I have a feeling this won’t be a popular column. Don’t ask me why. Just a feeling, I suppose. I want to talk about Martin Shkreli, who also happens to be the subject of this week’s Unpopular Opinion podcast …
… where I’m joined by comics Chet Wild and Annie Lederman. Specifically, I want to make the case that Martin Shkreli’s existence is not the complete and total blight on society that it’s been made out to be. I mean, don’t get me wrong; he’s still mostly a monster, I’m sure. But I think one could argue that we’re ultimately better off for having him around. Why? Glad you asked!
I’ve mentioned this before, but just to be clear, everyone knows that what Martin Shkreli did with the price of that AIDS drug is not at all a new or recent phenomenon, right? The percentage of the price increase may not always have been quite as drastic, but pharmaceutical companies have been buying the patents to drugs and jacking the prices up exponentially for a long time now. Not only are the prices dramatically increased when a patent is taken over by a new company, but price increases are also used to offset the losses from decreases in demand that tend to happen when, you know, drugs do their job and make people better. The conditions that allow drug companies to reap windfall profits from insane price increases was one of the driving forces behind the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Perhaps you’ve read about it in emails from your racist relatives.
Historically, Medicare hasn’t been allowed to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. Be it $13.50 or $750, if the drug company says that’s what they pay, then that’s what they pay. Democrats have long wanted to put an end to this, but Obama’s promise that profits would stay intact is what ultimately led the pharmaceutical industry to invest millions into ads supporting Obamacare. It’s been estimated that the industry stands to make as much as $35 billion in additional profits as a result of the law.
At least, that used to be the case. With his time in office winding down, Obama has executed one of the most victimless backstabbings of all time by going back on his promise to protect drug companies’ profit margins. That’s why they are now pumping their millions into PACs dedicated to overturning the Affordable Care Act.
However, none of that explains why drug company price gouging is big news right now. That all comes down to one thing: this stupid face.
How is that dog not even sort of making a play for his windpipe?
To be honest, I’d probably hate that guy no matter what he was doing. He could be curing AIDS, and I feel like a lot of people would still kind of want to punch him in the face.
Don’t get me wrong; raising the price of Daraprim the way he did was an abhorrent thing to do. But if almost anyone else had done it, the ensuing media outrage wouldn’t have been nearly as intense — if there was any at all. The circumstances that allow people like Martin Shkreli to do this kind of thing need to be addressed. As awful as he is, we should at least acknowledge that his unrelenting douchebaggery played a huge part in giving drug price gouging the attention it deserves in the media.
Let’s shift to a slightly less controversial scandal. Not long before his arrest in December, it was revealed that Shkreli was the mystery shopper who spent $2 million to own the sole copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. The reaction to this news was mixed, but for my part, I couldn’t have been happier with it.
To give you some background, on the off chance you’re unfamiliar with the story: The Wu-Tang Clan announced in January 2015 that they’d be auctioning off a single pressing of their new album via the auction site Paddle8. Even better, they were expecting at least $1 million for it.
Which is $1 million more than I’ve paid for any Wu-Tang album this decade.
The buyer would be prohibited from making money off the album’s release for 88 years, but could upload it online or otherwise release it for free if they chose.
Several months passed before we learned the outcome of that auction. When it was revealed that the “lucky” buyer was Martin Shkreli, the Wu-Tang Clan had a massive public relations nightmare on their hands. The auction had been carried out well before the drug pricing scandal became news, so they couldn’t really be blamed for selling their album to one of Yakub’s most hated devils, but they also couldn’t take money from Shkreli in good conscience. Unsurprisingly, they donated their proceeds from the auction to charity.
Again, if you ask me, this is the best possible ending to that story. The Wu-Tang Clan hoped to remind people of the “value” of music with their elaborate release scheme. It’s certainly a worthwhile lesson, but there are ways to do that without putting the music solely in the hands of an online version of a Bond villain and running the risk that he’ll just hold it over the fans’ heads forevermore.
Unfortunately for almost everyone involved, it seems like that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
On the bright side, the album probably isn’t that great anyway.
And why wouldn’t that be the case? If you were Martin Shkreli, what would be your motivation for letting the general public in on your wildly overpriced Wu-Tang Clan listening party? It’s not like it’s going to make people like him more. Nothing short of traveling back in time and deciding not to raise the price of Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent is going to make that happen.
We’re not hearing that Wu-Tang Clan album anytime soon, even if the terms of the deal grant Bill Murray the right to steal it back. This is a possibility the group should have been prepared for well before deciding to follow through with their stupid plan.
Naturally, not everyone in the Wu-Tang has been quiet about their newest investor. RZA, the man who came up with the auction idea, had to have lunch with Shkreli, as outlined in the terms of the sale. When asked how it went, he simply said that the two “didn’t have a ton in common.”
Some other members of the group were slightly less diplomatic with their responses. The most vocal so far by a long shot has been Ghostface Killah. He’s engaged Shkreli in a public feud, mostly by way of videos uploaded to YouTube. Improbably, if I had to declare a winner in this battle so far, my points would go to the piece of shit in the Brand New T-shirt.
Ghostface Killah kicked off the beef when he called Shkreli a “shithead” after TMZ cornered him and asked his opinion on the buyer of the album. This response surprised absolutely zero people. None. Ghostface Killah threatens public figures all the time, with the most recent before this being Action Bronson, a rapper he clearly “influenced” heavily.
