Evidently that Sioux Falls paper has assigned its news staff to full-time marketing for payday usurer Chuck Brennan. Or maybe, just maybe, the clever Stu Whitney is hoisting Brennan on his own arrogant petard.
Consider the opening of Whitney’s Brennan homage, in which we are treated to Brennan’s jet-set problems:
It’s an overcast day in Sioux Falls and the millionaire founder of Dollar Loan Center is supposed to be in Brazil hanging out with KISS and Ozzy Osbourne. He learned at the Las Vegas airport that he lacked the proper travel visa, and not even a call to the Brazilian consulate could solve the problem.
Some of his staffers were flying to Sioux Falls the same day, so he grabbed the last seat.
“I went from a first-class ticket on a Dreamliner to Brazil to the last row and middle seat of an Allegiant flight to Sioux Falls,” grumbles Brennan, the 47-year-old Washington High School graduate and former concert promoter who made his fortune in payday lending and collection. “My vacation is pretty much shot” [Stu Whitney, “Can Chuck Brennan Find Satisfaction?” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.05.15].
Our sympathies go out to a man who can afford two multi-million-dollar homes but who can’t hire staff competent enough to obtain for him the right travel documents.
Whitney turns briefly to the political activism being mounted against Brennan’s exploitation of the working class from which he rose by quoting Rev. Steve Hickey, the legislator who is leading an initiative drive to cap interest rates at 36% and put Brennan’s Dollar Loan Center out of business in South Dakota. Whitney balances Hickey’s critique by stating that his and other usury opponents’ “vitriolic” words have made Brennan’s wife Mary fear for her safety and avoid coming to South Dakota. That characterization of Rev. Hickey’s words is insultingly exaggerated. I would ask Mary, Chuck, and Stu to point to any rhetoric used in the debate over the usury industry that have incited vandalism against Brennan’s loan-shark storefronts or anything close to a physical threat against Brennan or his employees. This fretting about family safety in South Dakota sounds more like the brittle defensiveness of entitled elites against the little people who would dare criticize their amoral ascent to wealth.
Whitney notes that Brennan launched his Oedipal exploitation of the poor in grade school:
The first of Chuck’s 16 career businesses positioned him as a “ticket broker” at Lincoln Elementary School, buying lunch tickets for a quarter apiece from kids who got them for free. He bought boxes of candy bars at Prairie Market and packaged those with the lunch tickets to sell to kids who brought lunch money, pulling a decent profit.
“On pizza day it was huge, because everyone wanted doubles,” says Brennan. “My dad came to school and welded my locker to put a lock on it so people couldn’t steal my stuff” [Whitney, 2015.05.15].
Brennan exploits the free lunch program (in violation of the law, I would think, as surely as buying and selling food stamps), gets poor kids to go without food for a fraction of the value of those meals, and has his dad vandalize public school property to help him get rich. We could not ask for a better example of a narcissistic drive for wealth, not only heedless of the general welfare, but willing to exploit public resources for personal gain.
Whitney then tracks Brennan’s rise and fall and rise through repo work, women’s oil wrestling (he still has the equipment), failed concert promotion, and usury. Yay, Chuck, self-made man on the objectification of other human beings.
Maybe, maybe, maybe Whitney is engaged in some subtle critique of Brennan in Brennan’s own words. Whitney’s colleague business reporter Jodi Schwan is capable of no such subtlety.
Lest anyone retain the illusion that Brennan does anything for anyone other than himself, rewind a few weeks back to Schwan’s fawning (“nice-looking pictures”… “Wow!) puff piece where she lets Brennan talk about how awesome his overgrown pawn shop will be compared to boring old South Dakota:
Badlands—we wanted it to mean something to us, and when you think of Badlands, if you’re thinking western South Dakota, it’s kind of boring, it’s a snake every now and then, and a tumbleweed… it’s just not the best in the world. So we’re creating our own Badlands feel, which is more of like a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max, aged, distressed feel to it. We’re building a fortress here, with guard towers on the top and a real Apache helicopter that’s going to be up there for the Badlands sheriff’s department, and really giving it this cool look that Sioux Falls has never seen. The inside is going to be spectacular [Chuck Brennan, video interview by Jodi Schwan, Sioux Falls Business Journal, starting with Schwan’s question at timestamp 2:00; video posted to Badlands Pawn website, 2015.04.23].
I can only imagine the emptiness of the soul of an individual who finds the breathtaking beauty of the South Dakota Badlands boring. I can only imagine the juvenility of the fantasist who, in an appropriate metaphor for how he makes money, thinks a world in which the social contract has collapsed and survival depends on raw power is preferable to a land of quiet, austere beauty that makes every individual realize his very small place in the universe.
But I can easily recognize—as should everyone else in South Dakota’s tourism industry—the rank selfishness of a man who publicly dismisses one of South Dakota’s best natural tourist attractions as “boring” to make his own tourist attraction sound better.
Chuck Brennan, on pretty much every count, you come across as an exploitative narcissist. You view South Dakota not as a place of beauty and South Dakotans not as fellow beings worthy of respect and dignity, but simply as resources to consume. That Sioux Falls paper can’t say that, but the rest of us can.
And please, tell your wife that such “vitriolic” words on our part aren’t threats against your family’s personal safety. They’re a call to South Dakotans to protect themselves against the harm you do to them to pay for your houses and toys and ego.