Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Spoiled Rich Kid

Andy Stone writes in The Aspen Times:

The big, handsome, spoiled rich kid starts out as a bully and winds up a loser in the end.

If you read much or go to the movies, you know the guy I’m talking about. That jerk has been a popular villain for centuries.

This guy’s got looks, muscles and money – and probably a flashy sports car, too. But he’s still a loser. He doesn’t get the girl. He doesn’t get elected captain of the football team. And then he falls apart when the going gets tough.

He seems to have a lot of friends, but they all turn out to be toadies who were just sucking up to him because he’s rich. Once things start going against him, they ditch him pretty quick and it’s clear that no one really liked him in the first place.

That’s the way the story always goes.

I’ve been thinking about that guy a lot lately and I would imagine the reference is obvious.

No … I’m not talking about our president.

I’m talking about our country.

Actually, I’m talking about our country under this president.

Over the centuries, America has played all kinds of dramatic roles. Back in the Revolutionary days, we were the scrappy little kid, feeling his oats, willing to take on a big bully in the name of justice. In World War II, we were the reluctant hero, slow to anger but, once engaged, willing to go to any lengths in the fight for what was right. We’ve been the prosperous businessman. We’ve been the romantic lead.

Those were all good parts to play.

But these days, well, we seem to be the rich, shallow jerk.

I know I’m not talking about great literature. This is “high school fiction,” but, really, for most Americans, life is just high school with more money. All our personal dramas are high school all over again, just a little larger.

Every high school drama has a rich-kid loser. I bet you knew someone like that in high school. And I bet you didn’t like him, did you? (Unless, of course, you were him.)

And now that’s us – the United States of Spoiled Rich Kids.

The giveaway is the swagger. At the beginning of the story, the rich kid always walks with a swagger.

And a swagger is not a good thing.

A swagger is arrogant. A swagger is, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it because we want to – and because we can. If you don’t like it … tough.”

Sound familiar? Pure swagger.

I don’t think “swagger” has ever been the right term for this country before. We’ve been strong and we’ve been proud, but we haven’t shown the raw arrogance that lies at the heart of a true swagger. Until now.

Maybe that was because we had an opposing superpower to keep us in check. Whatever the reason, back around the turn of the millennium we started swaggering.

Our president swaggers. His administration swaggers.

We swaggered into Iraq.

And we’ve been so busy swaggering around ever since that we tripped over our own proud feet and fell flat on our face when Katrina hit.

If this were a movie, that would be the scene where the Spoiled Rich Kid gets his comeuppance.

And the gasps of astonishment from the audience could be heard the world around.

Many were already upset about what we were doing in Iraq. But even if they didn’t like it, they put up with it – because we were the big kid who could do whatever he wanted.

And then Katrina that revealed that our swagger was empty.

People around the world could not believe what they were seeing on their television sets: Americans dying, victims of a natural disaster, with the government somehow unable to save them.

Not for an hour and not for a day … but for days on end, they watched people suffer. They watched as cries for help went unanswered. They couldn’t understand.

That’s because they hadn’t read enough high school fiction.

They didn’t know that’s what always happens to the big, strong, spoiled, swaggering rich kid.

Darn it.

I’ve known guys like that; they plagued me all through childhood and high school. I’ve even had the misfortune to date one or two when I was swept away by their charm and good looks; yes, they show up in the queer repertoire, too. But I soon learned that they were incredibly self-absorbed; they didn’t give a shit about anything but themselves, and in spite of their swagger, they were overcompensating for their other shortcomings — in every sense of the word.