Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Oprah's Chump Change

Luke 21:1-4 (New Living Translation)

The Widows Offering
1“While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people putting their gifts into the collection box. 2Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two pennies. 3 “I assure you,” he said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. 4For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”

We’d just left Massachusetts on our way to Niagara Falls on September 12th when we tuned the radio to NPR. The news was filled with accounts of the on-going rescue and recovery efforts all over the Gulf region. Between the news accounts there were occasional stories of what “celebrities” and large corporations were doing. Wal-Mart was giving millions. John Travolta flew his plane, filled with supplies, to the devastated area. And, Oprah Winfrey was digging down deep herself. She gave a million dollars and brought her crews from Harpo Productions to give us all more glimpses of what we “needed to see.” The rest of us, of course, were every bit as concerned and every bit as busy trying to do our part to contribute to the massive relief effort. The important thing escaping the media’s keen eye, though, was that we were only giving fifty, a hundred, a thousand dollars at a time, or packing up our chain saws and tools and heading south. We didn’t have inflated bank accounts or portfolios and we didn’t have camera crews at our disposal to make our case to the public. All we could do was give as best we could, a dollar here, a dollar there, a few bottles of water, or all the sweat equity we could muster to rebuild.

Oprah, apparently moved by what she and her crews were seeing on the ground, chided the nation:

“This makes me so mad. This should not have happened,” said Oprah Winfrey of the delayed relief efforts. “I think we all -- this country owes these people an apology.”

The diatribe was followed by scenes of celebrities handing out food and a “moving” rendition of “Amazing Grace” sung by Faith Hill.

By the time we passed Rochester some discordant strains were breaking through. I was becoming skeptical of the noble intentions all the pretty people were displaying before the cameras. It just wasn’t ringing true for me.

Did Oprah really mean to include herself, her media entourage, or her celebrity guests when she said the country owed the victims of Katrina an apology? I don’t think so. I think that what she was really saying was that she and other celebrities like her were the only noble souls in this nasty equation. The proof offered, of course, was the million bucks and the rolling cameras she’d given to the relief effort.

I suppose I should have been impressed. A million dollars is a lot of money. I haven’t given that much, nor have millions of my countrymen. As I said before, we’ve only given a dollar here or a dollar there. The media, which would never miss the real story, portrayed at the efforts the rest of us have made, and will continue to do so, with an eye on Oprah and her entourage, that sends the message that the “important” people are doing the yeoman’s work in the Gulf and the rest of us are close to being beneath contempt.

Well, folks, forgive me if I only say “Thanks.” Forgive me if I don’t bow or genuflect at the altar of Harpo Productions. Forgive me if I’m not as impressed as I should be.

There’s a kind of cruel mix in all of this. It’s a concoction of false compassion, political venom, and marketing. Ms.Winfrey appears to be digging deep, but in the end she may profit handsomely. Her ratings will probably soar. Advertising revenues will more than likely skyrocket. Oprah’s net worth, which is estimated to be over a billion dollars, will continue to climb into the stratosphere. Not bad for an initial investment of a million bucks, which, incidentally, is about one tenth of one percent of her net worth.

It’s amazing how much a little “chump change” will buy in terms of power and influence. For one one thousandth of her net worth Oprah has purchased a national platform from which she could lecture an “uncaring” nation. That million dollars was, in marketing terms, money well spent. I’m sure her agents and handlers are quite proud of what they’ve accomplished.

I’m not the only “prole” who is seeing things this way. Here, for example, is a comment from a BBC reader who found the efforts of celebrities in the wake of Katrina less than laudable:

“It all depends on how they help. Leading by example making donations or providing practical help is laudable. On the other hand, the celebrities who appeared in the finger-snapping “Make Poverty History” ad campaign, looking down at us with their patronisingly accusatorial facial expressions before going back to enjoying their super-rich lifestyles seriously annoyed rather than inspired me.”- Nina, London, UK

I suppose I should be a bit more trusting, but my journey in life has taught me more than a few valuable lessons. The one that comes to mind in the wake of Katrina is that the liberalism I’ve seen in my sixty-two years of life has little to do with either compassion, the re-distribution of wealth, or equality of opportunity. Bitter experience has taught me that it has as much more to do with benign forms of racism, elitism, and contempt for those “less fortunate” than it does with caring from the heart.

By now some of you who are reading this post are angry. Good! Stick around for a while and I’ll have you grinding your teeth on all those burdens you’ve hung around the necks of the “recipients of your goodness.” As Holy Writ declares, you love the recognition and the spotlight, but your hearts are full of corruption:

Luke 11:42-44 (New Living Translation)

42“But how terrible it will be for you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest part of your income, but you completely forget about justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but you should not leave undone the more important things.
43 “How terrible it will be for you Pharisees! For how you love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the respectful greetings from everyone as you walk through the markets! 44Yes, how terrible it will be for you. For you are like hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.”

