No Post For You!

Actually, jk, there is totally a post for you.  Only today you’ll get to read it on another blog.  This is my first guest post and I’m really excited about it.

Before you go read it here on Grub Daily just a few quick things:

  1. If you aren’t familiar with Grub Street you should be.  Check them out here – they will save your writing life.
  2. To get lots of excellent advice on writing you might want to subscribe to their blog Grub Daily.  You won’t be sorry.
  3. Lastly – but most importantly – please consider supporting Grub Streets’ Young Adult Writing Program (YAWP).  It’s the best thing you can do with your money today.

Thank you & happy reading! *kaila

Tell Me What You Want: I’m Listening

i can hear you through these fancy interwebs

i can hear you through these fancy interwebs

Hello Lovelies.

So.  There’s a lot of writing on my plate these days.  Stuff keeps happening in the world and in my life – things I want to write about, so many things, if only I could type fast enough.  And that’s sort of what I need your help with today.

I like writing (meaning that I actually hate writing, but I love how I feel after I’ve written – it’s kind of like going to the gym in that way).  Writing for writings sake is all well and good, but the point of this blog is to also write stuff that people are interested in.  So with that in mind I did some WordPress statistics searching and found out some interesting things about you – dear readers – in terms of which articles you’ve read the most, which topics you seem to gravitate to, etc.  Then I made a nifty little poll – below – that I’m hoping you can help me with.  The point?  To find out what YOU want me to write about. Feel free to chose from a few of the options provided or put in your own answer.  Tell me what to write.  I’ll listen.

“Disconnect” – Identity, Surveillance & Mediated Realities

Michael Bluth (aka Jason Bateman) gets serious online.

Michael Bluth (aka Jason Bateman) gets serious online.

The opening moments of the new film Disconnect are confusing enough to reel you in, as you try to make sense of the scenes unfolding before you.  With the help of a naked woman in an animal mask, stacks of pumped up kicks, a cool P.O.V. shot from a camera mounted under a skateboard, and (wait for it…) urine in a protein shake, writer Andrew Stern and director Henry Alex Rubin get their hooks in the audience quickly – and then dare you to look away.  You won’t be able to.

Billed online as “A drama centered on a group of people searching for human connections in today’s wired world”, with the tagline ‘Look Up’– Disconnect seems, at first glance, to be a call to the audience to pay attention to the relationships and human beings who share our immediate physical environment (I mean, how often have we kept company with the tops of peoples heads as they play on their phones?).  At it’s most basic and overt level the film is about how technology brings us together and pulls us apart – but that’s not really anything new or different (nor is it the most important message of the movie). One of the things about Disconnect that is different – or rather, one of the more captivating aspects of the film – is how these moments of rupture and repair are authentically captured and conveyed in a way that makes the audience complicit in the downfall or redemption of the characters.  This strategy works to further blur the line between truth (the audience) and fiction (the film) in a way that often mirrors our virtual experiences.

Allow me to explain: In nearly every scene where a character is texting/Facebook messaging/I.M.ing/etc. we are spared the typical over-the-shoulder P.O.V. shot where the character is off to the side while the camera focuses in on the computer or telephone screen.  More often, in this film, the characters are shot head on, looking down (of course) at the computer or phone, with the words they are typing written out in real time on the left side of the movie screen.  So the words are – literally – inscribed onto the film itself – adding one more nicely fit layer to the onion of mediated versus unmediated interactions that the audience must peel away.  And this is part of how the audience is made complicit: we must actually watch the words as they come up on the screen, as if we ourselves were the one composing – or getting – the message.  In this way we are forced to be both the sender and the receiver, as the words unfold on the screen and the director alternates head-on shots of each of the two communicating characters.  It’s a nice little cinematic sleight-of-hand – a way of making us identify with the characters who are each struggling with their own identities (both in real life and online) even as the lines between these identities become necessarily blurred and crossed.

