I believe the primary reason Joe Sixpack watches [reality TV] is that he thereby vicariously lives his own fantasies of emerging as a butterfly from the chrysalis of his own glamourless life. Where past generations understood that such transformation required hard work (or, as in the case of slackers like our President, considerable skill in the choosing of one’s parents), today’s Americans are bombarded with evidence that the media deux ex machina can obviate the need for such inconvenience.
This new, passive myth has filled the vacuum left by the death of the old: the Horatio Alger story. Americans have always believed, in a way Europeans have not, in class mobility. The world’s tired, poor, huddled masses head for Lady Liberty, work hard, and rise into the middle class or even higher. As a result, America has thought itself to be a less class-based society, and its social policies have done less to favor the poor than those of most European nations. In the American mythos, poverty was largely a consequence of personal failure.
And so a populace trained by its religion to believe in miracles, magic and divine intervention has welcomed the morphing of the Horatio Alger story into something far more injurious to society: rather than look to their own efforts and resources to better their lives, the proles hope against passive hope that they will be chosen to play the television lottery that transforms ugly ducklings into swans, poor into rich, and obscure into famous. The result is arguably more effective in inoculating Joe Sixpack against economic class consciousness than a lifetime of hypocritical scoldings from Pat Robertson and James Dobson could ever be.
The hallmark of this new crop of gentry-in-waiting is an unprecedented dissociation of preferences from realistic self-interest. To an unprecedented degree, these tele-sheep tend to favor not the interests of the economic class to which they really belong (and which the odds are overwhelmingly that they will never leave), but the interests of the class living in the style to which they expect to become accustomed. The world thus no longer consists of rich and poor: there is a third category, which should perhaps be known as the “rich-any-day-now.”
I hadn't thought about it much in a while, so I missed the implications of Dr. Bloor's comment yesterday. But then I saw this at Mother Jones (via Digby) online:
Exactly. What Sarah Palin signifies is that some significant slice of the population has so internalized this unreality that they don't just want to live it, they want to use it to choose a Vice President.
...Palin's omnipresence isn't about John McCain or Barack Obama, or even this week's RNC. It's not about her experience or stance on issues. It's about the "Pop" American Dream.
The old American Dream is dying. Rampant economic inequality makes the cost of working hard to achieve prohibitive. In a culture where more people vote for the next American Idol than for the next president, no wonder Sarah Palin is the top story: She defines the new American Dream, where leaping to the top against all odds is the end goal in itself. Of course there are voters appalled that someone 'like her' can be a 'heartbeat away from the presidency.' But there are also plenty of voters delighted that someone 'like her' has a shot at the ultimate American Dream—a spot in the White House.
If McCain's numbers bump significantly in the next few days, I have a feeling I am going to start losing sleep.