I don’t watch a lot of TV, mostly because I’m impatient, but I recently watched a show about a scrappy young entrepreneur who was incredibly smart, extremely hard working, started with nothing, and then became obscenely rich. The main character (white male, of course) ignores all existing structures, creates his own rules, answers to no one, and yet, he’s saving the world, despite all his power and privilege, he uses his power and privilege to help the underdogs and the disadvantaged.
In another political climate, I might have not really noticed the show, but in this one, I saw some disturbing parallels to the attempted narrative. I don’t think there is some insidious plot behind the show, but I think we should be aware of what’s going on.
What you consume changes you. If you eat shit all day, you’re probably going to get fat. One of the reasons I love books is because they change my view on the world. Hugo, Tolstoy, and Dickens have made me a better person (a better person, not a good person — I’m a slow learner), Melville made me love the sea, Stegner made me love the West; it’s not just the classics — Neil Gaiman, Anthony Ryan, Leigh Bardugo, Kevin Hearne, Wesley Chu, etc. — these authors have helped me to be a more empathetic human; and these are just some of the fictional ones.
I don’t have anything against this TV show or the people in or behind it, but I worry that this myth is being confused with reality.
There are people who start with nothing, work hard, and come up in life— it does happen. It’s the American dream. But it’s usually just that, a dream.
If I take two people and give them each a car and tell them that whomever makes it across America first wins, it’s a fair race. However, if one has an Audi R8 and a gas card, and the other has a Gremlin with a broken taillight, it’s no longer a fair race. What if the Audi gets to start in Ohio and they also have an agreement with the police that they won’t get pulled over? Still fair?
But we’re an equal opportunity country, some will say. All lives matter.
Do you really think so? If Muslims with dark skin were to take armed residence on government property, do you think they’d have been peacefully asked to come to court where they got away without any real repercussions? A white man can bomb an abortion clinic for Jesus and it’s buried in the news, yet a black man can refuse to stand for the National Anthem and it’s what every media outlet is talking about.
I’m a white male, and while I’m certainly not rich or famous, I’ve had more than my fair share of help — far more than most people get. It’s not because I’m smarter or because I work harder, it’s a little luck, a decent starting place, and — I have to be honest — due to my skin color and gender. This isn’t just my opinion, it’s proven, look it up. But barring that, just really think about it. What if when you talked in a work meeting someone else interrupted you, or took credit for your ideas, or kept mentally undressing you? It would absolutely change you over time. Men are leaders, women are bitches. It’s proven that men are so much more likely than women to apply for a job they aren’t qualified for, and oftentimes, a more qualified woman is passed up in favor of a man <cough>2016</cough>. And let’s not even bring transgender into the equation, they’re getting the shit end of every stick. Inequality in our world is a little hard to deny, it’s kind of been proven ad naseaum. It’s like climate change. Oh, wait a tick…
Look at the number of non-white males in politics — these demographics don’t reflect our country by a long shot. I know we all understand that it’s not because while males are smarter or better than other people.
Another example: When we first bought our house we got a truckload of pea gravel delivered onto our driveway for a huge dog pen*. It was summer. I spent all morning moving it by myself. Sober. By about 4pm I still had a ton of work to do and was absolutely wiped (I work in front of a screen for a living). This guy drove by, hispanic, and offered to help. I said sure, didn’t even ask a price, didn’t care at that point. He said he’d get a better wheelbarrow and come back. In a bit, he was back with tools and his dad, who was probably about 70. Both of them kicked my ass on every load. These gentleman are harder workers than I am and they are quite possibly both smarter — for starters, they know at least one more language than I do. But they also make a lot less per hour than I do. So much for that myth we love.
Hard work does not equal opportunity, it never has. It helps, sure, but it’s a feather on the scale.
I’m sure you work hard. I’m sure you’re smart. But please remember that the people who ‘make it’ due to these qualities are 1 in 1,000,000. And the people who still give back to the average person — 1 in 1,000,000,000. Most of the people who ‘make it’, had a very good head start, or had their way made for them a long time ago, or they lied, cheated, and stole their way forward. The next time you see some TV show that glamorizes the self-made man, enjoy it, but please, when it’s time to vote or work for a new boss, take a hard look at how and why people are where they are. How did they get to their power? What are they doing with it? Who reaps the benefits?
Let’s find new heroes. Let’s starting watching TV shows about the single mom who works two jobs and is beloved by everyone whose life she touches. Let’s read more books about people who fight the fat kings and princes and build a government for the common person.
*For the record, the dogs hate the pea gravel and would much rather shit in my wife’s vegetable garden; it’s a fight every day.