And identity is important in the film.  We get to see how characters (and by extension -we ourselves) create online identities – like in the scene where two girls are reviewing photos on their computer, selecting which images to put online (which ones will ‘fit’ their online identity), and one character admonishes the other as she walks out of the room saying, “don’t post that picture!” – a phrase I’ll wager you’ve both said and heard many times.  In this way, we have some level of consciousness about our online identities – and control over them – in ways we often do not in real life.  I believe that the film addresses what happens when we lose control over our mediated identities as a means to get us to meditate on our real world identities – and the way these play out in our relationships to one another as husband/wife/daughter/son/mother/father/brother/sister.

In this way, the film uses technology and our online identities as a vehicle for talking about identity writ large because it highlights how our online identities are things we craft and create.  Of course, we do this with our ‘real’ or non-virtual, un-mediated selves and identities as well – though this fact often exists on the periphery of our consciousness.  Still, regardless of the story arc for each of the three intertwining main plot lines, it is only in the non-virtual un-mediated moments –through real-life human interaction and physical contact – that any given character is redeemed.  Without giving anything much away (so I’ll skip the gender analysis I want to do & that this film desperately needs), I’ll just say that the one character who is not redeemed is the one who lacks the real world support system or human safety net that the other characters have managed to create for themselves even in non-traditional, non family-of-origin, ethically ambiguous and quite possibly illegal ways.  The message perhaps being that while the internet allows for connections and disruptions – it is only the interactions we have in real life that have the potential to truly save us.

And it is for this message that the film has been taken to task in reviews that claim the filmmakers are hitting us over the head with their moral lessons and over-worked clichés (like the fake Facebook profile that ultimately allows for real connections, the online support group that pulls a family apart, etc.) but I think that this critique is missing something important about the film – and that, to me, is the larger, more subtle yet inevitably more crucial message of the movie: We Are All Surveilled.

When we watch Disconnect with this message in mind (rather than the somewhat tired ‘is the internet bad or good’ question) we are privy to what I believe is the filmmakers much more refined analysis of larger, more systematic and social questions regarding privacy and surveillance – not at the level of parent and child but between individuals and The Man (whether you think “The Man” is the government or large corporations or some hidden Illuminati-type group of actors).  Clearly, this is a bigger issue than the film can address but I contend that this is the (not-so-hidden) message in the movie.  The film’s catch phrase “Look Up” could also be read in this way – as in look up the power structure, see who is really in charge here and who is watching us.  Even the promotional poster for the film points to this reading: in a busy city square where everybody is going about their business, Jason Bateman is looking up – ostensibly at a surveillance video camera that the other people in the square are seemingly oblivious to.

Granted this message isn’t really hidden in the film, it’s actually central to each of the main story lines – that whatever virtual reality the main character inhabits (or plays with, or acts through) is under surveillance from another ‘governing’ body (be it parents or the FBI).  But what is important – and largely unspoken in the film (except in a few playful moments) is that in each of the stories the characters have this sort of suspension-of-disbelief about the fact that they themselves have consented to this surveillance (and here I’m working hard to try to NOT talk about hegemony.  You’re welcome.)  But this consent is really key –WE create that Facebook profile, WE sign up for online payment systems or cell-phone banking (it’s so easy!), WE use GPS to get from point A to point B (which means of course, that WE not only arrive at our destination but are tracked on our way), WE give all those apps “permissions” (literally: permissions) to do a range of things on our fancy little phones (this is a larger issue that I’ll pick up in my next post in this series).  And then we are a little surprised (or completely shocked) when our privacy is compromised.

We are participants in our own surveillance, uploading scads of personal information, largely because it makes our lives easier – but what happens when the reality of our lack of control over this information sets in?  This is nicely illustrated in Disconnect between the ease of setting up a Facebook account and the near-impossibility of trying to deactivate it: the two character’s commentary in this scene is hilarious as they complain about how difficult it is to delete a profile, making comments like “they make you fill out so many things”, “they really don’t make this easy”, and finally “ugh, we have to put down a reason”.  The reason they select, by the way, being “I don’t feel safe online”.  Brilliant.

