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Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The New York Times "our"

Perhaps nothing is as alarming to the average person as those moments when the elite tries to get cozy. It is rather like a boa constrictor asking you for the next dance. Politicians do it by using the word “folks” – an affectation shared by George Bush and Barak Obama. Mitt Romney does it by confiding that after the torture-death of his dog Seamus, he and his family (cue Romney-laugh) have had “many” dogs.

But the one that sets me back the most is the NYT “our”.

The NYT reporters, secretaries, and crewe doubtless bring home enough bacon to chase the middle class dream in the NY/NJ area. But these are not the people who make with the “our” – that is the specialty of the columnists. And one thing that is guaranteed about the columnists: they swim among their own kind, the upper class in America. Although sometimes they go out among the unwashed, they prefer them to be exotic - in India, or Angola - and they are definitely not spending the night in some crummy hotel in Wheeling West Virginia to ask the yokels for their take  on things. You can be confident that they have great teeth, excellent vacations, and do not have to worry about whether they can take the kids to Disneyland this year. Unless they truly fuck up their investments, they are cruising high, high above the 99 percent.

But such being the blindness of tribal human nature, they do not look out at the world and see themselves as a small minority, among a vast majority of the endebted and laborious. Rather, they look out at the world and see their kind – the “our”, their America – and the other kind, which generally consists of dronebait Middle Easterners and, on the high end, wonderful French restaurants.

There is a great example of the ferocious, upper class “our” in the NYT today in the Well section. The column is entitled: "How spoiled are our children”. It is by Perri Klaas, M.D. And if ever an “our: reeked of the gated community, it is this “our”. It is an “our” where the question of the summer is whether “we” are spoiling our kids. That "we" never even tickles the lifestyles of the two worker family circa-ing around 50 thou a year. Are you kidding me? Do those people exist?

Perri Klaas, according to her biography, should be aware that there is an “our” out there that is a whole other  “them”. She “received her A.B. from Harvard in 1979, her M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1986, completed her residency in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital, Boston, in 1989, her fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases at Boston City Hospital in 1992, and practiced pediatrics at an urban health care clinic in Boston for 12 years.” Through the scrim of these names, one detects some honorable, seventies-ish ambition to bring medical care to the people. But like much seventies-ish liberalism, the years and the economic opportunity that have flowed over it seem to have converged at some liveable midpoint where the people are, well, other people whose kids are going to Harvard.

The content, such as it is, to the answer, how spoiled are our children, comes here in the mid grafs:

“The official pediatric line — I said some version of this to that mother last week — is that you can’t spoil babies by taking good care of them. But even that doesn’t turn out to be simple.
“It’s important to be there and to be responsive and responsible, but it also doesn’t mean that you have to be totally at the whim of the baby,” said Dr. Pamela High, a professor of pediatrics at Brown University and medical director of the Fussy Baby Clinic at the Brown Center for the Study of Children. “You’re teaching them patterns and routine and regularity.”
Parents can meet a baby’s needs while still allowing her a chance to learn to settle down and sleep without being held. In a randomized study on babies with colic that was published this year by Dr. High’s group, when parents got help with issues of feeding, sleep, routine and their own mental health, those colicky babies cried less and slept more.
As children get older, setting limits and establishing family routines and expectations gets more complicated. But it’s still a question of balancing immediate gratification and larger life lessons.”

Ah, that balance! I’m sure “we” are very grateful for the advice, as our heads submerge once more into the general shitstorm spewed out by the Great Recession. In order to provide some larger life lessons, perhaps one should balance our fear of spoiling our children with 'their' fear of establishing the family routine of desperately seeking employment. 

Here’s a story, for instance, about interrupted family routines from Philadelphia:
“Effective August 15, 75 state employees will be out of a job at the Philadelphia Unemployment Compensation Service Center. The employees were notified of the layoffs on Monday afternoon in a twist of irony. A team of experts were sent to help those notified of the layoffs learn how to apply for unemployment benefits. The twist of irony is that all of those in the room who were notified already know how to file for unemployment. The people being laid off were responsible for answering phone calls and processing claims.”

