Tag Archives: poverty

The Epitome Of Class


The BBC has taken it upon themselves to redefine class. ‘Well of course’ you say ‘and we do love Downton Abby, Call The Midwife and Mr. Selfridge.’ Yes, those decadent and indulgent shows are lavish examples of the British class system in play. But I refer instead to the questionnaire the BBC posted online that over 160,000 completed. Ignoring for a moment the completely unscientific method of this ‘survey’ and also putting aside the very stark reality of who completes online surveys, let us instead consider this tricky terrain.

The British have always been quite transparent about their views and demarcations of class. What (and where) one is born into is often where one stays. There are examples of upward mobility in British society (beyond that of Eliza Doolittle.) But for the most part, where you started is where you’ll stay. If for no other reason than the British are wonderfully observant of clues. (Hello? Sherlock, Miss Marple, Inspector Lewis, anyone?) The slightest hint of a flat ‘a’ or the improper wearing of wellies, and they’ve got you pegged. They have graciously exported this gift to previously colonized locales. You could probably travel the globe and identify where the United Kingdom has ruled simply by observing the (seemingly) arbitrary ‘you’re in’ you’re out’ class systems.

Americans have always prided themselves in eschewing this structure. We still like to fancy ourselves the little rebels who fled from the tyranny of such structure. The truth is that what we do is less honest and more destructive. We pretend that social class doesn’t exist. Oh, we’re happy to discuss real dollars and sense. We take great comfort (or distress) in determining if we economically fall into the middle-class. Politicians love to talk about the middle class. We don’t talk of the lower class or even working class anymore however. No, we call it ‘working families.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s just one person in that ‘family’ or twenty. It’s funny how liberal we can be discussing families in terms of poverty levels but not in terms of legal union.

Taking pains to never associate class with anything but money creates problems. To discuss class in terms of values and cultural proclivities is anathema to Americans. We discuss education and achievement in terms of poverty which is often a thin guise for race. We discuss poverty and race as if they have anything whatsoever to do with achievement, which of course they don’t. There is nothing about any race that impacts learning. There is nothing about how much money a household has which impacts learning. Underfunded and improperly staffed schools impact learning, as do households in which learning is not a priority. We avoid discussing public health and lifestyle behaviors in terms of class. We think nothing of imposing middle values on lower class people, but we’ll never admit that’s what we’re doing. Our entire social and child services structure is built on that very premise.

It’s important to Americans to ignore the real differences of class. But yet we’re wedded to creating a very us vs. them culture. We’re much more comfortable attributing our opposing outlooks and proclivities to religious or political ideals. Sociologists (versus online questionnaires) often explore the gravitation of like-peoples. (Think: lunchroom table configuration studies.) Much more often than not the ‘like-people’ means people of our own religious and ethnic group. But outside of laboratories and research studies what you’re most likely to find in the real world, is that people gravitate towards those of their own class. Being of the same racial/ethnic/religious group is less of an indicator of our shared values than that of class. Would the Rothschilds understand the seder at Sadie’s on Orchard Street? Of course, but after the seder (at 2:00 AM) what in the world would they talk about? If you take a look around at the people with whom you feel most connected they are those with similar values and cultural proclivities. They don’t have identical incomes, they don’t worship in the same way, and their complexions vary in hue. But you all share a similar outlook and a view of the world. That’s class.

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Posted by on April 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique


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Rescue Worthiness


The local 24-hour news coverage has ceased and regularly scheduled programming has resumed. Field reporters are back to their irregular but predictable sleep schedules. The discerning viewer will notice that reporter and reader’s roots have been touched up and in some cases; skin re-bronzed. Television is letting us know that the immediacy has ended. Soon the ads imploring people to give to a nationally recognized relief organization will ebb. The crisis of Hurricane Sandy will quickly become one that is long-term and far more complicated to remedy.

Soon people will have the first tier of their needs met (clothing, food, water, and some form of shelter.) In a few months, shuttered hospitals and schools will reopen, and the last of the storm damage refuse will be removed. Temporary housing will have to be erected or reconfigured out of empty space. Health issues, both mental and physical will arise and hopefully be addressed. Soon the long-term problems will be more than any well-organized and well-meaning band of traveling volunteers could possibly remedy.

After the sodden drywall and molded carpeting is hauled away what is there for a volunteer to do? Once people can cook and store food once again, the hot meal preparations and delivery will end. When the mud and sand have gone away, the cleaning supply donations will cease and the tired and dirty shovel wielding helpers will go home. And that is good.

