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LJ Idol - Week [10] - Not The Cheap Seats*

One of my favorite quotes from the infinitely quotable, brilliant philosopher/comedian George Carlin is the following:

“When you’re born into this world, you’re given a ticket to the Freak Show. If you’re born in America, you get a front row seat.”

To me, that quote makes three distinctive statements. The first, obviously, is that Americans get to observe a lot of ridiculousness: behaviors that are rooted in privilege, in wealth, in nonsense that could only be done if you don’t have to worry about having potable water to drink, proper food to eat, clean air to breathe, ground to walk on that doesn’t contain land mines. These are your classic #FirstWorldProblems. And wow! The nonsensical stuff happening is simply staggering, though, admittedly, we’re the ones frequently involved, which leads to the second statement.

As front row ticket holders, it’s extremely easy for Americans to get on stage and become a part of the show. I mean, it’s right there! Americans, more than anyone, are noted for their ability to insert themselves into areas where they want to change things to their own benefit or exploit resources for riches, fame and that world renowned “pursuit of happiness.” And there are all sorts of opportunities to get on that stage, from professional athlete to serial killer to reality TV star, from filmmaker to warmonger to racist tweeter.

Really, America is EVERYWHERE. Thanks to our corporations (American Express to Visa), our entertainment (Disney is just the tip of that massive iceberg), our food and drink (just try to find a place on the map that doesn’t have Coca-Cola. Or perhaps you’ll visit the McDonald’s on the Champs Elysées in Paris or the KFC in the Forbidden City), It’s rare to find a place on the planet that hasn’t been touched by US fingerprints.

But the third statement is one I’m not certain our dearly departed Mr. Carlin intended when he made it. That is, if you’re in the front row, you get to ignore the rest of the audience.

Yes, there’s a status to being in the front row. You have the best view and are the closest to the performance. But it also means that everybody else is sitting behind you. And that means, what they do doesn’t matter to you, what you do that might not be to their liking, doesn’t matter to you and what they think of what you are doing doesn’t matter to you.

Not to say that Americans aren’t polite, friendly, caring about your neighbors sort of folk (depending who those neighbors are, of course). But there is this “lack of sensitivity” undercurrent when it comes to it all. The overwhelming tendency is for Americans (most especially Americans who hold power – economic, political, physical) is to think about the circumstance in question and make a decision based solely on if it is of benefit to themselves. If it is detrimental to others, that may or may not be important, depending on whom those “others” are and what those people have that might be exploited in return.

And maybe that’s the most telling part of Carlin’s quote. When you're in front, it’s just so easy to ignore problems that aren’t your own, or force others in weaker positions to bend to what you want, “requesting” them to do more, to simply get what they already earned. And it’s extremely easy for those with that sort of power to abuse it in the ways we are seeing, currently.

In World War II, The United States played a crucial part in helping defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Since then, it’s really been more about the United States offering assistance to gain something back. Whether in Korea or Vietnam, trying to prevent the spread of Communism, or Iran or Iraq, trying to get a lot of oil on the cheap, the decisions to participate were made for the benefit of the USA first and any other help to the people who truly needed it, second. Admittedly, that’s how things typically go domestically, as well.

There is an obvious difference between genuine concern about a situation where people need support and some sort of quid pro quo arrangement made between governments. The most casual observer can discern it. And that’s why the United States, with that history of popcorn throwing, stand up and block the view, stick our gum under the seats, laugh at the people positioned behind you, and talk louder than everybody behaviors in this theater of the world, would likely get: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time” as a response from citizens of those nations dealing with the problems we choose to immerse ourselves in.

Meanwhile, the governments of those same weary citizens are still willing to welcome Uncle Sam to their shores, knowing it means power, money and making friends, or at least a deal, with the front row.

I can just imagine George Carlin, nodding knowingly, as he directs the next crop of people to the box office ticket window of the Freak Show.

*This thinkpost was written for LJ Idol using the prompt: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time”


( 37 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 25th, 2014 04:58 am (UTC)
This was great. I love the popcorn throwing image. I've left meetings with donors feeling covered in the stuff.

It's not just the US though, it's not like the Nordic countries give millions in aid to Africa because they have kind hearts and good economies (they do), but that aid is also in the interest of keeping people there and not in the asylum queue on their own land. Although I think the US and Russia are the biggest offenders in tagging how their "aid" is used.
May. 25th, 2014 05:07 am (UTC)
Clearly if the US has front row seats, the rest of the Western powers, European nations, Australia/New Zealand and a few others are right there too.

There is a Status Quo issue that is determined to hold at all costs. And those costs are getting higher, every year. Thanks for reading!
(no subject) - tamaraland - May. 25th, 2014 05:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - penpusher - May. 25th, 2014 12:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 25th, 2014 03:25 pm (UTC)
This was so great! Really well written and a clever take!
May. 26th, 2014 01:41 am (UTC)
Thanks very much! It's what I call a "thinkpost" where I riff on a concept or idea that's been kicking around in my head. I was thinking of unscreening all of the 13 plus years of thinkposts I've written, and I probably will, but that takes a long while. Thanks for commenting!
(no subject) - witches - Jun. 2nd, 2014 05:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 26th, 2014 01:43 am (UTC)
I'm glad you got it. I previously stated, after he died, that I wish we could hear George Carlin do one more stand up set, now that he has all the answers of the universe!

It probably wouldn't be much different than what we got. Thanks for reading along!
May. 26th, 2014 06:42 pm (UTC)
Being in the front rows we do sometimes get popcorn stuck in our hair but that's a small price to pay for the privilege.
May. 26th, 2014 11:09 pm (UTC)
Sneak attacks are possible, that's for certain. Thanks for reading.
May. 27th, 2014 05:42 pm (UTC)
It works even better on the international scale.
Jun. 1st, 2014 07:40 pm (UTC)
Absolute power...
May. 28th, 2014 10:39 pm (UTC)
I really like how you turned Carlin's third point to its side-effect, something he might never have considered.

Simply not caring about how your decision affects others (especially less-fortunate others) is the hallmark of our current political climate. And it is poisonous.

Something you didn't mention here... for all the places the U.S. gets involved and shouldn't, there is always someone yelling that we SHOULD get involved in yet more places. People don't understand that we are not and should not be the world's policeman. Effective or not, that is the job of the United Nations, so that combined nations agree rather than one country randomly throwing its weight around.
Jun. 1st, 2014 07:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much. I agree that there is a poisonous element to all of it and has the potential to destroy.

You're right about the involvement, and there are usually more that a few someones who want more action around the world in various locations for various reasons. When you think the US Military is larger than the next 7 countries' armed forces combined, it really is staggering.

And I wish the United Nations had a bit more control. It really feels like they are just a place for diplomats to socialize and not a place to actually get anything accomplished.
May. 29th, 2014 02:53 am (UTC)
Love the popcorn imagery! Very clever take on the topic.
Jun. 1st, 2014 07:45 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you read. Thanks very much.
May. 29th, 2014 06:38 am (UTC)
I am not at my laptop, so I'll make you do all the work. Google "Robot Chicken Li'l Hitler" to see one of the best, most succinct analogies for World War II. The reason I bring this up is because it closes with America's entrance into the war, and it is perfect.
Jun. 1st, 2014 07:48 pm (UTC)
That was cute, thanks! And thanks for reading!
May. 30th, 2014 04:34 am (UTC)
I enjoyed this piece, thanks.
Jun. 1st, 2014 07:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading and commenting!!
May. 31st, 2014 12:36 am (UTC)
I've always enjoyed the George Carlin quote, and you used it to great effect, especially the third part. I'm sure Carlin was only thinking about the "up close and personal" part of front row seats, but you explored its other possibilities. Very creative!
Jun. 1st, 2014 08:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks a bunch! Carlin was something of an inspiration and I always think the best truths are couched in humor.
May. 31st, 2014 11:17 am (UTC)
Loved this take on the prompt...well written indeed..:)
Jun. 1st, 2014 08:03 pm (UTC)
And thanks for reading and your comment!
May. 31st, 2014 06:58 pm (UTC)
Great points well made and I love your incorporation of the prompt into the whole theatre analogy.

As a Brit I'd say self interest of this kind is definitely not a uniquely American trait.
Jun. 1st, 2014 08:24 pm (UTC)
It really is something of a "Western World" phenomenon, you're right. Thanks for reading and your comment.
Jun. 1st, 2014 07:33 pm (UTC)
A brilliant, tragic, painful truth well spoken, this.
Jun. 1st, 2014 08:25 pm (UTC)
I appreciate your comment. Thanks for reading.
Jun. 2nd, 2014 12:58 am (UTC)
The popcorn imagery was great. Nicely done.
Jun. 2nd, 2014 02:10 pm (UTC)
Popcorn always has appeal, no matter what! Thanks for reading, and for letting me know!
Jun. 2nd, 2014 01:23 am (UTC)
I really like your point about ignoring the rest of the audience. Sadly, it's so common.
Jun. 2nd, 2014 02:12 pm (UTC)
I think when you're used to being in front, you really lose perspective on everything else. That never happened for Mr. Carlin. Thanks for commenting!
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