislation reform or suggesting that citizens get a private pension plan.
Those media that inform us about Chris Ware being censored are the same ones that fiercely support the Fortune editors’ ideas. Let me remind you for a second about the huge scandal that hit us when some European newspapers decided to censor comic strips where Muhammad was being caricatured. The editors were scared of being victims of Islamist attacks. Fortune just censored a cover where capitalism is caricatured, a hard to assimilate reality bite. But this time, the fundamentalists are the very Fortune editors, who deep down are very much like the Islamists. The former refused to publish a critical picture of capitalism; the latter couldn’t accept the publication of the Muhammad strips. All fundamentalists are like peas in a pod; they can’t stand seeing their gods exposed.