During a speech this week, President Obama recalled a letter he got from a little girl who wondered why all American paper money features men. The Commander-In-Chief offered tepid support for the little girl's notion that maybe it's time our wallets stop being such a sausagefest, and everyone applauded appreciatively. And thus the race to pick the perfect female theoretical bill subject commenced.
Months ago, over at Slate, Jillian Keenan noted that the best paper money candidate for a new face is the $20, which currently features the visage of former President Andrew Jackson, a genocidal maniac whose accomplishments include masterminding the murder of thousands of Native Americans in an attempt to steal their property so that more land could be freed up for use in the production of cotton and tobacco. In other words, he engineered the Trail of Tears because he wanted there to be more room for slavery. He's a human historical double play of evil. Keenan convincingly argues that regardless of the inspiring aspects of Jackson's backstory, the man essentially picked himself up by the bootstraps and then used those bootstraps to strangle the Choctaw, and that continuing to honor him by putting him on our money is an incredible faux pas.
If Jackson's on the chopping block (he's not really, but for the sake of this fun August Friday thought experiment, let's pretend that he is), what woman should replace him? The Los Angeles Times throws it out to readers after offering that maybe Sacajawea would be a good choice. New York Magazine's Daily Intelligencer suggests Harriet Tubman, Oprah, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, and Rosa Parks, and even offers handy mockups of what the bills would look like. All of these women deserve to be honored for their contributions to American history. But maybe whoever replaces Jackson on the $20 bill should, like Jackson, serve as more of a reminder than an honor.
Jackson's image on the $20 bill makes a sort of twisted sense, because it's a dark homage to how early America built its wealth — by stealing land from the Native Americans and stealing labor from enslaved Africans. It's everything wrong with early American capitalism, and, although horrible, Americans owe it to themselves to remember how their USA! USA! USA! sausage was made.
That said, perhaps the woman on the $20 should fit a similar mold — the modern embodiment of how pursuit of success at all costs doesn't lead to some sort of satisfying karmic retribution and justice; it leads to wealth and power. Of course, Condoleezza Rice, a woman who helped run the engine of the Bush administration's disastrous lies, would be perfect, if we're looking for someone Jackson-y. But if we want to get real about how money — real money — is made in a country that has fallen well behind its international peers in innovation and manufacturing, there's only one person for the job.
That person is Kim Kardashian.
The Daily Intelligencer piece offered a mock-up of a Kim Kardashian $20 bill, noting that it was an unserious offering. But should it be characterized that way? The Kardashian family is the Microsoft of famewhoring, and Kim is its logo. Kim, a woman who entered the national consciousness when she starred in a sex tape before sex tapes became a standard stunt pulled by anyone wanting to get famous, and too many people began deploying them, and their impact became dulled with overuse. She's woman of little quantifiable talent besides figuring out ways to make more money and then doing those things, the modern American success story that tells us more about ourselves than it does about her. Kardashian has branded and marketed her own extravagant banality — her second wedding and ensuing 78-day marriage, her third wedding, her baby, her hair, her family, her clothing, and even has her face on the trendpiece fodder du jour, a game that rakes in millions literally making fun of how Kim became famous. Although pundits love to deride her for not being smart, she's obviously aware of something that escapes everyone else, otherwise she wouldn't consistently be at the cutting edge of getting attention, and then capitalizing on it, over protest, over eye rolls, over ridicule. She helped usher in the post-shame era and for that, she's a totem to modern capitalism. Like it or not, Kim Kardashian is America's most intrepid innovator right now. She's earned this.
[All facetious joking aside, though, it really should be Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Fuck Andrew Jackson's legacy.]
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