Who’s “We,” White Man?  Or, The Media’s Mythical Majority

March 9, 2009

  An old joke:

  The Lone Ranger and Tonto get surrounded by hundreds of armed Indians.

  The Lone Ranger says, "It looks like we’ve had it this time, Tonto."

  Tonto replies, "Who is `we`, white man?”

Who is this We?

I recently saw some   Newsweek banner ads that say; “Why We’re So Obsessed with Octomom,” about Nadia Suleman, the woman who now has fourteen kids.

By “we,” I assume   Newsweek means “   Newsweek magazine," not "the American public," and certainly not me. I am not obsessed with Ms. Suleman; my attitude toward her would be better characterized as "annoyed" than "obsessed," and I certainly haven’t spent more than a few passing minutes thinking about her. Count me out of the "we."

Recently I was given a book titled, "Curiosa: Celebrity relics, historical fossils, and other metamorphic rubbish." The author, Barton Lidice Benes, wrote (p. 6) "We look at movie stars as gods, so these celebrity relics corresponded to Christian reliquaries…"

Um, Barton, who is this "we"? I don’t look at movie stars as gods, and frankly most people I know don’t either. Paying seven bucks to see whatever movie the actor or actress is in doesn’t make them "seen as gods." Do some people worship actors? I suppose. Are there people who really care if Brad and Jennifer and Angelina really work things out? Maybe a few, but most people have their own lives to lead. Count me out of the "we."

Associate Press writer Frazier Moore, in an article titled, "Late Night TV Faces Unpredictable Returns" (Jan. 2. 2008) wrote about the competition among late-night hosts David Letterman, Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson, and Conan O’Brien. He wrote that as Letterman beat Leno in the ratings, "The public hung on every step of this melodrama."

Really, Frazier? Did we? Is it really true that every member of the public, from the homeless to Wall Street execs, from your aunt to the Mexican laborer who picked your oranges, "hung on every step" of the ratings battle between Letterman and Leno? What world are you living in? Count me out of the "we."

Jake, the "A Man’s Opinion" columnist for   Glamour magazine, in the July 2008 issue offered a column titled, "Seven Lies Every Guy Tells." These gems include "Your best friend rocks!" (supposedly guys don’t like their girlfriends’ friends) and "I’m headed into a tunnel—gonna lose you" (supposedly guys pretend to go into tunnels to get off the phone).

Really, Jake? Because I’m a man, and I’ve never said any of the lies you mentioned. Perhaps it should be titled, "Seven Lies Jake Made Up That He Tells, And To Make It Seem More Important and Universal, He’ll Say Every Guy Tells." Again, count me out of the "we."

I could go on (and on), but I won’t, because you get the point by now. Pop culture writers love, just love, to pontificate on pop culture matters, and issue broad generalizations about what Americans think, do, or are obsessed with. It often leads to a smug, condescending tone—- "Ah, look! I’m so clever! Everyone else believes this crap, but you and I are smarter than that!" But the joke is on them, for they are debunking a superficial myth that very few people actually believe.

If I’m wrong, prove it. Newsweek, show me the evidence that "we" (meaning many or most of the over 300,000,000 Americans) are "obsessed" with the Octomom. Barton, show me where you get the idea that many or most people see celebrities as "gods." Lets see some studies, some numbers, some research, something other than some hack writer using the royal "we" in an unsupported, inaccurate overgeneralization.

The same is also true, by the way, of the common claim that girls and young women see Barbie dolls as physical role models. Well-meaning pundits and feminists have trotted this argument out for decades, that Barbie’s "impossible" figure leads to anorexia or body image issues. News flash: Girls don’t really believe that! There is not a single study or piece of research that shows or suggests that girls see Barbie as anything other than a doll, no more a physical role model than Raggedy Ann or Mr. Potato Head. But that doesn’t stop them from going ahead and telling girls and young women not to believe something they never believed anyway…

I’m tired of being co-opted into some mythical, universal accord, like some straw man argument set up by hack writers using lazy rhetorical devices. Everyone knows they are full of crap—don’t they?