Looking at this year's line-up, I think I'll skip "A Nanny for Christmas" which appears to be lifted straight from the unctuous "The Help" script. We really need another story seen through the lens of the witchy workaholic who finally recognizes that her overqualified babysitter is not only intelligent but a human being with a heart, and thus for about ten minutes racism and classism are overcome forever and ever Amen.
It's also the special season when the exalted New York Times deigns to notice how the other half lives. While most of the coverage of the poors is geared toward affluent paying readers who may not have a clue, and the paper has gotten some well-deserved criticism for its dearth of poverty coverage this year, there are signs of improvement. To her credit, the Gray Lady Bountiful seems to be going well beyond her traditional Neediest Cases charity series and actually featuring front-page stories about poor people and covering the recent labor actions by minimum wage retail and fast food workers. Whether this is a mere seasonal fluke, or whether this trend continues into January remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the unemployed and underemployed cracking the Times paywall are faced with the same old "it's the time of year to reflect on those less fortunate than oneself" bromides by what many consider to be the paper's most liberal columnist, who ends his latest effort with the usual heavy sigh of "of course, raising the minimum wage to an insulting $10 an hour is politically impossible" in this fraught climate, etc, etc.
But do not despair, Other Half. Because this is the season of CNN Heroes, advertised as a "star-studded" extravaganza even as it purports to celebrate the marginalized. This show is in the genre of the traditional holiday Sugar Crumbs propaganda, in which the rich and famous assuage the guilt of possessing obscene wealth by showing up in their designer duds to give us the warm glowy pleasure of watching the lesser people grovel before them. It's a combination of the Cinderella legend and a beauty contest.You go to the ball, compete with other paragons of virtue for the grand cash prize, and then it's back to rags and pumpkins and selfless toil.
This show was preceded last night by another holiday standard: other people's misery, sugar-coated. In "To Heaven and Back" CNN cashes in on the current heaven craze by showcasing near-death experiences. The moral of these stories is that we should feel better about sickness and death because going toward the light is a totally awesome experience. There was one particularly vile segment about a woman whose cancer miraculously went away when she saw the Light and she finally realized that getting sick was her own fault. I strongly urge you to avoid this show like the plague. It is guaranteed to destroy your joy and make you feel guilty for daring to complain about any personal pain you may be experiencing.
It's the season of a deluge of celebrity emails in which "Madonna has graciously allowed us to use her name in our LGBT human rights in Russia appeal" and Beyoncé gushes "I don't usually write to you, but," and politicians from our 9% approval rating Congress demand payment based solely upon the other side being worse than they are. Don't like food stamp cuts? Incensed about the mean people trashing Obamacare? Send Senator X a donation and he'll see what he can do. And click that "Send the Republicans a message!" petition link at your own risk. Because I don't have to tell you that these people always share your name most generously within their own fund-raising cohort.
It's the very short season when those same politicians jostle for position in the PR campaign of empathizing with regular people. This year, the go-to scene is the encampment of fasting immigration reformers on the National Mall. (It always helps when protest movements tie in ever so nicely with your own legacy legislation, geared toward increased militarization of the border and attracting more international low-wage labor to our shores.)
And lest you're worried that the rich don't do enough to celebrate each other, you'll be pleased to know that based on the feat of producing twins herself and being a "parent role model supporting women giving birth to healthy babies after full-term pregnancies," Jennifer Lopez will be receiving the Grace Kelly Award from the March of Dimes at a star-studded luncheon in Beverly Hills this coming Friday.
Hey, it's only December 2. We've got a whole month of noblesse oblige yet to stomach. So stay tuned, and keep the antacids handy.
Meanwhile, in keeping with the theme du jour, here are some comments I posted to the Gray Lady over the long holiday weekend. First, to Charles Blow's excellent personal piece on how it really feels to be marginalized. (some readers accused him of pivoting at the end to that odious "personal responsibility" mantra so beloved of conservatives, but I didn't read it that way at all. His point is that working hard against all odds is a worthy goal in and of itself.):
You nailed it, Mr. Blow. This constant attack on the poor by the plutocrats and the right wing politicians controlled by them is finally becoming the subject of a counter-attack... in this column, in progressive blogs, in labor protests against big box gulags, in the refusal of Seattle machinists to accede to Boeing, in a group of passengers who walked off an airplane in solidarity with a blind man bumped from the flight because his service dog interfered with corporate decorum. Oh, and let's not forget Pope Francis's epic put-down of the capitalist Masters of the Universe and their sadistic crusade against the human race.
The MOTU have constructed for our climbing pleasure more of a mountain than a hill. There are hordes of zombie propagandists and deficit scolds at every pass, who'd sooner throw us off one of their many manufactured cliffs than look at us. And when we talk about reaching the promised land, let's not strive for the same tippy-top inhabited by the Forbes 400. The struggle should not be to join them, but to beat them. We must build a new society based on humanitarianism, not consumerism.
In the words of Orwell: " Until they become conscious they will never rebel. And until they have rebelled they cannot become conscious."
So please keep writing columns like this one. While your words may not penetrate the alleged consciences of the Beltway elites, I think you just raised the consciousness of more than a few incipient rebels out here in the real world.And Nick Kristof, widely admired for his niche beat coverage of third world poverty and human rights violations, proclaims himself mystified that people have turned on him for writing about abuses closer to home -- for noticing that America is a banana republic too, and how shocking it is that readers of his columns are actually castigating their fellow human beings for the "character flaw" of being poor. My response:
Six major media corporations control 90% of what is broadcast in the USA. And all we hear is that the country is going broke, that we can't afford a safety net, and we have a Nanny state culture of dependency.
Instead of hearing the truth that the 400 richest Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 150 million combined, and that the plutocrats are largely sociopaths who'd just as soon the rest of us disappear, we are assaulted with propaganda that pits the middle class against the poor, the middle class against immigrants, the younger middle class against the older middle class, and ad infinitum.
Then, around this time of year, these same billionaires ooze faux empathy and get themselves photographed at soup kitchens. Pete Peterson, who has already spent half a billion of his multibillion-dollar fortune in an effort to slash Social Security, had the nerve to go on "60 Minutes" a few weeks ago to brag about his philanthropy. Walmart, whose heirs own as much wealth as 30% of the American population, but whose workers are so poorly paid that they are on food stamps and Medicaid, is spending a fortune on TV ads showcasing their happy workers.... who then have the nerve to go on strike when they're forced to work on Thanksgiving!
And so, when you write about the poor, you get pushback from people who simply can't believe that a 20% poverty rate in the richest country on earth is the direct result of sadistic policies dictated to our elected officials by the obscenely rich.