Here are a couple of the lessons living under the thumb of liberalism for the first twenty years of my life taught me. First, it became clear to me early on that the real intention of the “charity” given was so that liberal society could maintain a status quo in which there were “noble givers” and “parasites” who needed to be held back for the good of society. Oh, it was never phrased that way. Liberalism was (and is still) too clever a political philosophy for that. It came packaged with euphemisms – compassion, generosity, kindness, and brotherhood. But, beneath the thin veneer of words, the deeds belied them. They willingly spent billions to build “government housing project” to make sure we wouldn’t find permanent places close to Harvard Square or the other seats of power and worldly success. I know this is true, because I spent a good part of my youth being victimized by their “nobility.” When it came time for me to work my way out of my situation in life they became terrified. I wanted to exercise my right to social mobility and they told me that, because of cruel circumstance, they had to take care of me, that I was their dependent and would be so for the rest of my life. It was, they said, their lot in life to be noble and mine to be their grateful dependent. To seal the bargain they took me to the ballot box and reminded me that my key in this life of dependency was to keep voting for them. My vote, cast for my benefactors, was to be my salvation in life.

There are probably some reading right now who understand what I’m saying. The same liberalism that victimized me for years is victimizing you today. One century has turned to another and some things have changed. But, along with the turning of an age, some things didn’t. Liberalism has always needed victims and perpetual servitude. Those are its cornerstones.

Even the most insidious doctrines of liberalism are packaged in “compassion.” The right to life has been reformulated. With each election cycle, with each new nominee to the Supreme Court, the liberal mantra goes out. “The right to choose,” they cry. “The right to choose.” Like liberal politics, liberal social policy is cleverly packaged, but thinly so. Just beneath the surface lies the racism and evil that are its hallmarks. In the days of Thomas Malthus it was a social instrument too blunt for the rest of society to accept:

“All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room is made for them by the deaths of grown persons. We should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality.”

Even the “seminal” work of its founding fathers the language and social doctrines of liberalism were too bitter a pill for the public at large to swallow:

“Organized charity itself is the symptom of a malignant social disease. Those vast, complex, interrelated organizations aiming to control and to diminish the spread of misery and destitution and all the menacing evils that spring out of this sinisterly fertile soil, are the surest sign that our civilization has bred, is breeding and perpetuating constantly increasing numbers of defectives, delinquents and dependents.”

And this is what the founder of Planned Parenthood had to say in the mid twenties:

“In it she argued that birth control clinics, or bureaus, should be established “in which men and women will be taught the science of parenthood and the science of breeding.” For this was the way “to breed out of the race the scourges of transmissible disease, mental defect, poverty, lawlessness, crime … since these classes would be decreasing in number instead of breeding like weeds.”

In time their champion tempered her language and made it more inviting to its victims:

“In 1929, 10 years before Sanger created the Negro Project, the ABCL laid the groundwork for a clinic in Harlem, a largely black section of New York City. It was the dawn of the Great Depression, and for blacks that meant double the misery. Blacks faced harsher conditions of desperation and privation because of widespread racial prejudice and discrimination. From the ABCL’s perspective, Harlem was the ideal place for this “experimental clinic,” which officially opened on November 21, 1930. Many blacks looked to escape their adverse circumstances and therefore did not recognize the eugenic undercurrent of the clinic. The clinic relied on the generosity of private foundations to remain in business. In addition to being thought of as “inferior” and disproportionately represented in the underclass, according to the clinic’s own files used to justify its “work,” blacks in Harlem.”

It took several generations to refine the language, but liberalism succeeded. “Eugenics” was replaced by the “right to choose.” The fear of “negroes breeding like weeds” became “family planning.” The core intent was every bit as malicious and evil in the eighties and nineties as it was in the twenties or even earlier, but it was cleverly disguised in language pleasing to the modern palate. They appear to have succeeded. In the end the evil has been codified, making it appear to be both acceptable and noble.

A few days ago a commenter wrote to me and said that he was almost certain that Jesus was a liberal. I tried to remind him that He was neither liberal nor conservative. I also tried to remind him that Jesus was neither a politician nor a social theorist. I doubt that I got through.

Jesus didn’t build His life or His sacrifice on something as flimsy as political or social doctrine, yet the things He said and the manner of life He lived speak eloquently to people on all sides of the political and social spectrum.

As I’ve read the Gospels over the years one thing has always been very clear to me about Jesus. He was never so shallow that he would call good evil or evil good. Nor would He ever have stooped so low as to call racism, murder, and the lust for power acts of compassion.

