Welcome to the Working Week
Why nobody wants to hear you complain about your problems
My teenage sons needed a ride, the 18-year-old going to his job as a waiter in a pizza restaurant, and the 16-year-old meeting a girl to hang out at the mall. As usual, this captive audience got a bit of fatherly advice about life, which took the form of my quoting an old Elvis Costello lyric:
Welcome to the working week.
Oh, I know it don’t thrill you, I hope it don’t kill you.
Welcome to the working week.
You gotta do it till you’re through it, so you better get to it.
The point of that lesson was that there’s no use complaining about your job (or anything else), because everybody’s got their own problems. Among the great evils of our age is what Robert Hughes called the Culture of Complaint, “in which seemingly everyone claims victim status.” Americans seem to have lost the old-fashioned stoicism that enabled our ancestors to endure hardships that we can barely imagine in the relative comfort of our 21st-century lives with air conditioning, refrigerators, indoor plumbing, etc.
My father grew up on an Alabama farm during the Great Depression, joined the Army as a teenager in 1942 and was wounded within an inch of his life by German shrapnel before he turned 21. If you’re not hoeing cotton fields in the red-clay hills or being targeted by enemy artillery, why complain? My father was intolerant of complaints from his children, and the one thing you never wanted to say to the old man was that something was “not fair.”
“Boy, who ever told you life was supposed be fair?” Dad would say. The intended lesson was that we should not brood over whatever disadvantages and hardships confront us in life, and certainly there was no point whining about the ordinary disappointments that cause children to claim that some outcome was “not fair.” Get over it and stop complaining.
Nobody likes a whiner, but the world nowadays is full of whiny brats, because the Culture of Complaint encourages people to think of themselves as victims of social injustice. Remarkably, the worst whiners in America seem to be the most privileged youth, students at elite universities who are constantly protesting some alleged oppression inflicted on them by society. Students at Oberlin College (annual cost of attendance is $66,012, including room and board) are victims of “imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy.” Not to be outdone, students at the University of Southern California ($66,565 a year) are victims of “capitalist imperialist white supremacist cisheteronormative patriarchy.”
Forgive me for suspecting that none of these self-proclaimed victims have ever hoed cotton. Their real problem is not “heteropatriarchy,” but rather that they are members of a privileged elite, with too much time on their hands and a craving for attention. If your Daddy’s got enough money to pay $60,000 to send you to a private college where you are lectured by eminent professors who insist that America is a wicked place of systemic injustice, one way to cope with the cognitive dissonance (and assuage your feelings of guilt) is to assert that you, too, are a victim of systemic injustice.
Did I mention that my 18-year-old son waits tables in a pizza restaurant? Yeah, he’s attending the local community college while saving up money for this fall when he’ll be heading off to Tuscaloosa. The boy didn’t exactly rack up scholastic honors in high school, so he enrolled in community college last fall and finally got around to taking the SAT. When the scores came back, everybody was impressed. The kid’s plenty smart, he just goofed off a little too much in school, but once he got those impressive SAT numbers, his ambitions escalated and he applied to his grandfather’s alma mater.
After my Dad got back from the Army, he attended the University of Alabama on the GI Bill and, even though my kids have grown up here in the North, they have always cheered for the mighty Crimson Tide. While my son will have to pay out-of-state tuition his first year at Tuscaloosa, the cost will still be a heckuva lot less than what rich folks pay to send their whiny brats to USC and Oberlin. Nevertheless, the “social justice” whiners are everywhere nowadays, even at my father’s alma mater.
In his new book No Campus for White Men: The Transformation of Higher Education into Hateful Indoctrination, Scott Greer recounts (pp. 137–140) how sororities at the University of Alabama came under attack in 2013 for — you guessed it — RAAAAACISM! (There Are 5 A’s in ‘RAAAAACIST.’) It should not be necessary to explain that (a) sororities are private organizations that are entitled to choose their own members as they see fit, and (b) the University of Alabama has three all-black sororities (Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, and Zeta Phi Beta). Furthermore, (c) if otherwise all-white sororities were to begin recruiting black members, they would effectively be sabotaging the black Greek organizations on campus, creating an unnecessary rivalry. It is therefore not racial bigotry, but respect for the prerogatives of all-black sororities, that explains why sororities tend to be self-segregated, especially in the South. The sorority at Alabama that was the original target of the 2013 accusation of racism, Alpha Gamma Delta, has chapters on 180 campuses in North America. At the national level, Alpha Gamma Delta has members of all races, but I would wager that, on campuses (like Alabama) where there are thriving all-black sororities, AGD chapters have few if any black members, simply as a matter of respect, to avoid the accusation of “poaching,” so to speak.