Brilliant, if not a little too obvious.  At times – like in the Facebook account deletion scene – the movie seems to be hitting us over the head with the message.  But then again, the filmmakers even seem in on that joke too – as in the very next scene that boy is wearing a t-shirt that reads “Overkill by Insight”, and the other boy wears a shirt that says, simply, “Overkill”.  Yeah, alright, turns out Overkill is a skateboard-based clothing collection, but its placement in the film is not an accident.  Neither is the impersonation of the Grim Reaper by a main character during a beautifully shot sequence towards the films end (I really want to talk more about this scene, but I don’t want to ruin it for you).

This issue of privacy and policing, and the ways in which we are complicit in our own online surveillance is the topic of a new series on this blog.  Watching and writing about Disconnect was a good way for me to begin to think through these issues.  Because it’s a film about ‘who we are’ and ‘what we do’, the ways we construct our identities, both online and IRL – but it’s also about a lot more important things that we need to be thinking about.  Needless to say, the film doesn’t give an answer, it just asks a lot of questions – the kind that Google can’t answer for you.

It’s a brand new year

Dear Readers,

2013 has gotten off to a VERY interesting start and amid all the new and crazy things that have transpired I have been woefully neglectful of my blog.  I actually went on my website for the first time this year a few days ago and was greeted by my “2012 Annual Report” generated for me by the kind folks (or computer programs) at WordPress.  The best part of this report was the map they included which shows where in the world people have viewed my blog.  Check it out:

going global

It’s not the number of views I was paying attention to but rather where the views occurred that captured my attention.   All in all my blog has been viewed (well, hopefully read) in 19 countries – including Nepal (!!).

Seeing that map was completely inspiring.  It reminded me of the power of the internet to connect people and ideas on a global level, and it also reminded me that so many people have supported my writing and taken the time to check out my blog when they could have been on Facebook or following the never-ending twists and turns of the Kardashian family.  So, dear readers, this is just a brief post to say thanks, to let you know that I haven’t forgotten about you, and to say that I’m back and ready to blog my way through 2013.

I’m switching things up a bit this year – there will be the usual rants about politics, culture and the world-at-large, but I’ll also be writing more about media, movies & T.V. (because let’s be real, at the end of the day it’s more fun to focus on FLOTUS’s new bangs than Benghazi).  Last but not least, I’ll be writing a little more about my own life.  You’ll get to join me on a new adventure I’m about to embark on, and you might even get to meet a few of the kooky characters that make my family and friends the most entertaining group of folks that I know.  That’s right, it’s about to get personal up in here – but I promise to do my best to make it funny, worth your while and not too damaging to anyone’s reputation :).

Thanks for joining me in the blogosphere so far – and here’s to a great 2013!

“A Swing & A Miss”: Taxes, Athletes & Rigged Games

Who’s on first?

In Friday’s issue of The Boston Globe, a front page article entitled “Eye on ’13 tax bite, big earners seek to move up pay dates” opened with a discussion of Mike Napoli’s $39 million contract offer from the Boston Red Sox.  According to the article, with a payday such as this, Napoli is a member of the tax bracket that may potentially see a rate hike of about 4.6% come January. In addition to Napoli, columnist Callum Borchers describes a number of athletes – or more specifically – athletic agents attempting to lessen their clients’ tax obligations in 2013 through a few interesting tactics (including having some of their 2013 wages turned into 2012 bonuses).  And it’s not just a baseball issue, Borchers illustrates the same strategies used by players in the NBA and NFL as well in order to underscore the fact that “it is common practice for the rich to adjust their pay dates when tax increases loom,” (A17).  Ok.  But just which ‘rich’ is Borchers focusing on?