But what of the people that did not have access to food (hot or cold) or shelter before the hurricane? One of the more (morally) troubling stories to be reported after the storm was that of the evacuation of Bellevue. The evacuation was long and arduous and two patients were left behind (intentionally; they weren’t able to make it down the stairs.) Many of the residents of the Men’s Shelter (located in the section of Bellevue previously used as a psychiatric facility) were now living in a high school with other storm evacuees. (You may have heard of this particular temporary shelter, as the sanitary conditions were horrific.) When it came time to reopen the school the sheltered were escorted out. It is not entirely clear where the former residents of the Bellevue Men’s Shelter went. Nor do we know where the couple, previously living in the evacuated Penn Station, went. But the issues raised are clear and difficult to ignore.

During the crisis period, it’s doubtful that anyone was turned away from food, water and clothing distribution. But as we move into the next phase, when housing must be found for as many as 30,000; not everyone will be welcome. It’s doubtful that those without benefit of housing prior to the storm will be offered housing after the storm. People who were in need of food, water, clothing and shelter prior to the storm will still be in need after the volunteers go home. If anything their access to scarce resources will be diminished, as no doubt those who were previously teetering on the edge of homelessness were pushed full force by the surge of the storm.

There are no easy solutions. We’ve witnessed the enormity of people’s generosity during what is packaged as a crisis. Living as if we are in perpetual crisis is neither sustainable nor desirable. But broadening our definition of crisis would help us channel the very best of humanity to help those most in need. Yes, it is simpler and far more manageable to restore people to their stasis after an external wallop. Perhaps if we shifted our focus from cause to solution, we would find it all less daunting. Why someone is residing in Penn Station is somewhat beside the point. If we agree that all people should have access to safe housing, food, mental and physical health care then back story is beside the point. No one is more or less worthy of stability and care. We know that and during our best moments we feel it.

We have seen an impressive (and functional) collaboration of; state, federal, local, private, public, religious and corporate efforts during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We now know it can be done. We are left wondering why it isn’t done everyday.


Posted by on November 15, 2012 in Cultural Critique


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The Boobie Tube

More than half of American babies watch television for about two hours a day.  One third of babies have televisions in their bedrooms.  Babies.  Those under two years of age.  What little I know of human development, I’m guessing they are not using the remote.  This suggests that an adult is turning on the television for the baby.  I have so many questions I hardly know where to start.

I think I understand the concept of putting a baby down in front of a television.  It has to do with giving the adult a reprieve, yes?  May I suggest a moratorium on the demonization of the playpen.  You remember the playpen?  It is a box filled with toys, books, and cuddly things that kept tykes safe.  It was how we controlled their environment, versus gating and locking our environment.  Babies could happily entertain themselves while floors got cleaned or adults took showers.  Now, if my presumption is accurate, that television is being used in lieu of a playpen, I have to ask; what show is being watched?  Does it matter?  Is it just the sound that is pacifying the babe?  If so, how about music and a busybox?  Forget the quality of television for a moment.  Can anything be gained, developmentally, from staring at a screen?  (That is not a rhetorical question.)

The nursery television leaves me a bit more confused.  What in the world is going on there?  Is the baby being left alone with the television on?  To what end?

Before you think I am anti-media or (gasp) anti-television, let me assure you I am most certainly not.  At 14, I ecstatically received a hulking 35 inch wood-framed black and white television set.  Painted yellow.  That only got channel 7, which was fine as this was during ABC’s heyday.  For my 16th birthday my wishes were granted with my very own portable television, which received all seven channels!  I brought it with me to college.  I love t.v.  It’s one of my best friends.

What I don’t love is blanket social inequities.  According to the Kaiser Foundation, in families with incomes under $30,000, 64% of children younger than 8 had televisions in their rooms.  In families with incomes above $75,000. the number drops to 20%.  I doubt 100% of the blame shouldn’t be placed upon the importing of cheap electronic goods.  It certainly doesn’t help that a television is no longer a luxury item.  But perhaps something larger is at play.  Even back when televisions were far too dear for the middle-class, Muffy and Biff were not squired away in their nursery watching television.

While I shy from being an alarmist, I truly suspect that there is something a tad sinister in play.  “Progress” has brought us inexpensive food-like substitutes, flavored “drink” and access to electronic noise.  There is a school of thought that maintains that the plethora of liquor stores, cigarette ads and cheap goods in low-income neighborhoods is part of a scheme to quell the underclass.  Television is a very effective pacifier.

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Posted by on October 25, 2011 in Childhood, Media/Marketing


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