Alpha Gamma Delta cannot fairly be condemned as a racist organization, unless one is willing to say that all-black sororities are also racist, which is equally unfair. Private groups have a right to choose their own members without being required to justify their choices to outside critics, which is what happened at Alabama in 2013. The student newspaper decided to manufacture a “scandal” by reporting that, while the undergraduate members of AGD “wanted to give a bid to a stellar black rushee, but alumnae had thwarted their efforts,” as Greer recounts in his book. What this narrative ignores, as I have explained, is the fact that if they had given this “stellar” recruit a bid, Alpha Gamma Delta would have deprived the black sororities on campus of a potentially valuable member.
Why didn’t this “stellar” student rush Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, or Zeta Phi Beta? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I suspect the all-black sororities at Alabama felt snubbed, as if this girl believed she was “too good” to join them. And I further suspect that all-black sororities on campus felt the student newspaper unfairly neglected the possible harm they would suffer if white sororities began routinely recruiting “stellar” black members. Ignoring that kind of nuance is essential to the liberal narrative, and it disturbs me that student journalists at Alabama have apparently succumbed to the Cult of Social Justice.
Let the question be asked: What would happen if every institution on campus were targeted for attack in the war against “capitalist imperialist white supremacist cisheteronormative patriarchy”? Would sororities at Alabama be pressured to recruit transvestites and lesbians? Would ROTC be banned from campus? Would the business management program hire Marxist ideologues as professors? Would the university’s highly-regarded law school be taken over by adherents of “critical theory”? Would Jewish students be harassed by pro-Palestinian radical activists?
“Social justice” creates conflicts where no actual conflict would exist, were it not for the activist mentality of ideologues who are always hunting around for some kind of oppression narrative to justify their activism. And it always begins with the whiny complaint that some outcome is “not fair.” But who is authorized to determine what “fairness” looks like? With my Dad, his decisions were final, and not subject to argument from his sons — “backtalk” was forbidden as disrespectful, under penalty of corporal punishment.
Disrespect for parental authority is the seed of many evil tendencies, because the disrespectful child displays a selfish sense of ingratitude. Assuming that your parents are doing the best they can, and that you have been provided with adequate parental care — you aren’t malnourished, abused or neglected — shouldn’t you be grateful to your parents? And knowing how many other children are less fortunate than you, shouldn’t your gratitude for your parents’ labors on your behalf cause you to respect their opinions? How is it that you, an inexperienced child, are qualified to question your parents’ judgment? Of course, as a boy, I didn’t see it that way, and often felt my parents’ judgments were harsh or unfair, but no one back in those days told me my “rights” were being violated. Nobody encouraged me to adopt the self-pitying attitude of victimhood.
Viewing the world through the warped lenses of “social justice” ideology results in bizarre distortions of reality. Elvis Costello was a cynical realist and a brilliant songwriter whose ungainly appearance was a serious disadvantage in the image-obsessed world of pop music. In lecturing my sons about “Welcome to the Working Week,” I recalled what a shock it was in 1977 when his first album, My Aim Is True, arrived at the studios of WLJS, the student radio station where I was DJing as a freshman at Jacksonville (Ala.) State University. The weird name and design of the album cover caught my eye as a I shuffled through the stack of newly-arrived promo records. WLJS in those days had a Top 40 format during the prime hours, but I had some programming leeway in my pre-dawn shift, so I was always on the lookout for some undiscovered gem and, wow! Looking at the cover of My Aim Is True, with its black-and-white checkerboard with each square repeating one letter of the message “ELVIS IS KING,” I knew this must be something different. And then there was photo of Costello (née Declan Patrick McManus) posing like a reincarnation of Buddy Holly, or perhaps Woody Allen with a Fender guitar. This wasn’t what a “rock star” was supposed to look like in 1977, when the charts were dominated by groups like the Bee Gees, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Looking at the album cover, I immediately thought, “This guy must be good.”
There was no way a major label like Columbia would sign a guy who looked like that unless he was phenomenally talented. Something else was obvious, just by looking at the album cover: The songs were short. All but three of the 12 tracks on My Aim Is True were shorter than three minutes. This was unusual because the 1970s were the era of long rock songs. The title track of the Eagles’ Hotel California, for example, was more than 6 minutes long, and the same album also included the hits “Victim of Love” (5:04) and “Life in the Fast Lane” (4:46). So to look at the cover of My Aim Is True and see that the opening track, “Welcome to the Working Week” was only 1:22 definitely caught my attention. So I immediately took the album into the back studio to listen to it, and was not disappointed. What struck me, most of all, was Costello’s excellent old-fashioned songcraft, reminiscent of the early Beatles, circa 1963–65. And the lyrics had a definite Lennonesque quality to them, full of clever wordplay. Elvis Costello was an early part of what came to be known as English “New Wave” music, but in fact he was a throwback, creating a revised and updated form of classic pop.
