US businessman Martin Shkreli (aka ‘Pharma Bro’) last year became notorious for purchasing and raising the price of AIDS medication Daraprim by over 5000%. Shkreli just spent the end of Valentines Day alone, in front of his computer, live-tweeting his way through being scammed out of $15 million in an attempt to buy the rights to Kanye West’s latest album, The Life of Pablo.
Two days after releasing an image of the letter he sent to West’s record company requesting to buy the album for $10m, he increased his offer to $15m. The following day he tweeted simply:
What followed was a shameful and very public display of hubris followed by an equally beautiful nemesis.
Shkreli continued to post cringeworthy tweets about his victory, #
goating gloating of his latest property acquisition – which he’d claimed was ‘not to deprive your fans of [Kanye’s] music, but to remind the world that music is a precious and important part of our lives.’
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Very suddenly the situation flipped. In all caps Shkreli tweeted his way through the realisation that ‘Daquan’ who had just taken $15m from Shkreli in bitcoin and ‘claimed to be Kanye’s boy’, may not in fact have been a legitimate business associate of either Mr. West or his record label. (And in perhaps this story’s most shocking turn, the businessman and fraudster took the opportunity to confirm that he’s ‘quit rap’.)
This unbelievable series of events is still viewable on Shkreli’s timeline, and, considering his usual level of braggadocio and nihilism, is unlikely to be deleted from his public profile as such embarrassing revelations often are. The continuing visibility of Shkreli’s vicious arrogance, and especially this episode of it, is what makes it so bemusing.
Martin Shkreli is the epitome of runaway capitalism – unashamed to exploit the public and ignorant of true value, connection or compassion. While one doesn’t have to regard Yeezus’ music to be a representation of the nature of value, what Shkreli attempted to do with The Life of Pablo is simply the shiny side of the coin – it’s the fluff that allows us to laugh off and forget that he would rather bankrupt the terminally ill and their families than see them live.
It’s a handy pop-cultural allegory for the wilful ignorance that results from unrestrained capitalism; it runs parallel with Shell Canada’s ability to rip up the Alberta Tar Sands for embarrassingly little return whilst flooding the area with toxic byproducts, or Donald Trump’s destruction of a unique Scottish sand-dune system to half-build a golf resort before abandoning the project.
Underneath all the funny, reading Shkreli’s juvenile cackling and public ego-stroking is frightening. Our society has produced this individual and allowed him to commit corporate crime on a global scale as long as he posts enough in bail money, and teenagers are tweeting that he should be President because ‘if he can take on Kanye and Congress, he can take on ISIS.’
This might seem ridiculous, but there is an ever-increasing possibility that Donald Trump could be the next President of the United States. Shkreli is either the Iago to President Trump’s Jafar, or vice versa (and, inexplicably, Shkreli donated money to Bernie Sanders’ campaign, because ‘he supports some of Sanders’ proposals — just not the ones about drug prices.’)
Unregulated capitalism has done a lot of damage to our world, and if this post-modern slice of it is a warning for the future then the left has got a lot of work to do, starting about fifty years ago.
Featured Image via Gabe Bedrosian / Twitter.
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