Sometimes I feel that I live in a different universe from everyone else.
I just watched a short film produced by George Clooney called “Tony.” I’m a big fan of Clooney, both of his talent and of his commitment to political and social causes. This film is based on a true story that was presented on This American Life, and as a true story it is nice because it is about a father who goes to great lengths to find a lost Teddy bear for his son, who, just to heap it on, has been sick, apparently with cancer. And this is all presented under the name of the Mutual of Omaha-supported “Responsibility Project,” which seeks to remind people to “do the right thing.” I guess the point, aside from the dad’s going to great lengths because he loves his son, is that along the way many people drop what they are doing to help him because they see he is in distress and they have kids, too, and blah blah blah.
Here’s my however: the film is an example of Priv Lit, a term that Ginsberg brought to my attention recently. Oblivious rich people with problems that would be puzzling at best to a person in true need, as are so many people in the world. In this film, the father apparently takes a full day off work, which a) would get most people, especially people in menial jobs, fired and b) is a rather blithe decision in this economy and comes off as a “let them eat cake” moment. Then he spends loads of money flying back to the city where they left the bear behind. All of the people he meets — the taxi driver, the chief of staff at the hotel, the maid and several custodians — jump in the cab with him to follow the garbage truck back to the facility where its contents are unloaded. The man at the facility gets permission to shut down the whole operation so everyone can go through the trash and find the bear. (Eventually, they find it, and the kid isn’t that excited about it; that’s the ironical, wry ending.) The father has offered a $100 reward to the one who finds the bear, but we don’t see him keep this promise. In fact, when everyone starts to dig in searching, he just stands there, flummoxed by the amount of the garbage (which is inadvertently very telling). The taxi driver has to remind him to help in his own quest. As the story goes, his loyal companions do not even have the joy of finding the damn bear; they find the wrong one and then the father spies the right one after everyone has walked off.
Hello. I love Ginsberg with all my heart, and I would do what I could to find her bear. As a teacher, I even helped a parent search the garbage at a big camp one time when her daughter lost her retainer. But the vast majority of people in the world could not even dream of doing what this man does. And as much as we like our material possessions, and even if those possessions represent something important to us, such as security or memory, we will get over it if we lose them. I have a friend who lost all of her baby pictures because her father was bipolar and had trouble keeping a job and everything they owned was lost when it went into storage and he couldn’t afford to pay the bill. More important, there are people in the world who do not have baby pictures — or retainers, who do not have enough food to feed their children, whose children have very little hope of ever living in anything but poverty. This film is downright offensive to me and is made even worse by the particular way it is presented. The father does not even thank the people who helped him, let alone give the reward he can evidently easily afford. The film doesn’t seem to acknowledge how this adventure affected all of the people who got caught up in it, or the family of the taxi driver, who loses income for the day, or the running of the hotel when a group of the staff just casually leaves (including the remaining staff, who will have to do their work for them that day). No, it’s all about the well-to-do white guy. (The taxi driver, maid, custodians and chief of staff are all minorities. Okay, the cop who stops them for speeding and then leads the way, lights flashing, is white.) I guess we’re supposed to have warm hearts over that aspect of it, but….why?)
Perhaps you will think I am just grumpy today. After all, I write this from my bed on a summer’s day when others have to work and I get to indulge myself. I have checked my fancy-schmancy iTouch calendar, and I see that I have scheduled no activities for the day that will make the world a better place. I’ll cop to that. But I’m surprised and put off by the oblivious nature of this film, and I’ll stick by that, too.