Tag Archives: social class

Labor Day and John Henryism

John Henry statue

At the heart of Labor Day is the idea that if you work hard enough you’re awarded with sales so incredible they can only be a reward from Cthulu — the happiest shopping deity of them all … No, wait. In this day and age Labor Day may actually be stranger than that. Oh, right. It’s supposed to be about appreciating workers — labor workers, in particular — for the accomplishments they made in this country.

There was a slow change-up from the backbone of the economy being slavery and indentured servitude to workers who could demand better treatment (and be accommodated in the slightest). Even if it wasn’t uncommon for some of these workers to only want such for people who looked like them, their ideas helped form any notion of decent working conditions we have today. The shift of jobs to places where people can be paid much less for their hard work has had a hugely detrimental effect on the morale in this country, including the way it seems to be milked to blame other people for this — instead of people who wanted to and could maximize profit.

When connections and being on the right side of red lines add up to more opportunities, it’s easy to wonder sometimes what hard works adds up to outside of that. There’s a condition called John Henryism in which people who are denied opportunities work twice as hard to make something of themselves — at the expense of wrecking their bodies. If you’ve ever lived in a crowded neighborhood that isn’t upwardly mobile, you’ll likely be familiar with older people who still get out despite the fact that it’s quite hard on them physically. It’s both bittersweet and inspiring, just like any solid notion of work.

Not everyone is (always) a Napoleon

More excessive than shiny rims.

The lack of an assured feeling of self-worth has got to be one of the driving forces in human interaction.  Other people’s notions of inferiority affect pretty much everybody, and in a world that loves one-upmanship, the kind most recognized is one done so to an ‘I’m better than you’ effect.   Generally the more shallow your identity is, the more it seems you want to feed it by insisting that you’re better than someone else.

Where would the vast majority of reality shows be without people who are insecure?  Each one seems to have an uber-insecure person — the one whose personality comes off strongest as it tries to mold every facet of the world to its will.  Napoleon Bonaparte has become a symbol for this kind of dynamic, but the common implication that it was synonymous with his height is fairly ridiculous (He was actually average height for his time).  If the sentiment rings any truth, it’s because in a shallow world, it’s easiest to see the reflection of one’s identity (and its perceived failings) through a prism of hierarchies.  Looking through prisms, however, only gets you distortions.  (It does!  Try it some time.)

Even if you don’t let your insecurities dictate how you treat people, it certainly seems to dictate the way most people react to other people’s rudeness.  The more insecure someone is, the harder it seems for people to let it slide.   There’s a kind of insecurity that stems from the lack of authenticity (a fuzzy notion, to begin with), and I think that’s different from people putting up an icy front when they have some sense that, as a given, their looks don’t add up to general niceties.  I’ve known people who don’t really care that they’re not pretty or light-skinned enough for people to readily extend themselves for them.  They knew enough of warmth and kindness to value it — and show it even where the prevailing attitude toward them was apathy.  That’s a a far cry from people who are so empty inside they nurse fatal grudges over someone looking at them funny.  The distance between the former and the latter speaks to what people are capable of when they’re not privileged but still have a sense of self that comes from something other than a distortion.

I think the consensus idea of insecure is someone unsure of themselves to the point of being weak.  But maybe it’s actually to a person’s credit if he or she is insecure and it manifests itself as someone who is always apologizing for some gilded thing they’re perceived to be lacking in, rather than puffing up like a blowfish or trying to one-up somebody else.  Of course, being insecure to the point of thinking that you’re not worth genuinely positive anything is something that has to be worked on — because that’s just a distortion.  But if you’re always secure with yourself, chances are you’re living in a world that’s been tailored to you.  Maybe that’s why progress for some people feels like a step backwards for others.  Some folks think the best the world has to offer is theirs exclusively, because such has been tailored to them and there’s always some distortion to support that.

An appreciation of how long it took to become a (Super)man

Somewhat ironically, with the comic fandom consensus being that the characterization of billionaire Lex Luthor was one of the show’s strengths, it’s during these “post”-diabolically induced financial crisis days that I’ve considered Smallville in a new light. The lack of an assured bright future has trickled up to the higher echelons of the middle class, and the void between being an older young person and a full-fledged adult has probably most prominently been regarded in Lena Dunham’s Girls. In that show the main character is cut off by her parents, complicating her plans for literary greatness in the modern world. Clark’s decade-long journey to adulthood took place in a world where his father’s Kansas farm had realistic financial difficulties, though those difficulties did have a tendency to be most apparent in a fleeting emotional sense. More prominently, Clark’s paralyzing longing for the kind of life his adoptive parents have in lieu of a destiny as an alien “chosen one” is not without its parallels to real life. For more people than ever, a clear sense of upward direction seems like a very alien feat.


That’s an excerpt of a piece I wrote for Den of Geek — the whole of which you can find here: