Friday, November 25, 2011

Dear Ian Somerhalder, When You Have Money It's Easy to be Well Meaning

While Ian Somerhalder is an activist on many issues and is highly well intentioned - the fact remains that intent isn’t flawless and there’s a lot wrong with this - and a whole lot of unexamined privilege and paternalism

First and most glaringly is one of class and wealth. While Ian Somerhalder is, of course, in a position where he can cavalierly ignore sales bargains, having a net worth of $14,000,000 and being paid $40,000 per episode of the Vampire Diaries. That’s $720,000 per year (note: this figure does not take into account monies earned through modelling and his modelling agency). Performing in one episode of The Vampire Diaries earns him far more than many make in an entire year. For many, black friday represents the only opportunity they will get to buy that special present or afford that indulgence. And while we can criticise the materialism of that - it’s easy to criticise the materialism when we can casually afford whatever we want.

Secondly, this pre-eminence of family is not universally shared. There are no small number of people out there without strong family ties, people who regard family gatherings with creeping dread and, after one day of listening to Aunt Edna talking about her cat round the turkey, would welcome a reprieve. In an ideal world we’d all have family we loved and cherished and wanted to spend time with - but we don’t live in that world, and many of those people battling at the sales are probably having a better time there than at home with their nearest and most-definitely-not-dearest.

Thirdly, of course, there’s the very nature of the holiday. Thanksgiving is not free from problems and many will not be celebrating this holiday. Lost in all of the gravy, mashed potatoes and revisionist history, is the fact that Thanksgiving is literally the celebration of the colonisation of Indigenous People. Even today school children are still taught the supposedly harmless tale about the pilgrims supping with Indigenous people rather than the commemoration of the start of what would eventually become the genocide of Indigenous people, in an attempt to claim that land that we previously occupied, while laying the foundation for White supremacy. It cannot be stressed enough that the landing on Plymouth Rock lead to the death of millions, the rape of millions of women, the loss of languages and culture, the destruction of families as well as a way of life. Thanksgiving is so much more than family time, it amounts to active approval of every inhumane action that occurred to make the U.S. the nation that it is today. Thanksgiving can only ever be constructed as benign if one is content to justify not only a history of colonialist oppression but the ongoing imperialist treatment of Indigenous citizens.

Paternalistically - the idea that the shops are destroying families completely denies the choice of those people. if they want to sit around the table and listen to Aunt Edna’s exciting feline tales, then they may do so. If they would rather go to the shops for sales and bargains then that is also their choice. Denying someone choice in order to protect and save them is patronising. It is also worth noting that these stores are only able to open earlier and earlier each year because of the rapidly declining union density rate.

If you worry about family time I think a far more accurate and sensible criticism would be aimed at living wages (so so many are not forced to work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet) and/or reasonable working hours rather than fretting over families deciding to spend a day at the sales rather than listening to Edna’s cat stories. Some people are leaving the dinner table not because they don’t want spend time eating turkey and reminiscing, but because a failure to show up for work would mean unemployment at a time when it is already hard to hold a job.

It is classist to suggest that shopping on black friday is about not having one’s priorities in the appropriate spot. Considering that Ian Somerhalder already exists with immense privilege, being White, straight, cis, able bodied and extremely wealthy, it is both inappropriate (and rather ignorant) for him to paternalistically judge people whose experiences are so very different from his own.