It is Borchers’ choice of which ‘high earners’ to include in the article that gives me pause.  Let’s put this into perspective – Mr. Napoli’s salary from the Texas Rangers in 2012 was $9.4 million, so a 3-year $39 million contract with the Red Sox is nothing to sneeze at.  However – and this is crucial – in the world of the truly wealthy, it’s also nothing much.  Let’s be real, if the Koch brothers – estimated to be worth $31 billion each – lost $39 million, would they even notice?  Indeed, in their September issue Forbes reported that for 2012 the “average net worth of a Forbes 400 member is a staggering $4.2 billion”, which is the highest average in history.  This is not a collective number, this is the average worth of the 400 wealthiest individuals in America.  In fact the collective worth is even more startling, as msnbc.com reported that “collectively, this group’s net worth is the equivalent of one-eighth of the entire U.S. economy, which stood at $13.56 trillion in real terms according to the latest government data”.  $4.2 billion, $31 billion, $13 TRILLION…these are the numbers of the real ‘high earners’ according to the leading financial magazine, yet the Globe gives front page coverage to “high earners” earning…$39 million over 3 years?  Really?  In my opinion, focusing our attention on high earning athletes is a sleight of hand designed to trick our attention away from the real game & how it may be rigged.

So let’s play ball.  When we are talking about the potential impact of a tax hike on the richest Americans we are not talking about athletes or movie stars, though they are often the face of celebrity and fortune.  But that’s not just because they are good looking, rather it’s part of the game designed to focus our attention off those that are truly the biggest earners and also (according to many) the biggest policy impacters and political lobbyers.  In fact, the richest Americans maintain their power largely by remaining invisible.  Yet when the earnings of just one address – like 740 Park Avenue (which a recent documentary by Alex Gibney claims is “home to the highest concentration of billionaries in the United States”) – is equal to or greater than a large portion of America and yet they often pay less taxes, there is a big problem.  But the more we are concerned with the Pitt-Jolies or Evan Longoria and his $100 million six-year contract, the less attention we pay to the people for whom $16.7 million annually is, truly, chump change – people who could buy and trade baseball teams the way kids trade baseball cards.

To talk about “high earners” and limit the conversation to star athletes is a problematic but clever move.  Using a sports analogy we might say it’s like a pitcher about to attempt a pick off of a runner trying to steal second base.   In the crowd we watch the position and movements of the pitcher, carefully designed to avoid a balk and – critically –  drawing our attention to the lead off, our eyes glued on the runner hovering between first and second, while we ignore all the other players breezing into home plate.

An Open Letter About The ‘Youth Vote’

Dear Young Voters of America,

I’m writing to you today to apologize.  Not for doubting you – the way that some journalists and pundits did prior to this election.  No, instead I’m writing to apologize for the way the media so often talks about you, rarely talks to you, sometimes talks at you, but almost never talks with you.  I want to say sorry that you are discussed as a homogenous group that moves through the world and acts according to some programmed chip implanted in those aged 18-29 (as these are the completely random ages assigned to ‘youth’ voters).  I am sorry that you are defined solely by your age and that your opinions, perspectives, personalities and other identities (like race, geographic location, sexuality and socioeconomic position) are strategically erased so you fit more easily into your assigned category.

In this sense I could apologize to all the essentialized identity-based “groups” that pundits discussed in the days leading up to – and after – the election, allowing for people to make sweeping generalizations about the “Latino Vote” the “African American vote” or the “Female Vote” etc. as though sharing (to varying degrees) a skin color, a religious affiliation, a sexual orientation, or a set of reproductive organs is a defining attribute in the sense that it will define what you think is important and (in this case) who you will vote for.  Indeed this reductivist approach to identity is problematic because it ignores the social construction and fluidity of identity, the ways in which many of us fit into multiple (and often overlapping) categories, but most importantly – it ignores the more pertinent issue: that these “groups” do not coalesce through the superficial markers of race, class, gender, sexuality, age, religion, etc. but rather because of a shared history of oppression and disenfranchisement.  It is the political and social ‘othering’ of these peoples that marks us as ‘groups’ (in any sense of the word).  If I still inhabited the academy I would insert here some brilliant quote about the social construction of identity and its relationship to systems of power by some obscure theorist – but I kicked that Ivory Tower to the curb so instead, here’s the same idea in 140 characters or less, from the night of the election: “Fun Fact: The blacks and Hispanics you are hearing pundits say are winning it for Obama are also known simply as Americans” (@pourmecoffee).

