Saturday, July 07, 2007

Mr. Murdoch's neighborhood

You'd think Fox News with all its sanctimonious high sentence and pious pretensions would like the late Fred Rogers; he was an ordained minister after all and he tried to tell kids to be nice and friendly and gentle and not to hate anyone including yourself. But Rogers of course was a Presbyterian and not the snarling kind of Talibanic terrorist for whom anything not related to blood, sweat and endless toil endured to expiate inescapable guilt, shame and self loathing is neither Christian nor worthy of a Christian.

Don Chance, Professor of Finance at Louisiana State University started this Fox feeding frenzy by making some references to his anecdotal evidence that students are now "narcissistic" because Fred Rogers' attempt to make kids feel good about themselves didn't include Neo-Calvinist lectures about work - and more work. Normally this wouldn't be news, but by normally I mean in a world without Fox News and its crusade for an every man for himself, law of the claw, dog eat dog, ant hill Utopia.

If Americans are in fact work obsessed, as indicated by the abnormally long hours we work and abnormally short vacations we take, it's because of our Calvanist heritage with its confusion about whether we work to live or live to convince God not to damn us when we die. We even speak of work in ethical terms. It's called an ethic of course because it benefits employers, on earth and in heaven and our being gleefully exploitable benefits those who teach us about ethics and exploit us. Perhaps it's natural that a professor of Finance would see life and ethics and perhaps all other things in terms of a balance sheet. Perhaps he's more likely than others to reward hours punched on the time clock than actual mastery of the subject he's there to teach, but Fox, the voice of the Employer, is certainly likely to pounce on any anecdote no matter how much they have to stretch it, that allows them to promote, in the name of free enterprise, a meaner, more work oriented society of a kind dear to the heart of Stalin.

It's easier to pick on poor dead Fred, who made kids feel welcome and safe and protected and never once mentioned hell, sin, damnation and endless toil, than to blame a trillion dollar industry that broadcasts self contempt and dissatisfaction in order to sell diet food, exercise machines, makeup, plastic surgery, snake oil and acne cream by teaching you to hate everything about yourself, your house, your car and your freedom. It's not so easy to show that some guy from Louisiana who somehow prefers to be a professor of finance rather than a financier and has no background in the social sciences, knows that his students have a sense of entitlement that grew up in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but that doesn't matter to Fox. It's even harder to expand that to "case closed" status as concerns an entire continent and its culture, but that doesn't matter to Fox either. They feel entitled to promote the interests of the entitled and that entitles them to denounce your entitlement to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That's what they get paid the big bucks for, after all.

Of course We went through this same transcendental idiocy with Doctor Spock who, to a previous generation of crypto-Calvinist Conservatives, single handedly engendered the social and civil rights revolution of the 1960's because not only did he suggest that it was a good thing to express affection for your children rather than to let them feel fear and rejection just for the economic efficiency of it, he didn't implore parents to teach their children self-loathing - the kind that leads to "discipline" which means work. That these were people who were able to dismiss the struggle against institutionalized injustice by telling those involved in it to get a job, is telling.

The Great Depression was depicted by the same "work ethic" peddlers as the result of the laziness of the American worker and the narcissistic self indulgence of those who spend rather than save. You have to admire them for being able to segue into promoting spending and borrowing, yet still blaming the younger generation for being lazy, undisciplined and too concerned with subversive Liberal nonsense like social justice, equal protection under the law and democracy, or sometimes in Louisiana, expecting teachers to be teachers rather than accountants and gatekeepers and makers of lists.

I don't know much about the scapegoats of 19th century America, but children's books were more often than not all about grasshoppers and ants by way of saying work, work, work, you lazy, good for nothing dreamers, lest ye feel the cruel lash of the Lord. The first half of that century produced arguments for slavery based on the native laziness of the enslaved race as compared with the julep sipping slave owners. The same old lies and only the liars are new.

In the grand opera of America, Fox News is only the latest fat man on stage, singing the same leitmotif in the same booming baritone we've been listening to all along. All that is new is that this one has a microphone.

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