“W” magazine drops into a world of hurt

The waiting room in the community mental health center of Gary, Ind. features the accessories common to places where poor people go for treatment: a sign instructing all to register with the security guard; a row of art-therapy paintings hanging crooked which nobody ever bothers to straighten; patients from the residential program shuffling aimlessly, muttering; out-patients slumping in worn chairs, waiting for their appointed sessions with overworked therapists and harried social workers.

It’s not the kind of place one expects to find a copy of the glossy, couture fashion magazine “W.”

It looked obscene lying there all shiny on a scuffed table, with a cover picture of blond actress January Jones in a designer bathing suit, now surrounded by the overweight poor, the hopeless poor, the self-destructive poor and the needy poor.

This particular issue was devoted to DESIGN NOW – “The World’s Richest Man Builds a Museum” and “At Home with Fashion Darling Alexander Wang.” None of the waiting clients, clad in worn items from thrift-store dollar bins, seemed interested enough in the magazine’s self-proclaimed World of Style to pick it up and thumb through it.

They missed the diamond-necklace ad from Cartier with the tagline, “All about you forever.” They didn’t see fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy posing in his palatial Paris apartment while talking about “that moment in life where all you want is a simple room with two or three things in it.” This was right when he auctioned off $20 million of antiques from his collection.

I can imagine the reaction from those in the waiting room: “Uh-huh, I know jus’ what the man mean, I got so much shit layin’ around, me and the kids and the grandbabies can’t hardly move ‘thout trippin’ over it.”

Page after expensively produced page showed must-haves such as a bracelet of 18k gold, black jade, pearls and diamonds for $48,500 , a dress for $3,025 or a darling little clutch for $2,000.

Whoever brought that magazine into the community mental health center had ripped off the part of the cover containing the address label, probably to protect her privacy. It’s doubtful she gave any thought to the cruelty of leaving that celebration of wretched excess among the merely wretched.



Liu Xiaobo, a human rights activist in China serving 11 years for subversion, won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize while imprisoned.

Activists of the world, unite – put your heads together, talk to each other and imagine what it would take for the Chinese to successfully revolt against the dictatorship of their one-party government.

Here is what China’s democracy advocates have to work with and struggle against:

1.  More than 1 billion citizens, many of them impoverished, all of them oppressed (except for officials and the newly rich) and very few able to imagine how much better things could be;

2.  A pervasive security apparatus of enforcers, spies and flunkies organized right down to the level of apartment buildings, and surveillance of every form of communication;

3.  A population infuriated by corruption, unfairness and injustice, and frustrated by a lack of any legal rights or means to fix problems;

4.  A culture whose greatest strength may be endurance of hardship without complaint, and whose greatest disadvantage may be the same;

5.  Fear of speaking up, standing out or taking action;

6.  Punishments for speaking up, standing out or taking action that include job loss, blacklisting, beatings, house arrest, imprisonment and execution.

7.  Widespread use of mobile phones and computers but extremely limited access to websites outside of China;

8.  Very few people who have a good grasp of spoken or written English.

 As Chinese leaders celebrate the 90th anniversary of their Communist Party’s founding, let’s reflect on the fact that their subjects – roughly one-fifth of the Earth’s people – have no political or legal rights. What can be done about this? Post your answers in the comments section.