Assorted Opinions: The Green-Eyed Monster
The Green-Eyed Monster
On a bad family vacation in 1989…a time when my father was, for some reason, going through a Rush Limbaugh phase…we (as people who have bad family vacations do) were tussling over the radio. If it had been pop music, I’d have been happy to have it on; but talk shows, no.
I was captive audience, though, to a caller who boasted that whenever he saw a Mercedes-Benz parked on the street, he keyed it (which…just in case this practice I haven’t heard referred to in ages, has become unfamiliar, means using the sharp edge of an old-fashioned key to scrape someone’s paint, with malice).
I really disliked his attitude, his praise-seeking for a criminal impulse, from a radio figure; while other members of the family seemed to chuckle over it.
What mentality are we dealing with?
He subscribes (the man with the key) to a commonplace, certainly so where I come from, that when others have nice things, benefits and advantages, this by itself is unfair to those who don’t have them. The plausibility is apparent…the emotional appeal, the “my life is hard, and yours is easy” relatability.
And the view, mostly working-class conservative, can mesh in cozily with a type of folly on the left, a nominal social consciousness. Much of the sheer charm that buffets the world from the politically correct swing of the compass is rooted also in the doctrine of unfairness—an unwillingness to allow people who have erred to fix anything, to change their minds about anything, to be offered a squaring-away task and allowed to complete it, to have their imperfect contribution valued for being a contribution, rather than scorned for being imperfect; to admit themselves wrong and receive redemption.
You frequently will see (in the Twittersphere) a conservative pundit or legislator condemn the American president’s policies, only to be met with:
“You let this happen in the first place!”
And further words of never-forgiveness.
The unfairness doctrine rests on a general, generally unexamined belief that people who have things, “got away” with having them; or that people who seek amity might short their accusers on the sackcloth and ashes, be let off the hook without sufficient suffering for the honor.
For all the man with the key knew, the Mercedes might have belonged to a disabled grandmother, for whom a community, grateful for her years of volunteering, had taken up a collection; they might all, that year, have gone without their turkey and holiday gifts. Yes, a rich f*** is more likely to be the owner, but the angels-in-disguise principle asks for faithful application, not quibbles on probability.
(The only thing you really need to believe in, as concerns all variations of creed, religious and secular, is that if you’re not done fixing yourself, you aren’t ready to start on anyone else.)
All this has an interesting bearing on creative work, on folklore concerning it; on the shadowy figure of the elitist—into that arty-farty stuff and insisting on funding it with your taxes.
Artists, poets, writers…perhaps especially writers…have often to deal with a type. This type interprets all a novelist’s characters and circumstances as autobiographical, or as evidence of sublimated psychology. This type may, if she’s very pernicious…and particularly with paintings, drawings, poetry…find evidence of depression, schizophrenia (possibly, if she’s worked herself into the zone, of “dissociative disorder”) in color combinations, rhymes and repetitions, surreal imagery.
If these people were up to any good, they would have some idea—one they could articulate—of the world’s being a better place for their efforts. But has any artist who’s ever encountered the type, heard tell of a plan for crafting, on the strength of these observations, a body of knowledge and a scheme to improve society?
Because creative success engenders a jealousy like no other. Someone gets to draw pictures for a living, or sing songs, and gets to be rich and famous?
Of course, by far, mostly not…but that doesn’t alter the radar sweep of the unfairness scouts. And as the boastful vandal above indicates, such persons would like to “get back” at the ones they see unfairly rewarded. The diagnosey behavior towards creative work serves to abnormalize it; therefore in turn making people (who could perfectly well make art, if their circles’ opinions weren’t so inhibiting to them) feel they are better off at their distance…not knowing art, but knowing what they like.
The Green-Eyed Monster
2018, Stephanie Foster