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Giving away the Lie

October 29, 2009

I was watching 30 Rock recently—which is, in my opinion, the best show on TV right now—and the character Tracy Jordan spoke to a group of schoolkids. He told them something like this:

If you study hard, every single one of you will one day be president of the United States of America.

It’s obviously false, unlike the less-obviously false line usually given:

If you study hard, any of you could be president of the United States of America.

But both are false, right? It’s not true that any of us could be the president, any more than any of us could be movie stars, or pop stars, or billionaires, or whatever. We can’t all have the potential to be those things.

But the myth that “anyone can make it” prevents us from criticizing or reforming the system that prevents 99% of the people from “making it.”

Watch 30 Rock. I command you.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2009 8:48 am

    Exactly! That’s why I hate it when people use Obama as a poster child for this train of thought that anyone could become president if they try hard enough. No, no, no. Barack Obama came from a specific and most importantly privileged background. His whole life has been filled examples of his ascribed human capital being a major cause of his success. People have a better chance of winning the lottery than they do of becoming president because the lottery isn’t inherently rigged toward the upper tiers of society.

  2. Beelzebub permalink
    October 29, 2009 8:53 am

    Ah, I love 30 Rock! Its cast is perfect, especially Alec Baldwin as the ever-conservative-bottom-line-is-the-bottom-dollar CEO. Last week’s episode, while still quite funny, was a bit depressing with the page strike. Couldn’t Kenneth have tried for real reform instead of just being so simple?

    This, The Office, and Parks and Recreation are pretty much all I watch, ‘cept for the Daily Show and Colbert.

  3. October 29, 2009 10:49 am

    Reforming it so that… anyone could be president?
    But really, only one person ever can…
    Wouldn’t it be better to stop making people frustrated by giving them goals they can’t achieve? Cuz really, there is always going to be a limited amount of the good things to do. Everyone else will, however educated, however unbiased the selection system is, be stuck with the crappy work.

    I just watched this program the other night where this guy was smuggly talking about how its not that black people have poor educational outcomes, its just black people without middle class values that do. So the key is obviously to just give them all middle class values and “aspirations”.
    But in the end, society only needs so many doctors and lawyers…

    No-one seems to think maybe what we should do is give prestige to non-professional occupations, or that there should be a pride in being a dustbin man as much as in being a lawyer – because frankly, mortality would probably rise a lot faster if all the dustbin men went on strike than if all the freaking lawyers did.

    I was seething by the end of it.

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    October 29, 2009 1:32 pm

    Sophia, yes, I didn’t mean to suggest (although it looks like that’s what I did) that everyone could be president. But the system can be set up so that more than just a few people can be reasonably wealthy. I wasn’t thinking clearly.

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