So, I’m sorry to all Americans who found themselves reduced to one-dimensional straw men in this election coverage as well – but this letter is a special dispatch to those millions of people who find themselves between the ages of 18 and 29.  You are the youth vote (even if you didn’t know it).  As an anthropologist who specializes in collaborating with young people, I know some of you quite well: you are my friends, my former students, my co-researchers, my co-authors.   You lent me your voices and stories for my dissertation, and I know some of you pretty well – so I also know that many of you did not vote at the polling place in November – but you have been voting with your feet and your voices as part of the revolutionary (and thus systematically ignored) Occupy movement.  And that gets my vote.

But for all you youth voters who turned out on November 6th, you get a special letter just to you.  Because I heard you won the election for Barack Obama.  Nice job.  And you also get this letter of apology because I read what people wrote about you both before and after the election and, well, it bugged me.  As Lizzie Crocker & Abby Haglage noted in their article about the youth vote for The Daily Beast, “[t]his year, America lost faith in the youth vote, bemoaned a lack of enthusiasm on college campuses, deemed youths ignorant on policy, and invalidated their opinions altogether”.  And they are totally right…except for one important detail.  This exclusion, marginalization and invalidation didn’t just happen this year – or in this election – rather there is a long history of this kind of dismissal of youth’s opinions and perspectives in U.S. politics (and just about everywhere else).  And so the themes I noticed in the articles and blogs about the ‘youth vote’ are ones that I’m sure you – my young friends – are quite used to by now, having long experienced adults reducing you to stock characters.  Still, the tropes evident in political musings about the ‘youth vote’ belie some deeply entrenched ideas about young people, and thus they deserve our attention.  Allow me to explain.

In the myriad articles and posts I came across about the ‘youth vote’ a certain theme emerged.  This theme reduced you to online zombies defined by social media use, an addiction to anything with a lower case ‘i’ in front of it, and a tragic (yet inevitable) enslavement to The Cool – or whatever is ‘trending’.  This “iVote” motif assumes that, as youth, you vote for president like you vote for Prom King.  Furthermore, it portrays youth voters as not-yet-fully-formed people and your views are either 1) dismissed as inherited from your parents and accepted blindly, or rejected blindly in that ‘rebel without a clue’ kind of way or 2) dismissed as the naïve optimism of those who have yet to enter the ‘real world’ (and I’m trying hard here not to quote John Mayer).  So join me, if you will, on a quick tour through the iVote media landscape.

In the National Review Online, Jason Fertig blames the Republican’s loss on “the education system for failing to teach civics…and for spending precious class time on fashionable, left-leaning topics like sustainability”.  Right – because ensuring that we don’t destroy the planet for future generations is certainly not a real area of academic concern so much as it is a ‘fad’.  We might as well call it iSustainability – to really tap into the heart of this voter demographic – a demographic that Fertig assumes is stuck in the social mores of junior high when he agrees with Herman Cain in saying that Obama won because he was “more popular”.   Because we all know that, for the ‘youth vote’, presidential elections are just popularity contests.  I mean, c’mon – folks aged 18-29 don’t really care about the economy and social policy – they’re way more into how pretty you are, or what kind of music you listen to.  Sound silly?  Well, Fertig himself posits that, “Mitt Romney’s iPod playlist may have hurt him in the general election more than we realize”.  Does no one else take issue with this idea?  And, on that note – can you imagine any other voting ‘bloc’ having their pick of president dismissed in such a way?  While every “minority” group was essentialized and homogenized in this election discourse, no other group is assume to vote based on things like musical preference.  As for the young voters I feel confident in saying that this was not a case of Jay-Z versus Meatloaf (or the insane Ted Nugent) – it wasn’t about taste in music or any kind of aesthetics for that matter – it was about issues important to all Americans, regardless of age.

