Sunday, May 13, 2012

So I was up early this morning watching "Up! with Chris Hayes" (Happy Mother's Day!) and he mentioned that one of the problems with child rearing among the wealthy and well off (he didn't quite qualify it that way, but it's what he meant) was that there was an impression of scarcity, and a single failure to enroll your child in the right day care/pre-school/kindergarten/summer camp/Kumon, etc., could spell doom and disaster.

Unsurprisingly, not a single woman on his panel, all of them successful people who worked hard (unlike, say, Mitt Romney or George W. Bush) to get where they are, disagreed.  In fact, they were all quite sure he was right, and it wasn't just an impression of scarcity, they insisted that there was scarcity!  And it seemed almost to be a damned good thing, too, 'cause if this stuff was available to everybody, then what was it worth for them so struggle to get it and to struggle to be sure their kids got it, too?  If you didn't understand that and do all you could to equip your child to escape it and grab that brass ring, then woe be unto you.

At which point I knew to a certainty precisely what the target audience of this show is.

All of this was prompted, in no small part, by the Time Magazine cover of the woman breastfeeding her third grader (find it yourself).  A white woman, with clearly the social status and money to do this without it interfering with her job or her need to make a living, keep house, cook meals, etc.  Not a single parent working three jobs, in other words.  Of course, none of those women on the panel were working three jobs; unless they were jobs with titles indicating prestige, power, and position, all undoubtedly hard fought for and hard won.

But I thought, of course, of the theology of scarcity.  I thought of it as something, especially now, just now, we really ought to think more about.  Because it is the idea of scarcity that drives economics, and economies, and societies, and wars, and individuals; and it really doesn't need to.

I should start a blog so we can have conversations about stuff like that.....


  1. The separation of even the typical blog commentator and poor people is, often, stunning, that between the liberal commentariat and the poor is even wider. If it's as wide as the gulf between Lazarus and The Rich Man is a good question.

    Back in the early 70s when I noticed that a lot of feminists seemed to be greatly preoccupied with smashing corporate glass ceilings for the relatively already affluent it was difficult for me to care about it as compared to how poor women really lived. I don't think it was progress to have people in skirt suits being the ones passing by the cleaning women ignoring their existence. Every single time I hear a right wing woman on TV I am reminded that without class leveling then nothing really changes.

    That woman breastfeeding that kid is nuts. I hate to think of what that kid is going to go through when all of the shoes drop. I would guess she's already taking heat for it.

  2. Windhorse4:23 PM

    At which point I knew to a certainty precisely what the target audience of this show is.

    I had an interesting experience with this target audience and their fear of scarcity that I'd like to share.

    During the Great Blackout of 2003 the area in which I lived got a warning and short reprieve prior to losing power along with everyone else.  An unusual temporary loss of power on a sunny day on which that shouldn't have happened had people turning to the television and radio for an explanation, where they learned the entire eastern seaboard and mid-atlantic states had gone dark without explanation. Panic began to build as people raced to stores to stock up on supplies.

    Since my car was low on gas and I lived in a semi-rural area I headed to a local station to fill up. The scene unfolding there was interesting and bordering on surreal. Long lines had already begun to form, and it was quickly apparent that there were two distinctly different responses to this crisis. My county was home to both very rich and very poor. The more well-to-do individuals in larger and more expensive cars were visibly frightened. Not only that, they jostled for better position and furtively looked over their shoulder lest someone attempt to steal their stuff before they completed their task and sped off.

    The less well off, however, were treating this incident as an occasion for kindness and friendly outreach; even celebration. A group of young adults had formed in one corner of the parking lot and was engaged in excited talk around their dilapidated vehicles. One young lady in a dress was twirling happily. People in cut-offs and tee shirts chatted amiably with each other at the pumps.  Behind me in a beat-up pick-up truck two aged hippies laughed and joked continuously, making light of the situation with outbursts like "Damn terrorists anyhow!" Before leaving I saw them outside of their vehicle patiently helping an elderly couple who were having difficulty fueling up..

    About twenty minutes later we lost power along with much of the rest of the country for the next few days. When it returned, our governor asked that people help transition the fragile system back online through conservation and to avoid using non-critical systems like air-conditioning. Again, there were two responses. Those neighbors of mine with little to spare were very conscientious about their energy use because it was important for them that everyone enjoy some crucial power rather than risk it failing again. In the wealthy white-flight town near my home (famously a welcome haven for Dick Cheney even after the many revelations of misconduct and the turning of the war) however, there was a fierce resistance to conservation in the restaurants. People mocked the idea as being "for hippies" and they sure weren't going to listen to some damn Democrat governor. When a friend reminded his wealthy sister-in-law in that town of the the state's request to conserve when he noticed her use of her central air conditioning system she angrily responded that those suggestions were for "other people" - meaning, the poor, the less privileged, the dirty masses.

    We've all probably had experiences similar to this. Behind all the striving for the most exclusive schools and chasing after wildly expensive kitchen gadgets and memberships to elite country clubs is a deep fear that at any moment it could all be taken away. Our current economic system and dominant culture fully endorses walling ourselves off with the happy illusion of materialism and has gotten so paranoid, in fact, that its members have gone from passively anesthetizing themselves to attacking and criminalizing the poor for being a reminder of unpleasant realities and for taking a few fallen crumbs around the margins.