September 25, 2008

She's Not Oprah, For Christ's Sake

So I went over to a deli near my office yesterday to grab some lunch, and while I was waiting in the always wonderfully long line to cash out, I happened to overhear a snippet of a conversation two women were having about Sarah Palin. I can't recall all of it verbatim, and it didn't help that I had an iPod earbud stuck in one ear, but the gist of it as follows:

Woman #1: Well, I mean, no, I don't think she's like the greatest politician ever, but she doesn't deserve to be treated this way.

Woman #2: (Through a giant mouthful of salad) I know!!! They don't have to be so MEAN to her!

Woman #1: She doesn't deserve it. What did she do to deserve it?

Woman #2: (Oblivious to the glob of ranch dressing on her lower lip) They don't do this to Biden, do they?

And that's about when I just forced myself to listen to the Middle Eastern guy in front of me talk on his cell phone in a language I couldn't nearly comprehend, because had I been forced to listen to the flawed, pathetic logic of those two women for another minute, I probably would've drove my panini through my eye. And that's just not good for anybody. Especially me.

I wanted to tell them, "They DO do this to Biden! And to every other politician in the modern era as well! You can't bemoan the fact that Palin gets treated differently because she's a woman, but then feel sorry for her two seconds later based on the fact that she's a woman!"

This double-standard, completely oxymoronic logic has basically pervaded every single major media outlet's coverage of Palin since she was plucked out of Alaska based on her allure to white female voters, er, I mean, because of her strong leadership and foreign policy experience and invaluable political skill set.

She was shiny and new, sort of like Obama and Hillary were during the onset of their campaigns, simply because she wasn't an old white guy -- the franchise that's dominated the Presidential game basically from day one. Suddenly, she (sort of) filled that gap left by Hillary's defeat in the Democratic primary, and the media couldn't be happier. There's a woman on the ticket again! Hooray for special-interest puff pieces!

Problem is, even while everyone said that she shouldn't be treated differently just because of her lack of a Y chromosome, once she started getting grilled by the usual American political scrutiny machine, that's EXACTLY what people started doing. The media wasn't allowed to dig into her past, or ask questions about her supposed pregnancy (that might just have been the first of her currently knocked-up daughter), because it was mean. Questions and investigations that are normally done to every other (read: male) Presidential hopeful were met with so much scorn from the McCain camp and airheaded feminists alike, you'd think they were asking about her cup size, or what her weight was. (Sorry, that was incredibly chauvinistic/cliche, but you get the point.)

Even when she was just asked simple questions (for example, about how she actually had foreign policy experience based on her state's proximity to Russia) by Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric, she couldn't produce sound, or even cohesive, answers. She's being given the kid-gloves treatment by journalists and potential voters alike, because it's so MEAN to ask her questions! And this is a person who's supposed to stand up to people like Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?? Even the Vice Presidential debate will probably be toned down, because I'm sure the Dems are wary of having Joe Biden look like a dick for exposing the flaws of an obviously unintelligent and under-qualified woman. The worst thing is, it's not the Dems' fault, or the media's fault, or even the McCain camp's fault. It's just another offshoot of having an uninformed, unintelligent, and apathetic American populace.

I've written about this idea a lot since starting up this blog, so I won't harp on it too much, but there is a huge identity problem in America when it comes to the... national intelligence, I guess you would call it. I firmly believe that as a whole, Americans are much, much less intelligent now than we've ever been. And I'm not even referring to the actual facts we have showing how far we've slipped in global literacy ranks or children's test scores, or large-sample polls that indicate that the average American can't even find the general area of Iraq on a map.

I'm talking about the little things that used to matter but don't seem to be present these days: The thirst for knowledge, the attention span required to better oneself, the general knowledge of simple trivia/history, and the self-respect to not be sucked into caring more about things like who Lindsay Lohan is sleeping with rather than what China is being allowed to do in Tibet and Darfur. These things used to be strove for, they were once part of what makes a person more complete. People act like there's too much going on to stay aware, or that it's better to be able to talk about one tiny facet of life or culture, rather than be a well-rounded individual.

You're not even allowed to say that America, as a whole, is less intelligent without being attacked. How DARE you say that we're all stupid??!! But frankly, if you're one of the people who gets offended by that statement, then you're one of the new (probably) majority, this recent boom in anti-intellectualism. You're part of the problem.

I used to think that maaaaaaybe, as a country, we'd eventually achieve that sort of intellectual/cultural renaissance that defined so many of history's great civilizations, and I thought that with the growing ease of use of new technology and communication methods, it would be an even more inevitable occurrence, or at least a simpler transition to one. But for some reason, a lot of the country seems to be fighting that trend. It's a lot less taxing, for many, to just keep things the way they are, and not challenge themselves, or at least attempt to better themselves or actually seek out knowledge.

I've strayed pretty far from my original topic, but this is basically the undercurrent of what bothered me so much about the two women in the deli, and about the coverage of Palin in general. Why is it better to just be stuck in the same old, same old? Why not allow ourselves to open up to other modes of thought other than the ones passed down to us from the prior generation, who got theirs from their prior generation, and on and on?

Why not allow ourselves to simply be better?

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