Still Fertig contends that the cultural shift that reelected Obama is one about being “cool”.  I wouldn’t even bother responding to this notion except for the fact that Fertig isn’t the only one out there floating the idea that Mitt lost because he wasn’t as “cool” as Obama.  In an article on Forbes, Stephen Richer (a fitting last name for a Forbes journalist) tries to figure out why the “Obama Zombies” (a pejorative label that deserves its own critique) once again voted Obama into office.  He lists three possible reasons, the first being that, in his own words, “Obama is just the man”.  This is Richer’s label for the idea that “young voters are infatuated with Obama not just because of his ideas or party label but because of his personality, dulcet voice, jump shot, cool vibe, etc.”.  Sound dismissive to you?  Interestingly, it is Richer’s second possible explanation for why the Republicans lost that I think is the most reasonable (but gets lost in the article) and that is the idea that, “Our policies no longer jive with the youth”.  Now I would argue that even his use of the word ‘jive’ belies the reality of this situation.  Still (and maybe I’m guilty of some naïve optimism myself here) this sentence hints at another ‘youth vote’ theme that should be the most common but in reality is quite rare, and that is the theme of “The Knowledgeable Youth Voter” – where one (perhaps begrudgingly, or in spite of oneself) actually attributes at least some level of rational thinking to you, our young voters.  Yet it is amazing how rarely one sees this theme in articles about the youth vote.

On USNews.com Elizabeth Flock notes that “several groups that study the youth vote say they are confident Romney’s lack of appeal to youth lost him the presidency”.  And in an amazingly ill-advised conference call to campaign donors on Wednesday November 14th, Mitt Romney himself addressed the issue of the ‘youth vote’ and reduces them to swag seekers vying for the policies and programs (“gifts” in Mitt’s phrasing) promised by the Obama administration.  As he said, “with regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of collage loan interest was a big gift,” and “free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women” because apparently young men don’t care about that issue (sorry, “gift”).  However, if we read through the dismissive tone of what Romney actually said, or re-worded the sentence altogether, we may come away with the radical idea that young voters took a good hard look at the policies and programs of the prospective Presidents and made thoughtful decisions about what would best benefit themselves, the economy, the nation, and the world.

Now, I’m not going to deny that Obama has a ‘cool’ factor that we haven’t seen in a President…well, ever, but I will say that the iCool and Swag Seekers themes likens the youth vote to a popularity contest – stripping youth (as they are so often stripped) of being actual thinking, reasonable, people with well (in)formed ideas and opinions.  Because that is, actually, the reality of the situation – to which a few journalists have finally caught on.  In a rare example, US News article author Flock notes that “while Romney and running mate Paul Ryan occasionally reached out to struggling college graduates in the campaign, the Obama camp did a better job of addressing their concerns” (my emphasis).  Concerns like affordable higher education, the reduction of college debt, and possibilities for being able to get a job (Obama even has a website devoted to these – and other – concerns of young Americans).  Finally, a journalist notes (in not so many words) that it wasn’t about social media campaigning, or how well the candidates tweeted – it was the substance of the message that mattered to young voters.

