I wish Ted Williams the best. He’s had a hard row to hoe, and he seems smart and talented (even if I personally find “radio voice” to be one of the most annoying sounds known to womanity) and earnest.
But if I see one more weepy FB posting, or “Bart’s People” morning news feature, or fist-pumping, re-tweeted summary of his overnight success story, I’m gonna start throwing some ‘bows.
And here’s why: every time we replay the footage that Columbus reporter uploaded and hear Williams recount his sad story, only to rejoice at the “justice” of a flood of job offers and promises of support, we are buying into a narrative that says people fail on their own, and should succeed only 1) if they “deserve” to, and 2) with the assistance of private entities, be they charities, businesses, or individuals.
Now, I don’t know Williams’ whole story, and really, I’m only using his case as an example. I could just as easily bring up any episode of a self-help reality show, like The Biggest Loser or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (which the Dude and I refer to as “Cancer House”), or any “inspiring” Oprah guest, or whatever. It’s all the same story. Someone is down on hir luck, due to hir own “youthful indiscretions” (the label used when we want to forgive someone’s errors)/the dirty dealings of another/the cruel hand of fate, and, having decided that they have suffered enough/wrongly/for too long!, corporations will swoop in and proudly supply that person with stuff, purely out of their sense of goodness and not all having anything to do with PR or product placement, no ma’am!
And we all get to feel warm and fluffy, maybe shed a bonerkilling tear or two, and then go back to whatever we were doing, without another thought about the systems that leave people to fall so far, so fast, and with no formal recourse.
I read this story from truthout (which you should be reading on the regular) a few days ago, and although it’s long, it’s worth reading and has everything to do with Ted Williams’ story. A brief excerpt:
As shared responsibilities give way to individual fears, human suffering and hardship disappear behind the disparaging discourse of individual responsibility in which the poor, unemployed, homeless and hungry bear the ultimate blame for their own misfortune. The neoliberal appeal to self-responsibility and the politics of shame now function as a kind of parlor magic in making disappear any trace of the larger social and systemic forces wreaking havoc on American society. In this discourse of privatization, there are no public or systemic problems, only individual troubles with no trace or connection to larger social forces. Market infatuation with profits and self-interest not only erodes public values and the moral dimensions of the larger social order, but also creates the conditions for a state whose governance is now outsourced to corporate interests. And as the corporate state replaces the democratic state, however minimal its current form, there is nothing to bind ordinary citizens to the notion of democratic governance and a social state. Instead, the state becomes an object of both disdain and fear.
Allow me to repeat: I’m happy for Williams, truly. But how many other Ted Williamses are out there, who have no choice but to wait for their one-in-a-million chance for MegaCorp to discover them and set them up with all the products they need? And how many more people (who have plenty) will use this story as “proof” that the American Dream is alive and well, even as they shake their fists at Big Gummint and turn a blind eye to the hundreds and thousands who have the bad fortune to suffer in less media-friendly ways?