If the federal case against him is accurate, Jesse Jackson Jr. is taking a fall in part because of his covetousness for a "football signed by American Presidents" valued at $5,000. The former U.S. Congressman from Illinois and a conspirator are accused of fraudulently raising campaign funds and using the money "for their own personal benefit," except that it's impossible to see the benefit, really, in the stupid shit that Jackson apparently determined was worth risking prison time. Maybe the $43,000 Rolex makes some sense. But ten large in Bruce Lee memorabilia? More than $1,500 in "porcelain collector's items"? Almost $40,000 worth of Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Jackson and Malcolm X memorabilia?
Maybe it's the word "memorabilia" that makes this seem so nauseatingly petty. It recalls "paraphernalia" and "juvenilia" and "saturnalia," all of which carry a whiff of the irrelevant. You know how most of us remember Jimi Hendrix—that is, those of us who don't have $2,775 to throw at buying his old stuff? By listening to Jimi Hendrix. My personal favorite piece of Malcolm X memorabilia? Civil fucking rights.
But it's that football that really sticks in the craw. Five grand for, ostensibly, a toy. Instead, once very powerful men affix their name to it, it becomes as valuable as six months of a poor person's life. The autograph racket exemplifies the winner-take-all ethos of America, in which the winners will be paid again and again for being the sort of people who win and get paid again and again. Forget the fact that it was, in essence, stolen money Jackson was (allegedly) spending. For a man of public service (allegedly, now) to sink thousands of dollars into a curio that merely displays his degrees of separation from ultimate power hints at a culture of pay-for-access and tail-sniffing sycophancy. If that's how he regards his place in the world, and how he endorses the perpetuation of entrenched power, Jackson shouldn't have followed his father into politics. He should've been a sportscaster.