The same is true of the Daily Beast article where Crocker & Haglage spoke to a young woman from D.C. who attributed the GOP’s loss to their “archaic social mores”.  The authors also include in their article a very thoughtful quote from one young voter – Katie Lazares – who said, “Obama’s views are certainly more aligned with the majority vote on social issues than those of his Republican counterpart…And given the way our society continues to shift over time, he sure as hell is more equipped to lead our nation than Mitt Romney”.  Finally, an article about the ‘youth vote’ talks to an actual ‘youth’!  And guess what – she’s not talking about him being ‘cool’ – she’s not talking about what’s on his goddamn iPod – she’s talking about social mores and the cultural shifts that change them in society.  It’s pretty smart stuff.  And thank goodness, because this is the reality.  In an article in the Christian Science Monitor, ‘Rock the Vote’ president Heather Smith states, “Young people are savvy, and they’re committed to this idea that their participation is how they take back power in this country”.

So my young friends, while I’m sorry about how much of the media has discussed your participation in the election, I’m happy to tell you that I think there is hope – hope that people seeing you as rational thinking individuals will be a given, rather than an exception – because this is how it should be. And know that every time you vote and change the political course of the nation, every time you give a quote to media outlets that makes people stop and think – you help change the discourse about you(th).   So keep it up – keep surprising people, keep building coalitions with other (& othered) identity-based groups, keep Occupying, keep resisting…keep everyone on their toes.

With admiration & in solidarity, Kaila

The Entitled Entrepreneur

Rosie, the riveting 47 percenter – you need this shirt

Last fall I was one of the millions who descended on New York (and cities around the globe) to proudly declare that I was the 99%.  But it turns out I was wrong.  I’m not the 99% – I’m the 47%.

Yes, the same 47% percent Mitt Romney referenced in the now infamous video of his rant against what he might call the ‘entitlement class’.  As he said, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.” (Read the full transcript of the video here).

Right.  Well, due to some unforeseen (and some foreseen) events, I find myself – for the first time in my life, applying for unemployment.  Coupled with my applications-in-process for affordable health care and fuel assistance, I am officially – if unwittingly – a part of the 47% that has become tethered to the term ‘entitled’.  Now, as a cultural scholar I would be more comfortable talking about the social assistance programs and resources I am applying for – but the linguistic shift that the media has propagated in its adoption of the term ‘entitlement programs’ is so disturbingly pervasive that it seems almost as if these services were always (and only) known by that name (a tip of the hat here to the brilliant PR spin doctors who partook in this revisionist history).  So here’s the ‘entitled’ me in a snap shot:

I have spent all of my adult life working.  I worked in high school, I worked during college, I worked through graduate school, and when I received my Ph.D. I worked some more – being, as I was, one of the lucky ones that landed an adjunct position at an institution of higher learning.  That’s right, up until a month ago – I was your child’s professor.  Last semester – or in the twenty semesters prior – it was my class your son or daughter might have talked to you about during winter break.  I was the one who passed or failed them, I led (what I hoped were) thought-provoking class room discussions, graded their papers, met with them to discuss things they had difficulty understanding in class – or to help advise them on what other classes to take, what to major in, or just how to get through the semester without totally losing it.

As is common in academia my most recent one-year position was not renewed this past August.  Now suddenly I am not your child’s professor anymore.  After over a decade of paying my union dues, my academic dues, my insurance, my mandated retirement fund, my social security, etc. I found myself without a payment coming my way.  Being familiar with the unpredictability of adjunct positions, I was not totally unprepared for the loss of my job, and I had decided over the summer to learn how to begin to support myself by starting my own business.  I did my market research, I registered my business with the state and with my town, I got a business checking account, and suddenly I became that other ‘e’ word that Republicans love to use – entrepreneur.  I even joined an entrepreneur incubator.  And in the midst of meeting with consultants and accountants and business lawyers – to make sure I was doing everything a new entrepreneur must do – I happened to talk to the lawyer about how my health insurance (which had been deducted from my pay check all these many years) was ending at the end of the month and asked if I would qualify for Mass Health. Then I asked if I could qualify for unemployment.  And what about fuel assistance?