Many critics have noted the “Angry Young Man” sensibility of bitterness and alienation expressed in Costello’s songs, but as the old saying goes, a writer should write what he knows, and there was a lot for a young man to be angry about in the mid-1970s. Costello recorded his first album on a shoestring budget for a small British label, calling in sick at his day job (working as a data entry clerk) to get time off for the sessions. He had a wife and young son to support, and his obvious talent seemed destined to be obscured by the superficiality of popular culture in an era where pretty-boy “teen idols” like Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett were basically handed pop music careers on the basis of their good looks.
Anyone could complain that this was “not fair,” but as my father would say, “Boy, whoever told you life was supposed to be fair?” More important than the unfair disadvantage suffered by the geeky-looking Elvis Costello was the fact that the commercialized teen-idol culture fed young listeners a musical diet of mediocre crap because an image-based marketing strategy necessarily worked against the brilliant but unconventional performer. So while teenage girls were listening to mindless drek — the golden-haired Leif Garrett doing remakes of old 1950s tunes — they were being denied access to much higher quality music. Like everyone else with a modicum of musical taste who listened to My Aim Is True when it was first released, I was immediately impressed with the ballad “Alison,” which later became a hit when it was covered by Linda Ronstadt and is now recognized as a classic. In 1977, however, I couldn’t get even the program director at the student radio station to consider adding “Alison” to the daytime rotation. Elvis Costello was simply too weird-looking to be taken seriously by Top 40 at the time. And the lyrics of that bittersweet ballad were perhaps a bit too poetic:
Oh, it’s so funny to be seeing you after so long, girl,
And with the way you look I understand that you are not impressed,
But I heard you let that little friend of mine take off your party dress.
I’m not going to get too sentimental like those other sticky valentines,
’Cause I don’t know if you’ve been loving somebody,
I only know it isn’t mine.
That kind of wordplay is thought-provoking — “What is he trying to suggest? Why are those valentines ‘sticky’?” — and Top 40 radio programmers weren’t into lyrics that required too much analysis as literature. But even his fans didn’t necessarily understand what Elvis Costello was saying. One review of My Aim Is True describes the opening track “Welcome to the Working Week” as “a sharp jab at working class conditions and menial labor,” which is a wildly inaccurate misinterpretation of a song that begins:
Now that your picture’s in the paper being rhythmically admired,
And you can have anyone that you have ever desired,
All you gotta tell me now is why, why, why, why?
When I quoted those lyrics to my teenage sons, they immediately caught the metaphor because, after all, what can it mean to say that someone’s photo is being “rhythmically admired”? Here’s one critic who got it:
A lesser man would have just used some goofy synonym for masturbation; Elvis went and used the phrase “rhythmically admired.” It’s more subtle, more original, and infinitely cooler. That’s why you love him.
But still we must ask, who or what is this lyric referring to? What kind of “pictures in the paper” would inspire masturbation? Being unfamiliar with British culture in 1977, I never would have guessed: Page Three, the notorious topless girls featured in The Sun tabloid. So it seems, if we examine the full context of the lyrics, that some female acquaintance of Elvis Costello had posed topless for Page Three and, we may theorize, the chorus was intended to imply that the “working week” ahead for her might not be quite the life of glamorous leisure she had hoped for.
What this song points toward is one of those ironic kinds of unfairness that feminist “social justice” discourse always manages to ignore. Any reasonably observant young man is able to see how his female peers, at least the more attractive of them, have a chance to cash in on their sex appeal. Every time feminists complain about “objectification” as patriarchal oppression, they are engaged in a dishonest reversal of reality, manufacturing a phony claim of victimhood when, in fact, quite the opposite is true: Women who unscrupulously use their sexual attractiveness as a commodity are not victims, they are exploiting an advantage. My libertarian impulse is to say they are free to do so, even as my conservatism would counsel them to beware that they’re signing a contract with the Devil. Many a foolish girl has used her beauty as a ticket to fame and fortune, only to discover that there is a price to be paid for that ride. The story of Dorothy Stratten, dramatized in the 1983 film Star 80, is the classic morality tale about the seamy underside of the “glamorous” career of a Playboy centerfold.
Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten was a high-school senior working part-time at Dairy Queen when she caught the eye of an erstwhile pimp named Paul Snider. Seduced by his flattery and flashy style, she fell prey to a temptation any young woman would be well advised to avoid. Feminist discourse about “heteropatriarchy” and victimhood amounts to a denial that young women are responsible for the consequences of their choices.
