Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beached White Male

The Blues - not the usual province of middle-aged white males.


I was standing in the check out line at Publix the other day when I noticed a copy of Newsweek on the magazine rack. The cover article, “Dead Suit Walking” by Rick Marin and Tony Dokoupil, caught my attention. The cover lead posed the question, “Can manhood survive the recession?” The picture featured a hapless middle aged white guy pasted to the wall under a gigantic 'X' of electrical tape. I felt an immediate pang of recognition. I knew the feeling. I knew the guy. He was me. Son of a bitch! I made the cover of Newsweek!
Of course I had mixed emotions about this development. It's nice to have your plight recognized in a national forum—not so nice to have a plight that requires recognition. It was kind of like when I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal on Thanksgiving Day last year in an article about people who had filed for bankruptcy. My problems are not exactly the things that I want to be known for. Losing is not the thing that I want to characterize my fifteen minutes of fame, although I have to consider that my losing is at least marginally more respectable than Charlie Sheen's winning, and my tiny $800 a month rental house is more luxurious than Osama bin Laden's million dollar hideaway villa.
I'd rather be recognized for the breezy, personal, and engaging style of these blog posts, or the stunning vibrancy of the photos I have up on Etsy, or the amusing poignancy of the short story collection, Buses & Bears, Bullets & Stones, that I have for sale in Amazon.com's Kindle Store for a paltry 99 cents. Instead, it seems, my singular defining fate is to serve as poster boy for Newsweek's 'Beached White Males' who've been made 'toast' by long term joblessness.
The gist of the article seems to be that we educated white males, once at the top of the food chain, are ill equipped to deal with our new station at the bottom. We're not used to coping with lack of privilege. We don't know how.
What's worse, nobody cares much. Our wives and children might care a little, at least to the extent they still depend on us to marshal our paternalism, but everyone else thinks we've got what was coming to us. We've been too long screwing the world up and skimming the cream for ourselves while everyone else has suffered for our ascendancy.
Now we're to be washed up on the shores of some vacation paradise to rot...and good riddance to us. Maybe this is just the way things are. Maybe it's even fair. We had our turn. Now it's time for somebody else to take their shot.
And maybe it's retribution. Several months ago I posted a comment at on an accounting forum, only to have some Gen Y hothead take me to task for causing all his problems. He blamed my generation for the failure of everything from the War in Iraq to the dismal financial condition of Social Security. When I suggested that maybe he should have paid closer attention in his high-school history classes if he actually thought that Baby Boomers had created the Social Security Administration, he responded by changing his online identity to 'ihatejonahgibson'. For a while I thought I was on the road to fame and fortune, having scored my first public detractor, but it seems that I have outlived him in cyberspace. I don't know whether to be happy or sad about that.
My problem is that I personally have not seen much in the way of cream that we middle-aged white guys are supposed to have skimmed for ourselves. I worked my ass off for 40 years, suffered abuse and disrespect and a monumental lack of appreciation, and today I've got nothing to show for it. It's disheartening to find out that this is a common experience.

4 comments:

  1. My wife keeps pointing out that this stuff is not very funny. I want it to be funny. I think that it's funny when I first write it down, but, after it's posted and I come back to visit, it's just sad. To fix this I've decided to start drinking in the morning. We'll see how it goes.

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  2. Try reading some of the studies of masculinity. It might help you, at least to put a frame of reference around you very common (but still very sad) experiences. I'll check out your book on Amazon.

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  3. Actually, I don't think it's sad. Well, yes, it's sad, but if you want it to be funny, it's hilarious. You seem more bemused about the whole thing. Drinking in the morning works for me on the days when I'm not working.

    BTW I don't think it's your generation's fault the U.S. is the way it is, I think it's a pretty big cop-out for anyone to say that, but, unfortunately, it happens all too often.

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  4. Hemmingway said, "A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book." This is a pretty cool quote, but now I'm trying to remember just which of Hemmingway's books is considered funny.

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Comments are always welcome. Tell me what you like and what you don't. Information, encouragement, criticism--I don't care. A day where I don't learn something new is a day lost to me.