Technicolor

I keep two CDs in my car: Nickel Creek’s self-titled album, and the 1992 Canadian cast recording of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Fine, that’s a lie. I have a whole CD case under the passenger seat (am I the only person on the planet who still listen to CDs in the car?), but that didn’t make a good introduction. And, anyway, those really are the only two I listen to regularly.

In fact, the Bwun has listened to the Joseph soundtrack so often that he snaps along with “Any Dream Will Do.” (No, he can’t actually snap. He tries.) He even calls it “the snap song.”

(An aside: we’re big into calling things “the ____ song” or “the ____ movie” around here. Tangled is “the hair movie.” Up is “the balloon movie.” Prince of Egypt is “the horse movie,” by the Bwun’s choice, and I think it’s because the race between Moses and Rameses early in the movie. The Emperor’s New Groove is “the llama movie.” Similarly, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da” is “the zip song,” “Do Your Ears Hang Low” is “the ear song,” and so on.)

But back to my story. Oh, had I not gotten to a story yet? Here it comes, then.

Today I took the kids to jr’s 6-month checkup and then we drove up to see Aunt Krista, currently “Ann Kurshwa.” Meh, that’s close enough. It was an hour-long drive and both kids fell asleep, so I was lost in thought while I enjoyed the Joseph soundtrack. I really prefer the first act, and since we mainly drive around town, that’s all I usually listen to. On this longer trip I made it into the second act and was too absorbed to start the CD over. (As usual, I-15 is a mess of construction, which meant I actually had to pay attention to the road. Not that I don’t always do so. My point is that I was more focused on driving than on listening to the music.)

In the middle of “Stone the Crows” I was snapped out of my reverie by this line of Joseph’s, after he interprets Pharaoh’s dream and is promoted:

Anyone from anywhere can make it if they get a lucky break!

Now, maybe you haven’t heard me talk about the American dream before. If not, you’re about to. My understanding of the American dream is that with hard work, you can do or be anything you want. And I think the American dream is a lie.

I don’t deny that hard work can get you a long way. Joseph is a perfect example of this. In both Potiphar’s house and in prison, Joseph climbed the ranks because he was a dedicated, motivated man. But did you notice that in these situations, he was a slave and a prisoner, even after his hard work? There’s the key – circumstances beyond our control have a huge impact on our position in life.

Because as a society we believe fairly strongly in the idea of the American dream, we assume that a person’s socioeconomic status is a reflection of their work ethic. Hello, Max Weber? He wrote an entire book about how the Protestant belief that one’s calling and election was revealed through worldly success, which was seen as an indication of God’s favor, and that this led to the development of capitalism. We’ve secularized Weber’s idea and reversed it: poverty is a result not of God’s disfavor but of an underdeveloped work ethic.

I know the comparison to Joseph is never going to be perfect, because he really was favored of God and didn’t seem to deserve being sold into slavery and later imprisoned. But his words, via Andrew Lloyd Webber, capture the sentiment that a “lucky break” has a lot to do with success – or failure.

If I’m not making any sense, and I kind of suspect that I’m not, let me give an example. I was born to college-educated parents. This fact alone has determined a considerable portion of my life circumstances. It meant that I grew up reading books, I was taught to value education, I took it for granted that I would attend college, and I experienced significantly lower risks for forming deviant peer associations, abusing drugs, dropping out of school, or becoming pregnant as a teenager. Having college-educated parents makes a big difference in my life, but it isn’t a reflection of my personal characteristics.

Can you see the flip side? Someone who was born to high school dropouts probably won’t grow up reading books, won’t be taught to value education, won’t plan to attend college, and is at a higher risk for delinquent behaviors. And this is just one variable we’re talking about. Obviously, parental education level is intertwined with other socioeconomic factors, so you can’t say that it alone led me to be the respectable, educated person I am today.

It’s a starting point, though. Anyone from anywhere can make it – if they start out in favorable circumstances or get a lucky break along the way.

tl;dr – Don’t be so harsh on poor people.

Special thanks to Aubrey and Shawn for planting the seeds of thought that inspired this post, and, dare I say, to my parents for being smart.

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5 Comments on “Technicolor”

  1. Deborah Simonds says:

    Well, if people are going to choose to be poor, they should at least behave themselves better, I mean, as Wilde put it, “Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?”
    I’m kidding, please don’t hurt me! Truthfully I say, Here! Here!

    Now lets have a discussion about how the words “fat” and “lazy” are as inextricably linked as “poor” and “lazy.”

  2. Deborah Simonds says:

    “Here! Here!” meaning to the post, not to my above sarcasm. I’d hate to have you have to put a hole through my head with a laser stare on Sunday.

  3. mika says:

    Ha. No, I understood what you were saying. The Romgi thinks we should have a sarcasm font or at least a symbol to make it obvious in text. Some folks just don’t get it otherwise.

  4. KHL says:

    I finally got around to reading this. Good job. I totally agree.

    I don’t know if you heard about Oklahoma State rep sally Kern who said (just a week ago!) that minorities earn less than white people because they don’t work as hard and have less initiative.

    “We have a high percentage of blacks in prison, and that’s tragic, but are they in prison just because they are black or because they don’t want to study as hard in school? I’ve taught school, and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t study hard because they said the government would take care of them.”

    Kern said women earn less than men because “they tend to spend more time at home with their families.”

    I know that the lives we have and the achievements we’ve gained are the direct result of many, many blessings. And I want to go on record with that! (See D&C 59:21)

  5. mika says:

    One thing I thought was an interesting theory from my deviance class is that minorities and the lower classes are overrepresented in prisons because the laws are designed to put them there. Not in a conspiracy sort of way, but more like the ruling class is in charge of determining what counts as crime, and most commonly it’s the behaviors of the powerless classes. Hm, sort of an interesting twist on Nietzsche’s master-slave morality… anyway, growing up in such a diverse place as I did, I’ve never understood the racist belief that any given race is inherently inferior or possesses some undesirable qualities. It just doesn’t make sense to say that an entire group of people is so lazy that they won’t work. At least, I don’t get it.

    My friend Aubrey, who’s defending her master’s thesis next week, let me read her paper, which was about single mothers receiving government assistance. One thing she brought up as a theme of the interviews she conducted with them was that they didn’t want to be on welfare or Medicaid or food stamps, but they had run out of other options. There was a guy in our ward who was laid off when his company downsized and received unemployment for almost a year while he searched for another job. He was quite clear that he didn’t want to be on unemployment, he wanted to work, but it was just so difficult to find a job, and his family still needed support. Despite anecdotes to the contrary, I believe that most people who are receiving help from the government don’t enjoy it – and, having seen the numbers, you have to be REALLY poor to get help. I doubt many people would choose that voluntarily. Government assistance doesn’t thrust you into a life of luxury.

    As for the comment about women – WOW. From what I understand, the comparison between men’s and women’s wages is for similarly-qualified people in similar jobs. And a significant wage discrepancy there just isn’t attributable to women’s dual roles as wage earners and mothers, especially if you compare hourly wages. It’s unfortunate that many women are single mothers in low-income jobs that really need money to support their families, but they do in fact earn less than their male counterparts. I’ve also heard the argument that women are willing to work for less because they don’t know how to negotiate wages (not even an option for most low-income jobs) or would rather have flexible hours and extra benefits than increased wages. I disagree! I think it just comes down to women being paid less for comparable work.


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