There are legitimate murder threats in that video. He says he has “shooters” who will come in from out of town to handle his problems. He says he’s going to gut the guy like a pig at one point. Being threatening as fuck online is something Ghostface Killah has experience with, is what I’m getting at. That’s why it’s so disappointing that he’s putting up such a terrible showing in this particular battle.
For one thing, Martin Shkreli tweeted this in response to the TMZ rant…
He’s dead now, right?
… and wasn’t murdered immediately. However, Ghostface did swing back into action with a response video. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in place of the threats of real violence like Action Bronson received, Shkreli gets nothing more than the most cryptic promise of all time.
Obviously emboldened by the lack of actual or verbal violence his interactions had produced so far, Shkreli struck back again with a ludicrous threat video in which, surrounded by a team of masked “goons,” he calls Ghostface by his real name (Dennis) and labels him an old man before demanding a written apology.
No way. No one taunts Ghostface Killah like that and gets away with it. The world waited in breathless anticipation for the inevitable backlash from Shkreli’s latest bout of foolishness, and when it arrived, almost all of them were disappointed to find that it was mostly just a 12-minute infomercial for the new line of medical marijuana Ghostface is selling these days. There are no graphic threats of bodily harm, but at one point his mom, his sister, and an unidentified white lady do come out to scold Shkreli for being a bad person.
This is depressing.
It’s the absolute opposite of what we’ve come to expect from the man who threatened to set Action Bronson’s beard on fire just a few short months ago. The most annoying part is that intermingled with all of the shenanigans and shilling in this video are constant pleas for the price of Daraprim to finally be lowered. Why is that annoying? Because …
Shkreli doesn’t work for Turing Pharmaceuticals anymore. He resigned back in December after his arrest on securities fraud charges. It’s been a full two months since that happened. Do you know what hasn’t happened in that time? The price of Daraprim hasn’t dropped whatsoever.
So … who are we supposed to be hating for that now? If Shkreli is gone, then surely someone else has taken up his responsibilities, and assuming they aren’t also a soulless piece of human trash, they should have full authority to swoop in and drop the price of Daraprim.
As it turns out, the name we’re looking for is Ron Tilles, a man so apparently unimportant to this story that a Google image search of his name just brings up pages and pages of pictures of Martin Shkreli.
You’ll always be the AIDS guy to us!
His past is so shady that several outlets which looked into claims about his past experience in the pharmaceutical field were unable to find any evidence that he’d ever held the positions the Turing Pharmaceuticals website claimed. You know who cares about that? No one, apparently, because the name “Ron Tilles” has barely made its way into headlines at all.
Keep in mind that Tilles is just one of several unscrupulous pharmaceutical CEOs who’ve had a hand in raising drug prices for no other reason than profit, sometimes at the expense of those who rely on those drugs to stay comfortable or alive. We still have no idea what most of the people responsible for this kind of profiteering even look like, but thanks to Martin Shkreli and his stupid rat face, we at least know they exist and need to be stopped.
This is a start!
Call me crazy, but taking the necessary action to make sure none of them can carry on as they have been strikes me as a strategy that would benefit the general public far more than continuing to direct all of our thoughts and energy on the subject toward finding new ways to give the world’s most hate-worthy emo fan even more attention.
Also, the fact that he’s no longer “that guy” casts another of his most controversial moments in a slightly new light …
Shkreli’s most recent brush with the general public’s eye came as a result of his testimony before Congress. Over the course of ten remarkably awkward minutes, he smirks, chuckles, and pleads the fifth in response to almost every question that comes his way. The exception is when someone asks if they’re pronouncing his name correctly.
It was rightly pointed to as another sign of his lack of remorse for the pain he’s thought to have caused, but at the same time, he’s not completely out of line to treat the entire thing like some kind of circus sideshow. That’s what it is, if we’re being honest with ourselves. The people asking these questions know everything there is to know about these drug price increases and why they happen. As mentioned before, it’s not some kind of secret that’s just been exposed. Drug companies have been doing this forever, and their ability to keep doing that was central to the passage of Obamacare. If the people asking the questions here don’t already kind of know the answers, they’re just fucking terrible at their jobs.
This has nothing to do with fact-finding; it’s a notoriously inactive branch of the government pretending to do something about a problem, solely because recent headlines have forced their hand. He’s got criminal charges pending against him, and you want him to come talk about how he games the healthcare system to generate windfall profits? What were they expecting was going to come from this stunt, aside from the endless string of fizzifs they got?
I’ll tell you! It makes them look like they’re trying to fix things, but their efforts are being hindered by the evil pharmabro who won’t help them figure out what to do. That’s nonsense. This is a problem we know how to fix. I get that seeing Martin Shkreli smirk at the government is infuriating, but that he’s there at all should bother you every bit as much. Money came out of your paycheck to put on this production.
Meanwhile, Daraprim is still $750 per pill. Martin Shkreli could go to prison forever and that fact wouldn’t change one bit. Focusing all of our efforts on making sure he’s personally punished for his price-gouging exploits is like fighting the drug epidemic by incarcerating users. As long as the means to make money in this way exists, drug companies are going to take advantage of it. If you want the problem to go away, then fix that. Anything else is just theatrics, as we’ve learned all too well over the past few months.