Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Entitlement knows no bounds

I live in Indiana, about an hour away from downtown Indianapolis, in the far corner of a small town. A suburban kid who came to visit recently told me that I live, gosh, out there.

So it wasn't unusual when I was returning from a visit with two new gentleman friends that I stopped at a grocery store at 2 AM. It's a big-box grocery store, at the heart of suburbia, surrounded by a sea of cookie-cutter houses. It's one of those reminders to me about how weird American culture is. We have vast expanses of houses, all designed pretty much the same, with stores and restaurants that are large and bland, repetition after repetition, like Warhol's soup cans without the color change. In the middle of all this, we put a school system and some sort of "small town downtown area" that no one really wants to have to visit, and then replicate the entire system around every major city in the country. It's a vast organization of repetition that one could spend his or her entire life in not knowing that there's an outside, except, of course, for those urban areas where the last person from here who ventured down there was shot by a gang member, didn't you hear?

But, grocery store's a grocery store, and I was in need of produce that I can't get out there. Walking past the entrance, though, there were several men who were outside, laughing and smoking in the cold, their uniform shirts untucked and hanging out from underneath their coats. I don't see this when I shop shop shop for bell peppers during the day. The workers have to go around the back of the store to have a smoking break. Smoke is smoke; it pollutes the same either way. But in order to make the whole operation less offensive, someone took it upon him or herself to force these people to not just get out of the way (they were already at least ten feet away from the door) but completely out of sight. At that point I realized that that someone had to think, and probably with good reason, that people would choose not to shop there simply because they don't want to see the workers taking a break and smoking. It was only in this slippage during the who-gives-a-fuck hours that I was reminded, not at all unpleasantly, that these workers exist outside of the workplace. (Contrast that with an experience from when I lived in France: I was mis-billed for my cellphone, so I went to the store to work it out, and the guy working there told me three unique lies to get me to leave so he would not have to do the five minutes of work to fix the problem. I was to know that he was a human being, and he plain didn't feel like working at that moment. But I digress.)

So it's only in that context of willful blandness, an absolute attachment to not-feeling any momentary discomfort to which a large part of the American population has convinced itself (with the enabling of a few large corporations) that it has a right, that we can have a story like this. I otherwise cannot wrap my mind around how a man could get so riled up over a video being shown to kids that depicts families of queer people. Nor can I comprehend without a primer in dominant group entitlement how a woman could say: "When does Evesham Township or any school have a right to show to my grandchildren something I believe to be morally wrong?" Somehow in the middle of the most diverse country in the world people believe not that they just shouldn't be forced to do something that they feel is wrong, but that they and their extended family should not even have to acknowledge the existence of anyone they disagree with.

And out here, we call that pretty fucking spoiled.

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