Not every pretty girl in Vancouver ends up like Dorothy Stratten did, dead in Hollywood at age 20, her face blown away by a jealous ex-husband. She had married Paul Snider, but once he took her to Hollywood, his low-class manners made him a liability to her ambitions. She had an affair with Peter Bogdanovich, the director of her first feature film, and she seemed destined for a great career — some compared her to Marilyn Monroe — but her ex-pimp/ex-husband felt he was being cheated out of his meal ticket. To quote Wikipedia: “Police believed he raped and murdered her, sexually abused the corpse, then killed himself with the same shotgun.”
Compared to a genuinely tragic story like that, where do the problems of Alabama sorority girls rate on the scale of “social justice”? Do you see why nobody with common sense sympathizes with whiny college kids? You’re not hoeing cotton in the July heat, and you’re not facing enemy artillery fire on a battlefield, so why should anyone care about whatever oppression you imagine yourself to be suffering on campus? To believe yourself a victim of “capitalist imperialist white supremacist cisheteronormative patriarchy” is a paranoid delusion, like a schizophrenic claiming that the CIA is controlling his brain through satellite signals. Self-pity — “Woe is me!” — is a sentiment as unattractive as envy, which is what “social justice” is really about, a bunch of privileged brats complaining it’s unfair because someone else allegedly has more privilege. Who ever told them life was supposed to be fair?
Nobody is forcing you to go to college, just like nobody forced Dorothy Stratten to hook up with a pimp and pose nude for Playboy. Until the day her estranged husband killed her, Dorothy Stratten was living a life that many girls back home in Vancouver might have envied — living in Hollywood, meeting celebrities, dating a movie director. How easy it is to be deceived by phony superficial “glamour,” and how easy it is to envy the lives of those who, in some way, have more privilege than you.
Everybody’s got their own problems, and I seriously doubt many kids at a $65,000-a-year elite college have the kind of problems that would entitle them to pity from any adult who works for a living. There are real victims of real oppression in this world, but you’re not going to find them strolling around the campus of Oberlin College. There’s a reason I lectured my sons not to complain about their jobs. They should be grateful for their opportunity to earn money, grateful for the chance to go to college, and grateful to live in America. Son, thank God for your blessings, including that Alabama farm boy who went off to fight the Germans, and survived to return home and attend the Finest University in the Whole World.
What? The Crimson Tide is only ranked No. 2? I’d say ranking Alabama behind Florida State is a social injustice, but then I’d hear Dad’s voice asking, “Boy, who ever told you life was supposed to be fair?” And since the Crimson Tide faces Florida State in their Sept. 2 season opener, we won’t have to wait long to find out who is really the best team. My father, who earned All-Valley football honors as a high-school senior, never had the chance to play college ball (see “Championship Season”) because the war intervened, but he never complained that was “unfair.” Just like in football, when you play the game of life, you either win or you lose, and nobody wants to listen to the loser make excuses for defeat. That’s really what the “social justice” mentality is about, a bunch of whiny losers making excuses and trying to convince the rest of us to feel sorry for them.
Spoiled brats at elite private colleges sure do spend a lot of Daddy’s money for the privilege of complaining about “patriarchy.” The real mystery is why any parent would ever spend a dime to send their kids to a place like Oberlin. If you’re rich enough to afford the tuition, the Communist professors at Oberlin will teach your kids to hate you! It’s the same story at all so-called “elite” universities — Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. When we see radical madness on campus, it’s not just the craziness of the kids that should concern us, but the insanity of the parents paying the bills to send their kids to these overpriced lunatic asylums. Oberlin’s football team didn’t win a single game in 2016, which should be all the evidence you need that it’s nothing but a school for losers.
My whole family is still mourning Alabama’s loss to Clemson in the BCS title game. That’s what it means to be a Crimson Tide fan: Any season you don’t win the national championship is deemed a failure. And you want to know what the real irony is? Alabama has more diversity than Oberlin. For all their talk about “social justice,” only 5.7 percent of Oberlin’s students are black, whereas black students are 10.8 percent of enrollment at Tuscaloosa.
ALABAMA BEATS OBERLIN IN DIVERSITY!
That’s a headline you‘ll never see in the New York Times. If some of these wealthy parents had as much sense as they have money, they’d tell their kids to apply to the Finest University in the Whole World, and Oberlin College would soon file for bankruptcy and lay off their entire faculty of overpaid Communist professors. ’Bama wins, Oberlin loses. Roll Tide!
Like the man said: “Welcome to the working week.”