Memo to BP: You Can Run, but You Can't Hide

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Heavyweight champion Joe Louis could easily have been describing our moment many years ago when he famously warned his opponents, ''You can run, but you can't hide.''

In the context of covered-up child abuse by the Vatican, an environmental disaster of epic proportions created by British Petroleum, and the destructive motion through the room of counterfeit profit and equally counterfeit financial advice provided by Goldman Sachs, things have startled us awake in novel ways. We are at the edge of revolutionary response because high-flying public life has come to mean that the nature and the facts of corruption are now so interwoven with the 24-hour cable news cycle that devastation is hard to escape. This is especially true of those caught on camera with unmistakable evidence of their dubious acts.


The constant blizzard of fluff and the distractions of irresponsible reporting are what you get with freedom of speech, obviously. Yet the media's tendency to elevate the trivia tends to back down before things of actual weight. Even in a world steered toward lies and melodramatic exaggerations, dramatic truth sells much, much better. It's always worth a try. So the competition for viewers has made its unintentional impact on what was once unimpeachable but irresponsible, arrogant and corrupt brain drain at the top.

This competition is especially capable of landing mortal wounds when accompanied by images that have not been doctored so that things are made particularly clear. We saw the many victims of autocratic human arrogance writ so large and dangerous by the Catholic Church as it attempted to hold back the damning dawn of sunlight on the priests who had defiled the children and adolescents they were there to protect. Over and over, these pedophiles were passed from parish to parish like morally despoiled hot potatoes. Or looming through the boob tube were the topside suits of Goldman Sachs appearing with such disregard for the idea of fair play that those once thought of as the smartest guys in the room were exposed as bilking hustlers far beyond forgiveness.

If those personal appearances will not do, even those long done with the American sentimentality over nature can feel absolutely hostile toward big oil's irresponsibility at the televised sight of billowing plumes of brown muck or oil-covered pelicans futilely attempting to fly free of a greasy, man-made darkness.

Such images make it more than clear that dramatic change is on the way—not because we actually like or expect it. The imperatives of improvement are upon us in a relentless way that cannot be sidestepped. Republicans make it seem impossible to find anything truly wrong in or with the world of business, but I am sure ''Drill, baby, drill'' will not be chanted any time soon—or it will be soon forgotten.


If that responsible slogan had any chance of being forgotten, Republican Joe Barton reminded all of those who saw him apologize to BP at a nationally televised committee meeting in Washington for the company having experienced a ''shake-down'' at the hands of the White House. He said that in the morning and had apologized for apologizing by 4:30 that afternoon. Some elephants had obviously used those big ears to listen to the angry rumble shaking the ground in response.

Genuflecting to our celebrity culture comes with a price: It corrupts our national spirit and buck dances us all ever closer to decadence. We have come to believe that the shocking culture innately has something to do with rejecting repressive limitations, which is a fool's analysis. But the reality is that American popular culture has become the equivalent of thick mud covered with glitter. And yet, a chance at redemption has arrived, and we should grab it.


What is necessary should happen because the alternative has been proven to be exactly what it is and what people have long known. Yes, those at the top usually look out for themselves and might even create alliances with others almost exactly the same as themselves. But we are in a moment when unimpeachable power is taking a beating we never thought we would see.

It's a beating that was inevitable. Any student of professional criminal behavior knows that once crooks go beyond the point at which it would be good to thank their lucky stars, they usually begin to see themselves as invincible rather than fortunate. They then usually act in ways that doom them into the hands of the law.


The mindless and sloppy books of British Petroleum were proof that they were so sure the fix was in that they didn't even feel the need to create anything close to a pristine paper trail. They never felt the need to hide their sheer mendacity. And why should they? Things had been so cozy with the federal government that those in charge of filing for BP virtually hung themselves with their own greasy fingers. Fellow commanders at the tops of five other big oil companies admitted in Washington that they all virtually Xeroxed the drilling requests that had been accepted for years. It had worked for years; why wouldn't those counterfeit documents still hold up? There was never any close scrutiny. But as the knuckleheads used to enjoy cackling, ''Things done changed.''

The Irish pop singer Sinead O'Connor was surprisingly eloquent on the Vatican matter. She explained why loud critics in Ireland were joyful and confidently hopeful. They all relaxed once the American media got its shark teeth into the story. O'Connor said everyone then realized that it was a done deal for a single reason: The Americans would not give up until there was no more story to be had. The ass of the hierarchy was destined to be grass. Apologies would not do. It would behoove BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, with his declarations of his love for the ''small people'' to remember this. Or get a more tactful speech writer.


So however damned we might feel because we have been forced to recognize untalented camera mongers like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian or Snooki, we should realize that those continually presented pictures of certified airheads are only one part of it. We are also blessed because the nature of the media business and the perpetual pursuit of viewers/customers have combined for tragic but optimistic knockout punches that will send some of the biggest bad guys out of the ring on stretchers.

Of course, they will be reincarnated, which is why our country was devised to improvise solutions for the problems at hand and was provided with the tools to remake, or eliminate bad policy. It always takes longer for us to get there than we would like, but when we do arrive, waiting for us is the pleasure not of watching paint dry but of seeing the feet of those usually invincible turn to clay right before our very eyes and those of the world. You can't beat that with a stick.


Stanley Crouch is an essayist and columnist based in New York. He has been awarded a MacArthur, a Fletcher, and was recently inducted into the Academy of Arts and Sciences. The first volume of his Charlie Parker biography will appear within a year.

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