Friday, November 4, 2016

Help Him, Rhonda...

"Privilege" is a buzzword used to highlight how people who've had different experiences view the world through the lens of those experiences. Like a lot of concepts, the kernel of truth at the center has been wrapped up in so much silliness that an idea we could potentially use to try to understand one another better has become a club to hit people over the head with.

After all, who could deny that my experiences growing up in a medium-sized city during the 1970s and 1980s affected how I look at the world? And who could deny that someone who grew up in a different city or different era would see things differently? Makes perfect sense. But then using those differences to say that one or the other of us needs to shut up makes...less than perfect sense. By a mile.

How bad can it get? Comes now Ben Ratliff, writing for the New York Book Review about the Beach Boys. While their songs may seem like jaunty and fun little slices of 1960s California coastal life, Mr. Ratliff alerts us that they are "poems of unenlightened straight-male privilege, white privilege, beach privilege."

Now, I know what straight-male privilege and white privilege are, and I can even acknowledge that they do exist, although not nearly so often or oppressively as some would say. Those phrases describe real things.

But what the hell is "beach privilege?" Seriously, what the hell is beach privilege supposed to be? What special status is conveyed by a song and look that recalls the last stretch before the land gives up? What extra rights and abilities come with sand? Is the oppressive power strictly an oceanfront feature, or are lake and river beaches also just another instance of the man trying to keep the people down?

Is there not enough real oppression around the world that Mr. Ratliff has to claim that the little deuce coupe is an agent of the 1 percent? Are there not enough real problems that we have to picture the little old lady from Pasadena when we fight the power (I know, not a Beach Boys song. But beach privilege is everywhere, dude).

Those are rhetorical questions that I wouldn't expect Mr. Ratliff to answer, operating as I do with the privilege of having a blog that would be nowhere near his radar.

That's all for now. I need to go out and learn how to surf so I can continue to tread the masses under my huarache sandals.

(H/T Kathleen Timpf)


fillyjonk said...

"an idea we could potentially use to try to understand one another better has become a club to hit people over the head with."

Quoted for truth, as the cool kids say.

I acknowledge I have privilege: my parents loved and wanted me, they valued education, they took me to the local public library twice a week, they saw to it that I went to church with them, and that I learned right from wrong.

But instead of being ashamed of any of this because it somehow gives me an unfair advantage, I am grateful for it, because it has made my life better and richer in ways that money has nothing to do with.

Friar said...

Recognition of blessings is not wrong, especially when those blessings allow us to be aware of those who have not had them. I have no idea how students in the schools awash in this stuff manage to get through a day.