I didn’t ask about these social assistance programs because I felt entitled – on the contrary, I did it because in trying to start my business with limited capital (and without feeling ‘entitled’ to ask for a bank loan) I didn’t know how I would pay my basic bills.  When I found out I was eligible for some of these programs I pursued them – not because I could then sit on the couch and watch ‘Here Comes Honey BooBoo’ all day, but because they could provide me with the means of survival until my business got off the ground.  It was like asking mom and dad for help starting my own business – like Romney suggested to young entrepreneurs (and you can read Julian Castro’s brilliant response to that here) except I was asking the government to make an investment in me – a government for whom, as a professor at a state college, I had actually been working for for over a decade.  Because as it turns out, sometimes even the most educated, motivated and self-sufficient of us need help – as Mitt Romney’s own father had when, as a child, his family fled to the U.S. from Mexico and began receiving (what Mitt’s mother called) welfare-relief.

Filing for these ‘entitlement’ programs has not been easy.  Indeed, anyone who has ever been on that side of the call or in those long lines knows that the word entitlement is so off base because nothing about the process feels entitled at all (in fact the only way the word is even remotely relevant in this situation is perhaps when after an hour – or more – spent on hold only to have a recording tell you to ‘please call again another day’ you feel entitled to something, even if it’s just a cocktail).  The other reason why the word entitled is so wrong is because of the time it takes – and I don’t just mean the hours spent on hold on the phone lines – I mean the time it takes for the entire benefits (sorry, entitlements) process.  To wit:

Fuel Assistance: that was “please call on October 1st to schedule an appointment” and then at noon on October 1st it was “sorry, the voicemail box is full and unable to receive any messages”.

Health Insurance: that was “yes, we received your application but it is currently taking us 8-10 weeks to process applications” – meaning more than 2 months for my information to be entered into the system and god-only-knows how long for them to determine if I am eligible.

Unemployment: that was hours on the phone and then a letter letting me know they would determine if I was eligible within the next 3-4 weeks, and then if I was eligible it would be several more weeks before I saw an actual check.

But no problem, right?  Because most of those (sorry, us) entitlement moochers have a few months of rent, grocery, health care and utilities money saved up and stashed away (like most of the other 47% I keep my hoards of cash in the freezer right next to my lifetime supply of Bonbons).

The other day while I was on hold with unemployment (for 55 minutes – and that was my tenth call on that one day) I opened a window on my computer screen and started working on brochures for my new business.  The dichotomy of that moment struck me – here I was applying for my ‘entitlements’ while simultaneously becoming an entrepreneur.  During the Republican National Convention in August these two words seemed to be on an almost endless loop of repetition: while pushing to promote and support the ‘entrepreneur’ the speakers derided the ‘entitled’ – those hapless, lazy, do-nothings that felt entitled to mooch off the hard work of the American taxpayers.  Back and forth, back and forth – the entrepreneur versus the entitled – a nice little Cartesian dualism the party had created to pit two ‘straw men’ against each other – those who move the economy forward versus those happy (sorry, entitled) to feed off the governmental teat.  Listening to the rhetoric it would seem that it’s always been this way.  But it hasn’t – not really – and it’s also not that simple.

I am not one or the other of those ‘e’ words that Republicans love to discuss – I am both.  An entitled entrepreneur perhaps?  At any rate – like most people applying for governmental assistance – mine is a complicated story – and it complicates (in a productive way I think) the one-dimensional stick figure image of the ‘entitled’ that both the Republican Party and the mainstream media seem bent on constructing.

The 47% that Mitt discusses are those who pay no income tax – most likely because they have no – or very low – income.  I’ve never shirked my tax duty – I paid income tax every year that I worked, and as it turns out, if I am eligible for unemployment I will even pay taxes on any money I receive from that as well.  I’m not entitled – I’m in a rough spot – and it turns out that this government might be able to help me out of this rough spot – and that, I think, is amazing.

In his vitriolic speech about the 47% Romney said, “my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives”.  You don’t have to worry about me Mitt – I’ve got it covered, with a little help from Uncle Sam, for which I may not be ‘entitled’ but I am extremely grateful, just like your dear old dad.