Have you seen the movie “The Departed”? Jack Nicholson played a character based on James “Whitey” Bulger, a Boston mobster and FBI informant who disappeared, seemingly into thin air way back in 1995. The now 81-year-old Whitey, who has been connected to 19 murders, had a $2 Million dollar reward on his head and managed to escape capture, despite sightings in London and around California. But it was his longtime companion, Catherine Greig, and her commitment to the beauty project that led to FBI to finally track him down yesterday.
The arrest came after the F.B.I., stymied in its efforts to find Mr. Bulger, had doubled the reward for information leading to the arrest of Ms. Greig, to $100,000, and began broadcasting public service television advertisements on shows geared to women viewers, such as Dr. Oz, as part of an effort to find Mr. Bulger through Ms. Greig.
Ms. Greig liked to have a nip here and a tuck there (as well as lots of cosmetic dental procedures). Which is why the FBI targeted women’s shows as well as cosmetic surgery publications in their latest campaign to find Whitey.
In fairness to Ms. Greig, they were living in Santa Monica and letting herself go would have probably attracted more attention than her strict cosmetic maintainence did. But one does wonder what sort of love held these two together that they remained a couple despite the obvious fact that it made them easier to track down?
Perhaps they were concerned about the increased stigma attached to divorce? According to recent article, divorce is now less and less common among the upper middle classes (and with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in their apartment, these two certainly were of a certain set). Not only is divorce less common, but there’s an increasing amount of shame attached to it, especially when there are children involved. And although Whitey and Ms. Greig did not have children, they did have a dog. Perhaps they thought it would be too traumatic for their canine companion if they did not stay together through thick and thin?
Whatever the reasons, it was beauty that brought down the beast. And although many in Boston may be mourning the end to a legend, a man of the people who escaped the law, we ought to be mourning how beauty and love are a trap for all of us, even a cunning criminal like Whitey.
The average federal tax rebate this year is around $3000. By now we all understand that there is no point investing that money in the national casino known as Wall Street. You could be fiscally responsible adults and take that money to pay off some debt, but that would counter the brilliant economic recovery policy first coined by George Dubbya after the 9/11 attacks: go shopping.
But shopping for what? How about taking the $3000 to spruce up the kitchen or go on a nice vacation? Not a bad idea. But perhaps an even better one is to invest in the most important thing of all: a new, more perfect you. In other words, maybe you should spend that tax rebate on some cosmetic surgery or at least some Botox?
As Joan Kron, a senior editor at Allure magazine told me when I was researching my book, American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards and Our Quest for Perfection
No one says you shouldn’t go to college because you don’t want to improve your intelligence. What’s the difference between a facelift and college? People know they’ll keep their jobs if they make themselves look better.
Now you could do what many Americans already do and use that tax rebate to travel somewhere cheaper, warmer, and more willing to give you some lipo for a few thousand bucks. I’ve interviewed cosmetic surgeons from the Dominican Republic and Mexico who say their cosmetic surgery tourism business is busiest right after tax rebates arrive in the U.S. But there are obvious dangers to traveling outside the country for major surgery, like having complications later on that no US surgeon is willing to treat for fear of liability. Also, in terms of the Dubbyean economic policy of saving the US economy through consumption, it only works if we consume within our borders.
Probably the best answer is to do what nearly 85% of cosmetic surgery patients do: put your plastic surgery on plastic money. That’s right. Charge it. With $3000 down, you probably qualify through one of the medical credit loan sharks, uh, I mean companies, for the “low” rate of about 14%. Of course if you don’t want to put that $3000 down, expect to pay about 30% interest. Plus any fees and fines if you miss a payment.
In other words, cosmetic surgery is the subprime mortgage industry of the body. Banks, having learned long ago that the best way to make money is by charging high interest rates and fees (a process known by as “financialization”) figured out that they could lend Americans money for a more perfect body, charge them an arm and a leg, and make some serious profit. Care Credit, a division of General Electric, is the largest medical credit company. According to Barron’s, GE’s health care division has the opportunity for double-digit earnings growth.
Care Credit is happy to lend money for cosmetic surgery, not to the rich and famous, but to average Americans. That’s why over 70% of those getting cosmetic surgery earn less than $60,000 a year. It’s also why Care Credit is under investigation in the state of New York for “predatory lending practices.”
Of course if there’s one thing we now understand, it is that debt will make us poorer even as the corporations that lend us money much wealthier. And although we would all look more “perfect” with those new boobs, we won’t be able to do anything but work to try to keep up with the interest payments. So perhaps the real answer of what to do with our tax rebates is to invest in the seemingly recession-proof industry of plastic beauty and the American search for bodily perfection. After all, if we can’t look perfect, we can at least exploit the desire to do so for our own gain. And in this way make the roulette wheel that is Big Finance and Big Beauty go round.
“Since Dustin Hoffman heard that memorable ‘just one word,’ plastic has re-made American society. In a stroke of brilliance, Laurie Essig brings together plastic credit cards, bodies, and gender identities by telling the story of how economic insecurity has intersected with the celebrity culture and the neo-liberal ideology of choice. Essig's well-researched and original analysis deserves our serious attention.” —Juliet Schor, author of Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth
As the new year begins, many people's thoughts turn to "improving" their bodies, and, in our age of quick solutions, plastic surgery often is looked at as a shortcut to perfection. Over the last decade there has been a 465 percent increase in cosmetic work, and we now spend over $12 billion annually on procedures like liposuction, face-lifts, tummy tucks, and boob jobs. In American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and Our Quest for Perfection, sociologist Laurie Essig argues that this transformation is the result of massive shifts in both our culture and our economy—a perfect storm of greed, desire, and technology.
Plastic is crucial to who we are as Americans, Essig observes. We not only pioneered plastic money but lead the world in our willingness to use it. It's estimated that 30 percent of plastic surgery patients earn less than $30,000 a year; another 41 percent earn less than $60,000. And since the average cost of cosmetic work is $8,000, a staggering 85 percent of patients assume debt to get work done. Using plastic surgery as a lens on better understanding our society, Essig shows how access to credit, medical advances, and the pressures from an image- and youth-obsessed culture have led to an unprecedented desire to "fix" ourselves.