Paisley Rae is an emerging photographer committed to living the Urban Amish lifestyle. She keeps a minimal web presence and avoids speaking to anyone via telephone – unless there is a paycheque attached to the conversation. She periodically emerges from her Luddite existence to join or start bands, perform spoken word or just wreak havoc in general.
The wiping of our mouths,
the fidgeting of fingers,
betray our greatness,
a mother and son at a table,
in the polished calamity
of an airport, sipping coffee
from little paper cups.
We tremble over dirt roads
and wedding stories towards
the boarding call. We resonate
with fights about old curfews
and messy rooms that almost
make it past the nervous grace
in our lips.
When the announcement hits
we look at each other, finally,
then rise up like shipwrecks
full of grandeur, and at this moment
money is nothing, rolls of bills,
promises, and writing on bits of paper
float between us.
Our embrace is a submergence,
the noise pressed from us, then
the aching pull, the tender lull
when you let me go, knowing
I’ve held something back;
and what I’ve kept I hope
will keep me afloat.
As appeared in the collection Leaning into the Mountain (Fooliar Press)
“I personally think that society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned.”
— Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
“The opportunities to create wealth are all taking advantage of public goods–like roads, transportation, markets–and public investments… We are all standing on the shoulders of all that came before us, and creating a society for our children and those that come after us. We have obligations as part of that.”
— Jim Sherblom, venture capitalist and former chief financial officer of Genzyme
I recall a late night talk show where actor Nicolas Cage, who as a youth sold popcorn in a movie theatre, was asked how he ever managed to make it from working in a candy booth to acting on the silver screen. I don’t remember his response, but I do know that his explanation avoided mentioning that his real last name is Coppola, as in Francis Ford, as in the powerful and influential movie producer. Mentioning such a fact, in our western culture, would be the male equivalent to admitting that he “slept his way to the top”. Having confessed to using the well established means at his disposal, in the eyes of the public, would damage his credibility as an actor.
There is a sad irony here, that society expects, in fact, pressures a man, when he attains a certain level of success to “unacknowledge” the help and assistance that the very same society provided in order for him to achieve his goals. Nicolas Cage, a Hollywood movie actor, is a very appropriate example of this because nothing exploits the romance of the underdog/diamond-in-the-rough/American Dream more than Hollywood films.
Let’s face it, as westerners we all want the little guy to succeed, to overcome all obstacles and get the girl, the big house, the chair in the Oval Office. But, to be the little guy, to create these personal legends, we, man and often enough, women, have to either forego any kind of help from those around us and/or deny that we ever received help. We also feel that it is a public duty to frown upon those who openly accept the help of family and community.
Case in point: The National Post’s Rex Murphy, has written an article in which he sentimentalizes the Newfoundland of old, where people were self-reliant, industrious, independent and didn’t suffer from “the Oprah gene of emotional incontinence and reckless, exhibitionary self-worship.”
He cites an example of a 70-year-old man who built his own fishing boat. He portrays the man as humble and taciturn and completely independent from anyone else. “He needed no one. Had to ask help of no one. Took money nor grant from no one. This was his boat.” The gist of the article, following the spirit of those in a series of Post articles entitled The Death of Personal Responsibility, is that we, the average Canadians, should all carry our own water, fight our own fights, keep a stiff upper lip, and a litany of other tough-love platitudes designed to shame the users of character-sapping social programs and pesky beaurocratic human right councils.
The hypocrisy of the article and those in the series cannot be overstated. Rex Murphy makes a good chunk of his income giving commentary on CBC’s The National, and hosting CBC’s Cross-Country Check-up, both programs funded by tax dollars, mostly from average Canadians. Simply put, Rex Murphy is paid with tax dollars from average Canadians while instructing average Canadians not to rely on the benefits and programs made available through tax dollars mostly funded by average Canadians.
It doesn’t stop there. Conrad Black, publisher of the National Post, and enemy of most things welfare, was born into great wealth. And while he and his journalists currently attack the Canadian ‘nanny’ state, Conrad certainly didn’t waste time in reapplying for coverage under the Canadian Health Care system when he returned – cash strapped – from his rather long, um, vacation, in the US.
It could be that both these men reconcile the chasm between their actions and words with the rationalization that while applying for the use of – or benefits from – tax dollars is parasitic, using ones political and economic clout, or business acumen to extract tax dollars from the coffers of government can be considered entrepreneurial. Or perhaps it’s just that they know what they are claiming is pap, and just want more tax dollars for themselves.
That both men openly deride and take succour from the welfare state isn’t lost on the average Canadian reader who agrees with Rex’s article and others like it. With a brief glance at the comments section, one can easily pick our revealing sentences and phrases like “proud not to have gone on the dole” and “leftist socialist dogma”. The section is rife with anti-Trudeauisms, which shouldn’t be surprising. But nevertheless, most of the commenters seem lucid and astute, and appear to be up on current affairs.
Why do they omit these glaring contradictions?
Perhaps it’s something to do with that while we all know who Nicolas Cage’s uncle is, the last thing we want him to do is tell us that he used these connections – that we could never have – to advance his career. This would destroy the mythos his publicist has created for him. And if he destroys that mythos, than he also destroys the hope that if we wanted, we could also join him on the silver screen. Therefore, both the audience and Nicolas Cage quietly agree to omit the harsh facts, in order perpetuate the tantalizing myth of the independent underdog rising to fame.
Like Nicolas Cage, the Myth of the Self-Made is an static image. A cowboy smoking a cigarette against a setting sun, an old man building his own boat. It doesn’t matter if the cowboy accepted farming subsidies, or if Rex Murphy’s old man died peacefully in bed or drowned at sea or was eventually taken in by his family. What matters is that single snapshot, whose real-world value exists – like Santa Claus – only in the minds of the believers and those who knowingly perpetuate the belief.