The Pennsylvania government, one should remember, is conducting a GOP war against it largest city, and has been for some time.Later in the story we find that the Center is shutting down because the recession is practically over:

“There are nine unemployment compensation service centers operated by the state and the one in Philadelphia is the only one that is scheduled to close. There was an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent in Philadelphia for the month of May. This number is compared to the 7.4 percent rate for the state and the 8.2 percent rate for the country. The unemployment rate for the city was at 10.8 percent in May of 2011.”

The NYT “we”, fortunately, is not being fired.  Klaas’s column is very sweetly qualitative – she could, of course, while talking about buying children “stuff”, have referred her readers to the Department of Agriculture’s calculator for the cost of raising children, which is here: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/calculatorintro.htm.  According to Daily Finance, using the calculator one finds that a “Midwestern family with an annual household income in the $57,400 to $99,390 range, and a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, will spend $578,050 on both by the time the first one is college-age.” Meanwhile, in an effort to unspoil such obviously entitled people, the bipartisan consensus is that we have to cut their ‘entitlements’, and continue to operate with the proud off-shoring, free trade policies that have so amply benefited 'them', or at least the people in the hedge funds who short their companies, to make this a world class nation. 

Our parents and our children will all benefit, they with the work discipline they so obviously need, we with our concern about whether the Whole Foods beef is really all that grass fed. Distressingly, they, the people outside of the gated community, will no doubt respond with their usual slackness, buying their children bunches of screens while the parents work at their tedious little jobs and munch down a sickening number of French fries. Or as a paragon of “our,”  the Nicole Kidman character in To Die For, expresses it so well:

“Who are they?               
A bunch of   17 year-old losers
who grew up in trailers...   whose parents sit around drinking
and screwing their cousins. I'm a professional person,
for Christ's sake.”
I could almost make an “our” haiku out of that snippet of dialogue.


Ed said...

The increasing distance of the top class (I prefer the term "nomenklatura" but you more usually see them referred to as the 1%, "TPTB", "SWPLs", depending on the commentator, "the establishment" is now somewhat archaic) from the rest of American society is rendering the use of "our" inappropriate in social, economic, and political commentator. Usually now when I see "we" or "our" used the writer really means "the people in the top class who make all the decisions" and should just write that.

Though if the commentator is not in the top class themselves, I guess "they" and "their" would be OK but that obviously doesn't apply to New York Times writers, though come to think of it the same process has been rendering the Times itself increasingly irrelevant.

roger said...

The NYT wants to make my potshots easier today. This is like a gift to satirists: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/education/a-hamptons-summer-surfing-horses-and-hours-of-sat-prep.html?_r=2&smid=tw-nytimes&seid=auto

This is the "our" they address. And out of this "our", we grow our leaders. Ho ho!

Brian M said...

Have to admit that it must be wearysome to be a child of this elite. Do you think MITT...or W spent hours and hours studying for the SAT? Bosh! Of course not.

Now, as the economy tightens and consolidates more and more, even the elite have to worry a little bit. Particularly as manufacturing and icnreasingly services don't occur on shore anymore, why is there even a need for senior American managers? I'm sure the Chinese can do that better and cheaper anyway!

Vermin Direct, LLC said...

The NYT provides a nurturing environment for the cultivation and expression of perfectly self-absorbed witlessness. At a lesser paper, someone might have been startled by an article on pediatric banalities that infantilizes the readers. But at the NYT, they can forge ahead in perfect confidence. The readers want to be told they're not alone in the struggle to learn (and teach!) the balance between immediate gratification and larger life lessons. Their colicky babies will soon be young academic Stakhanovites in the sun-drenched Hamptons. If they're to benefit at all from $300 per hour tutoring, the lessons they learn in their cribs are very important.