Outside politics, losers landed belly up in 2002

Posted: Jan 01, 2003 12:00 AM
I must confess, it's not as easy to pick winners and losers outside the world of politics as it is inside. In Washington, we keep score 24/7. We're like Vegas bookies, always keeping an eye on the line for every team. But our means for keeping score -polls -don't work all that well outside the Beltway. Of course, they often don't work too well inside the Beltway, either. Anyway, it's pretty clear that some people and institutions did better than others in 2002. In the early part of 2001, I was hitting refresh on my online stock portfolio like a lab monkey hitting the cocaine-pellet lever in a drug study. Today, I treat my portfolio like it's an embarrassing high school yearbook photo. So, yes, this qualifies me as a loser. But I am not alone. Stocks lost roughly $7 trillion in value (that's $7,000,000,000,000) since their high in 2000 and lost some $2.2 trillion -slightly more than the gross domestic output of Germany -this year alone. But the bigger losers were those who believed -or acted as if they did -that the gravy train was a perpetual motion machine. The King Loser of Money Land is Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco. The man who once told BusinessWeek, "we don't believe in perks," is accused of using company funds to help fund a 40th birthday party for his wife on the Italian isle of Sardinia that included a giant ice replica of Michelangelo's "David." This version, however, dispensed chilled Stoli vodka from its you-know-what. Nothing says "legitimate business expense" -never mind "class" -better than booze-as-urine-sample. The biggest loser in the world of arts and entertainment is obvious: Michael Jackson. It's been a rough 12 months, not as bad as when Jacko's name became synonymous with pedophilia, but still not what folks in the biz call a good year. His first original album in years, "Invincible," was very, um, "vincible." It cost between $30 million and $45 million and was panned upon arrival. The London Telegraph judged it "an album that reveals a lost talent struggling to reach the musical heights of his youth." Ouch. "Invincible" sold just 2 million copies worldwide ("Thriller" sold 26 million copies in the United States and 45 million worldwide). Double ouch. Then Jackson attributed his failure to a racist conspiracy at Sony Music. He even called Sony big-wig Tommy Mottola "mean, racist and ... very, very devilish." Even Al Sharpton, a man who'd be willing to call Mother Nature a bigot if it rained in Harlem, abandoned Jackson over his "inappropriate" comments. And then Michael Jackson dangled a baby from his hotel balcony and laughed about it. This qualifies Jackson as the black hole (or to be more accurate, the formerly-black-now-barely-off-white hole) of loserdom. So massive is his loserness, it bends light and extinguishes all competition. Still, it's only fair to mention a few other losers: Madonna and Eddie Murphy both released expensive movies this year. Eddie Murphy came out with two: the remake of "I Spy," which simply underwhelmed, and "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," which sustained, in absolute terms, the biggest financial loss of all time. It cost $100 million to make but earned $4.4 million. Madonna came out with a movie too, but I can't remember its name. The winners are easier. As Chris Rock and Charles Barkley have observed, 2002 was the year when America's best rapper was white and its best golfer was black -good news for rap, golf and America. But the biggest winner of the year, speaking non-politically, died 30 years ago. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, is finally getting the credit he deserves. The first two (brilliant) installments of the film adaptation of his books made the bulk of their staggering box office revenues in 2002. Obviously, credit for the film's success has to go to the creators. But there's something else afoot here. Tolkien's themes are particularly appropriate for this time in our history. Some, including a few of the film's more asinine stars, fear the film is too pro-war and will hence lend aid and comfort to George Bush. But neither the book nor the film are in favor of war, even when war is between clearly identifiable good and evil. No, Tolkien's message is that evil must be confronted not accommodated. That is a message Americans, long complacent in the 1990s, need to hear in the new millennium -from politicians and Hollywood alike.