I’ve aimed my words at liberals and liberalism, not because I’m a proponent of modern conservatism. Those who know me best also know that there’s much of the political thinking of the right that I disagree with. But, to their credit, they listen to me and answer the questions I raise. That’s more than I can so for most, if not all, liberals I’ve had social interaction with. I raise questions or cite my experience and all I ever get in return from the left is that “you must be a right-wing fundamentalist.” There’s never a hint of a response to the questions.

This brings me, in conclusion, to Oprah, celebrities, Katrina, and marketed “compassion.” The celebrated may impress folks when they, like the Pharisees of old, flout their goodness before the cameras, but they haven’t bought my adoration. I’m more impressed with the “widow’s mites” that have combined, in the secret places, to contribute more to the welfare of Katrina’s victims Oprah and her marketing gurus could ever imagine. I’m more impressed with the men and women who’ve packed up chain saws, axes, bottled water, clothing, a dollar or two, and real compassion in beat up old pick-ups and found their way to the Gulf than I am with celebrities who rail for the cameras, like publicans before the widows.

You see, there will come a time when the designer clothes and clever words won’t be able to hide the evil that has been lurking in their hearts.

I’ve gone on for a bit over two thousand words now, and I could go on for at least two thousand more. But I’ll just leave with the words of a poem I wrote three years ago to express, in closing, how I feel about the cult of celebrity intertwined with modern liberalism.

Dinner at Noam Chomsky’s
By Phil Dillon
© 2002 Phil Dillon

It’s dinnertime at Noam Chomsky’s
Home of…..enlightened conversation
Home of…..the best and the brightest
Home of…..good food

It’s dinnertime at Noam Chomsky’s
Elite Street, where the pretty people gather, where the ragged pass by
Close to Skid Row…..but not too close
The pretty faces gaze, sympathetically, out the window…..untouched

The pretty people drift in, slowly, purposefully
Insatiable appetites
Straight teeth…..polished teeth…..sharp teeth
Crooked smiles

They sit, gracefully
Feet adorned with Gold Toes and Ballys
Versace hiding, yet revealing, their nakedness
Lapels by Bill Blass

At a corner table they muse, thoughtfully
“Oh, the nuances of rogue states.” They nod at each other approvingly
“By the way, is Zinfandel appropriate with filet of fundamentalist?”
Do you suppose Heinekin would be alright with boiled orphan a la Swift?”

A secluded corner table
Lies and metaphors mix, a media tossed salad
Flesh rips intermittently
Under the weight of the pretty peoples’ molars

At a cozy corner tale
Wine and conversation flow and flesh is devoured
Linen napkins dab human debris
From the corners of crooked smiles

It’s Noam Chomsky’s place
Where the ‘catch of the day’ is pricey and sinewy
Where the sound and fury are endlessWhere compassion’s thrown out with the garbage at the end of the day.


dog1net said...

Again, enjoyed your perspective here. Well presented argument. Especially liked the point you hammered home on Oprah: "It’s amazing how much a little 'chump change' will buy in terms of power and influence."
What you say about "liberalism" is dead on. The worst example I experienced during the mid sixties was "urban renewal." Pittsfield, MA, where I grew up, lost over half of its prized architecture during this time. They condemed the buildings they tore down in the name of safety. The demolition company that tore down the Penn-Central train station, which was declared an unsafe structure, went bankrupt in the process. Dynamite had little effect, and the structure had to be brought down piece by piece with the wrecking ball and jack hammers.
The discussion on the rebuilding of New Orleans is beginning to sound like status quo. And yet another hurricane is beginning to bear down on the region. Looks like we're going to be in for some rough times.

Kn@ppster said...

Great piece! Of course, I cringe every time I see the word "liberal" used to portray the 20th-century trend of the Democratic Party (I'm a "classical" liberal, a/k/a a libertarian).

I prefer to think that some of the media figures (Oprah, Sean Penn, et al) really do have their hearts and minds in the right place and just don't see the exploitative environment they are in and have helped create. It's hard to imagine the poverty of soul that would have to underlie a conscious attempt to to do what's obviously being done.

Tom Knapp

web_loafer said...

This article should be in every social studies text book in public schools. We have allowed our schools to become a place where socialist views are championed, and people such as Oprah are almost worshipped..
The schools feed our youth with a steady diet of liberalism, using the lullaby of liberalism. "Go to sleep, the federal government will take care of you."
Government cannot match the effectiveness of charity done willingly by concerned citizens.
They try to. LOL Witness the insane waste of taxpayers money that will go on in the next few months.
We all know that charity seems to have become an entitlement in our nation. Too bad, I would wish for a better future for everyone, instead of the future of dependency on someone else.
No nation is as charitable as America. That may be why God has blessed us so, that, and hard work.