Sunday, January 10

Ponzi Schemes, Madoff & Other Geniuses

I recently happened upon an interesting article in the New York Times about the false start in releasing a new game show, Our Little Genius. It appeared that the show was going ahead, despite some controversy; mostly about the effects of putting children under pressure to win life-changing money in these difficult times. But there was another sort of controversy stewing behind the scenes. The producer himself, to his financial detriment, pulled the first shows, paid out the winners anyway, and decided to re-record entirely new episodes. Why? Because the contestants may have been fed – not necessarily the answers, but the questions. He determined that the show must not go on -- at least for now.

Anyone familiar with Italy’s satirical news show, Striscia la Notizia, will know that almost weekly, they catch the Endimol (UK-based company) game shows rigging the games, the winnings and even the contestants (some appearing on multiple game shows - of all the luck!); with winnings logged in well above the European average.
Although for contestants this might appear like a good thing, it feeds into the national psyche of a non-meritocracy and further fires the flames of conspiracy theories already endemic to the country; touching everything from politicians to portinai. But, at least for this game show, to avoid the debacle so poignantly portrayed in the film ‘Quiz Show' – when game show cheating nearly brought down television itself, “Fifty million people watched, but no one saw a thing,” they're trying a preemptive strike in order to untarnish their reputation.

In the real life game show played out every day on Wall Street, in New York, Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi ilk are still ‘sulla bocca di tutti’, as well they should be. People (New Yorkers, in particular, never mind the proverbial ‘Main Streeters’) are still waiting for the hammer to fall on the cheaters who wrought economic terrorism on the rest of the world. As we know, some have been tried and convictions handed down –in Madoff’s case - to the exemplary tune of 150 years.

Tanzi (nearly rhymes with Ponzi), like his American brethren, and all of his Tangentopoli buddies from Milano of the 1990s, simultaneously denies any wrongdoing, blames others, protects his family, and ends up with a slap on the wrist. Although presiding over the biggest financial fraud in history (pre-Madoff), he recently made headlines again after officials found his masterworks collection hidden in a garage (he denies any knowledge about their existence - obviously, a case of being 'framed' (sorry, couldn't resist).

And while there is still no cleanup in sight for the Wall Street thugs, slick businessmen and politicians here and there, wouldn’t it be great if, starting with the game shows, someone finally would be held accountable, admit responsibility, actually spend real time in jail (without being rewarded with choice political postings upon release), and forced to sell off their master works, and determine, like the game show producer, that, “I want my show to be beyond reproach.” Now that, would be a stroke of genius.

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