My lovely wife and I watch a lot of documentaries on Netflix. Recently, watching a short and enjoyable British documentary called “Stephen Fry in America,” which first came out in 2008, I caught sight of an image that riveted me. It was on-screen probably all of 3 seconds, but I stopped my Netflix stream, rewound, and took this screen shot, which I reprint here under fair-use rules for educational purposes under US copyright law:
Stephen Fry is a perfectly decent and funny British actor/comedian documentarian who, in this lovely little BBC series (which we very much enjoyed by the way), he travels through all 50 of the United States, exploring various parts of the country with no particular agenda except to get to know America, and Americans in all their diversity. This particular screen shot was captured in an episode where he was visiting a West Virginia coal mine.
I probably don’t have to tell you that coal mining is one of the hardest, most hazardous jobs in the world, or that the number of men who’ve died in that profession over the last century or two is staggering. Yet still they do it. And as you might expect, safety is an issue for these “workers” (i.e. what we used to call “workmen” before we decided to make their sex invisible), but notice how, even here, they feel it necessary to tell these men to be safe not just for themselves–that is apparently not good enough–but because their families depend on them.
And historically, most men I would guess have just unthinkingly accepted that: of course you risk your neck because your family needs you. That’s what being a man means right? For centuries, maybe longer, men have just accepted that reasoning without complaint, and we still do. Still, today, in 2012, we unthinkingly, even in one of the most hazardous jobs imaginable, think it best to remind men to be safe not because they are valuable, but first and foremost because others depend on them.
There was a time 30 years ago when feminists called that sort of thing a “click” moment; we call it a “red pill” moment I guess: you see it and things like it your whole life, and it’s never dawned on you that men were just expected to put themselves second.
And historically, maybe it had to be that way. Maybe the human race would not have survived if we were not that way. But isn’t it fascinating how the normal instinct we have is to admire and call it noble to tell a man to be safe not for himself, but for his family?
But look more closely and here you will see a statement of our modern age. Someone took a marker, and at the end of the words “they’re counting on you” scrawled in the letters “r money.”
And we laugh right? Everybody laughs and laughs. It’s so funny. Funny because it’s true, right?
Nowhere do we stop and think about the reality that underlies this “funny” graffiti: almost certainly scrawled by a man, or men, who working day after day in one of the scariest, toughest, most stressful jobs there is, whose wife and kids left. Who he maybe never sees anymore, who have reduced him to nothing but a paycheck and can put him in jail if he quits that job because he doesn’t want to risk life and limb and sanity anymore. Because if he quits, he has nothing else to do and may just go to jail.
So, so funny, right? Plus the stupid mug, he must have had it coming right? Women file 70% of all divorce claims, and that only happens because the drunken wife-beating loser louts had it coming, right?
They say that pain is the essence of humor, and I believe that’s true. But then there’s the moment when you should slap yourself on the face and remember: no it is not fucking funny. In today’s world, what many men live under is little better than indentured servitude. Even the simple gratitude that used to come with this sort of self-sacrifice is now instead an obligation, an obligation with a gun to your head, and makes you the butt of a joke or an “obvious loser” with “issues” if you dare complain about working yourself to death to support a family that’s abandoned you.
Look at that image again. Male disposability as it once was 50-100 years ago–and how much worse it often is now. How often nowadays you’re either a paycheck for someone else, or you’re useless. You and your life otherwise are often squat in this culture.
But take solace man: The President is a man! Corporate CEOs are mostly men! So obviously this is your privilege, to work your life away in solitude in a coal mine. How dare you complain about anything, loser?
And I guess if we object in any way to this sad state of affairs for millions of men, it means we hate women right? I mean, that naturally follows, for there’s no other reason for some “loser” to complain about it, right?
Yeah. Contemplate the image, and think of it as your moment of zen. Am I wrong, or does it say everything you need to know about the state of millions of men–yesterday and today in one quiet little image?
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