Fans of Seinfeld will remember that this is the time of year to celebrate Festivus, with its aluminum pole, feats of strength and, most important, the airing of grievances. The point of the alternative celebration is to gather everyone you love and tell them how much they’ve disappointed you during the year.
Conrad Black’s interview with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was like Festivus come early, so operatic was the airing of grievances. Even with squinting, it’s hard to see how two men so wildly fortunate by birth and circumstance could feel so aggrieved at the loss of their privileges. Linus after Lucy stole his blanket was never this cross.
Eager to assign blame for the pickle the city finds itself in, the mayor turned away from the mirror and waved his finger at everyone else. It was the fault of a politically motivated police chief. It was the fault of the media, acting in concert. (If you’ve ever tried to get two cats to co-operate on a task, you will know how hard it is to have the media act in concert on anything.) It was the fault of city councillors, drunk on gravy and determined to drive the city over a fiscal cliff.
How you wanted to weep for these men, cast into the wilds of the upper reaches of the cable dial. Mr. Black then cranked the peevishness to 11 by claiming, in an interview with CBC’s Carol Off, that he and Mr. Ford were alike in their suffering: “I identify with anyone who’s been crucified by the media and has been subjected to a certain lynching, because I’ve gone through that myself, and … I don’t like it, it’s no fun, and it’s not a good thing to happen.”
Now, I’m loath to disagree with anyone who has Lord in his name, since I have no title – not Your Worship, not Chancellor – but it seems the height of bad taste to compare yourself with Christ at this time of year, or with black men who suffered vigilante justice at any time, really. Although yes, reporters can be annoying. Even if they happened to be the source of your wealth.
It’s perhaps unfair to single out Mr. Black and Mr. Ford, because they are just two voices in the chorus of pique. It’s become popular for people who are wealthy, entitled and likely to be given free stuff to insist that they are, in fact, victims of fate. They like to compare themselves with witches being hunted or serfs being flogged, even if they’ve never felt the touch of the lash outside of boarding school.
Consider that Robert Benmosche, the CEO of insurance giant AIG, recently equated the criticism of bonuses at his bailed-out company to … well, here’s what he told The Wall Street Journal: The news “was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses, and all that – sort of like what we did in the Deep South … It was just as bad and just as wrong.”
Yes, picture all those insurance executives fleeing through the streets of Manhattan, hounds at their heels, never sure they’ll see another expense-account lunch again. Mr. Benmosche later apologized for his ill-chosen words, but across the ocean, the Archbishop of Canterbury took up the slack, worrying about the “lynch mobbish” mentality of those who questioned bankers’ pay.
Senator Pamela Wallin used “lynch mob” to describe the atmosphere surrounding the Senate expense scandal, which was partly a result of her own dubious accounting. Her fellow embattled senator, Mike Duffy, employed the phrase “witch hunt.” But the thing about witch hunts is that the witches were unfairly persecuted. There wasn’t some 17th-century audit panel that found them guilty of overcharging for newt toes or claiming they lived next to the dung heap when everyone knew they lived next to the goat pen. In order to be the victim of a witch hunt or a lynching, you actually have to be in danger of unjustly losing your life, not just being bumped from business to economy.
Resentment boils hot at the other end of the economic spectrum, as academic Michael Kimmel points out in his new book, Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. The men he writes about are furious that the world has changed and left them behind. The difference is that their rage and bewilderment is earned and authentic: They’ve lost jobs or come home maimed from war. “I grew up thinking that all I needed to do was sign up to be the man they told me to be,” one laid-off 52-year-old salesman says. “And now you’re saying we’re not getting the big payoff? Are you kidding me?”
The men Mr. Kimmel writes about have no megaphone for their anger, so they write bitter comments online or rant on talk radio, if they’re lucky enough to get on. That’s the only way they can air their grievances: They don’t have shows of their own, or cities they’re supposed to run.