Sunday, April 24, 2011

Behind the acronyms, another post about privilege

SOUB, or YPIS, the double/meta version. Summary, for those without the privilege of clicking on the link to Gawker: the site reposted (and heartily endorsed) a comment to an earlier post about Gwyneth Paltrow (daughter of rich and famous parents, clearly naturally good-looking underneath whatever it is she does with herself these days) and privilege, in which a commenter recounts a story of having dated one of those pink-shirt-collar-poppers, aka a rich douche. Or we are meant to see him in that light.

Read it? OK, so...

Note that we never find out a) if ex-bf's family's wealth was ever given to him, or whether his family has any connections in the movie business, b) what ex-gf was doing that she was in a social situation to meet someone so wealthy in the first place (such as, for example, maybe she was herself - gasp - privileged, but grew up with only two family estates rather than eight - and we might guess this is the case, both because who else hurls a YPIS, and because only someone who's led a pretty comfortable life would not see a partner's immense wealth at least in part in terms of, huh, that would make things easier for me if we stayed together), or c) what gives the Gawker poster himself/Gawker commenters themselves the right to claim, mainly by implication, that they worked for everything they have.

As I've said about this precisely one billion times before, if YPIS were about those without privilege ranting about life's unfairness, that would be acceptable. Same if it were about creative types whining about how frustrating it is that various fields (see: acting, writing) seem open primarily to the children of parents successful in precisely the same field. (As in, amorphous privilege - coming from an UMC family in a Chicago suburb - doesn't lead to a job in Hollywood or at Vogue; specific connections in your immediate family, however...)

What's unacceptable is the way YPIS actually operates, which is, someone with plenty of P wants to pat himself on the back for being self-made, regardless of the truth, because someone, somewhere, surely had it easier. It's a contest, not a form of social justice, and anyone who dares question the game gets labeled out-of-touch and unaware of his own status as a privileged douche. Meanwhile, the people who go around being rich and out-of-touch don't care about YPIS, don't have those conversations, and as such are in no way impacted, in no way de-aloofified. Oh well. At least one commenter gets it.


PG said...

It's a contest, not a form of social justice

Of the few people I know who really engage in social justice (a few public interest lawyers, one public health worker), none of them are commenting on Gawker posts about Gwyneth Paltrow. They're generally having too much face-palm about the unnoticed privilege enjoyed by the majority of people who know who Paltrow is (you're not living in a refugee camp? you have U.S. citizenship? your dad never beat you with a machete?).

Frankly, I don't understand why what Paltrow said is so bad. Obviously, she's not noting the advantages her background gave her, but people can start with those advantages and still not end up in her position. Not every child of actors or even godchild of Steven Spielberg wins a Best Acting Oscar before she's 30; it requires significant effort that, let's be honest, the average person probably doesn't put into what he's doing. Who knows, if I lived on her ridiculous diet and exercise regime, I might be beautiful too. The fact that I'm too lazy and fond of Nutella to live like that is no reason to pretend that Paltrow's life requires no sacrifices or hard work.

Then again, people engaging in such a pile-on probably are also convinced that it's unjust for professionals who spent years getting boring educations in subjects like securities law or organic chemistry, and who work 80 hours a week, get paid more than the commenters do.

Phoebe said...


It seems quite obvious that Gwyneth Paltrow is more committed to acting, as well as her self-as-brand, than are most with comparable backgrounds. I mean, was Blythe Danner ever an A-list star on that level? I get how others trying to break into acting would have a certain amount of foot-in-the-door resentment - same as anyone interested in writing has re:, say, Simon Rich. But yes, she's allowed to point out that she, well, works.

"They're generally having too much face-palm about the unnoticed privilege enjoyed by the majority of people who know who Paltrow is (you're not living in a refugee camp? you have U.S. citizenship? your dad never beat you with a machete?)."

See, I would have thought they'd simply be too busy doing what they're doing to think about whether anyone's privilege was or was not noticed. I mean, telling someone that their US-citizenship-privilege is showing is about as effective in terms of social justice as letting people know their class privilege is showing within the US. (I realize you say they think this, not that they're hurling YPIS accusations, let alone doing so on the internet.) I suppose I'm not generally convinced by argument that we'd all be better people if we stopped and realized how much better we have it than those under the threat of machete violence. It works for certain concerns, say, of the OMG-is-this-latte-organic variety, but a lot of real tragedy takes place within a first-world framework.

Also, to (repeat myself and) mention another reason YPIS is a problem, there's the issue that most people with whichever qualities (US citizenship, for example, UMC status, etc.) have it easy, but this doesn't tell you that particular individuals did or did not have it tough, perhaps for reasons they don't want to announce to acquaintances, or on an online forum. So when dealing with justice in a broad sense (affirmative-action-type issues, first in a family to go to college vs. Ivy legacy, etc.), it's fine to assume X=privilege. But on an individual level, which is what the YPIS accusation is about, it isn't known that the accused had it easy, but making that accusation puts the accused in a situation of maybe not wanting to explain his entire life story. The accused, however, will know his life story, and so will not find the accusation that he's positively dripping with privilege terribly persuasive.