By Pam Martens: May 5, 2015
Last week we were reading an article by Matt Klein in the typically staid, button-down Financial Times. When we arrived at the 10th paragraph, Klein tells us that he’s been chatting with Chris Arnade, a man who spent 20 years as a trader at Salomon Brothers and Citigroup, who has now retired to “document the lives of those less fortunate.”
The words “document the lives of those less fortunate” are hyperlinked to a blog by Chris Arnade with a story titled “Another Day.” The story and the photographs take us into a genre of poverty porn meets Schadenfreude – finding pleasure in another’s pain. The Broadway musical, Avenue Q, explains Schadenfreude in a song:
Right now you are down and out and feeling really cr*ppy
And when I see how sad you are
It sort of makes me…
Sorry, Nicky, human nature…
Nothing I can do!
Making me feel glad that I’m not you.
Arnade has been wowing an ever increasing number of media outlets, like NPR and The Guardian, with his essays on the lives of the homeless, drug addicted and prostitutes on the streets of New York. On his Facebook page, Arnade explains his mission:
“What I am hoping to do, by allowing my subjects to share their dreams and burdens with the viewer and by photographing them with respect, is to show that everyone, regardless of their station in life, is as valid as anyone else.” [Emphasis added.]
But in Arnade’s photo essay, “Another Day,” which the Financial Times has linked to, Arnade first spots a new prostitute on a street corner; he takes her to McDonald’s and buys her food. Next, he says: “I gave her twenty dollars for her time, for allowing me to photograph her.” She then asks to be driven to her drug dealer and Arnade accommodates her. According to Arnade, after she has two joints, she strips off her clothes from the waist down and engages in two suggestive poses showing her crotch area and bending over the bed with her bare ass in the air.
Arnade, who has avowed his mission as photographing those less fortunate “with respect” takes the unconscionable step of posting these photos of a homeless, hungry woman under the influence of drugs – clearly unable to give informed consent — on his web page. For a mere McDonald’s meal, which he says came from the dollar menu, and $20, Arnade has acquired nude photos to promote his blog.
I fired off an email to Matt Klein’s editor at the Financial Times, Paul Murphy, certain that he must not have scrolled down to see these photographs. Murphy responds that he’s sorry if I was offended, but they’re not going to remove the link.
I try a stronger approach. Murphy responds that this is “not what Arnade’s word is about at all. Sorry, but we are just going to have to disagree on this.”
Murphy’s response is the precise form of “don’t believe your lying eyes” that has been forced on women for centuries. It was rampant and inveterate at Arnade’s former Wall Street employer, Citigroup. I worked for the predecessor of that firm for 11 years. Susan Antilla documented that “don’t believe your lying eyes” culture in her book, “Tales from the Boom Boom Room,” tracing the Federal lawsuit myself and others brought to expose this exploitative culture replete with physical and sexual abuse of women and its own private justice system that barred these claims from seeing the sunshine of a courthouse and a jury of one’s peers.
In the Michael Lewis book, Liar’s Poker, he writes about the culture at Salomon Brothers, where Lewis worked as a bond salesman. Chris Arnade’s first employer on Wall Street was Salomon Brothers, which later merged into a company that would become Citigroup. Lewis writes:
“The firm’s management created the training program, filled it to the brim, then walked away. In the ensuing anarchy the bad drove out the good, the big drove out the small, and the brawn drove out the brains.”
Citigroup’s primal culture played a significant part in the collapse of Wall Street in 2008. The company was resuscitated with the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of finance: $45 billion in equity infusions; more than $300 billion in asset guarantees; and over $2 trillion in secret, low-cost loans from the Federal Reserve.
Now we are watching the moral hazard from these and other Wall Street bailouts morph into ever more creative forms of disfigurement of our society.
Arnade has also written about the Wall Street culture. In an essay for The Guardian, Arnade writes:
“Rules are made to be gamed, and games are played to be won.
“That is at the core of the culture of Wall Street. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand Wall Street.
“In my twenty years on Wall Street I helped exploit (sorry, the word we used was ‘arbitrage’) many bad rules, for the profit of my bank and our customers. It wasn’t considered shameful at all.”
When promising to show “respect” to his subjects and then posting nude photos of them on his web site, we believe he is once again gaming the rules. The Financial Times may not find it “shameful,” but they are clearly not the last word on this subject.
Arnade has written some important articles at The Guardian. We sense from these and journalist interviews with him that there is an underlying motivation to honor his father, Dr. Charles Arnade, a history teacher and civil rights activist who died in 2008, and his mother, Marjorie, who died in 2012 – the same year Arnade left his long, high-pay career at Salomon/Citigroup to embark full time on his photography and essays of the homeless, drug addicted and prostitutes.
Whatever his original intent, Arnade has crossed a dangerous line in the sand with his photo-essay, “Another Day.” We are not linking directly to Arnade’s blog because we are boycotting this exploitation. However, should Arnade challenge the accuracy of our description of its content, we have stored a cache and will be happy to email it to you if you email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.