Monday, February 12, 2007

Jesus, give me a break...

Am I the only one who thinks that the (now) Grammy-award-winning song "Jesus, take the Wheel" is one of the worst hits ever recorded?

For those of you who have been living in blissful ignorance of this bit of pop culture bilge, it is the ballad of an ordinary woman who loses control of her car on an icy road and rather than, say, steer into the skid, throws up her hands and cries out "Jesus, take the wheel!" and is (I'm not kidding) miraculously saved. The experience causes her to repent her lack of faith and promises to let "Jesus take the wheel" from there on.

What bothers me most about this song is its unbelievably inane vision of life and of religious experience. On one level, this little ditty -- just about the most popular one in the world thanks to the media machine called American Idol that has made Woody Underwear a household name -- is an insult to religious people everywhere because it puts Christianity on about the level of the AAA. Christ as roadside assistance.

But of course the point is more profound than that. The story is a metaphor, but what is the metaphorical point? Apparently that the way to live in the world is to abandon all personal effort and let "Jesus" (as the Sunday school kids call him) control your life. And that to me, is the most horrifying part of the whole thing. Only the worst kind of zealot would suggest that human beings should exercise no agency in the world because, let's face it, the world has plenty of troubles and all the evidence so far indicates that if there is a God, he is not going to intervene to save us from ourselves (why not? well now, that's a question I would like to pose to Gordie Sampson, the Canadian author of this nugget of iron pyrite).

My point is not that Christianity, or any religion, is necessarily a terrible thing, but anyone who teaches, even by pseudo-Christian pop-culture allegory, that human beings do not have a profound responsibility to one another should be ashamed.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Weighing in on Small Business

In the circles in which I run (academics, progressives) there is a general feeling that small business is a fine thing. Local, independent operations, run by ordinary folk who call their customers by name and go that extra mile because of the pride they take in their work and in their communities -- this is the vision that is usually offered. By shopping at such places, I am told, I keep big corporations at bay and support the local economy.

It all sounds very nice and homey and wholesome. But I find it harder to believe every day.

Living in a moderate-sized town these past six and a half years, I've come to feel that a great many small businesses are small for a reason. If the operators knew what they were doing, they'd be bigger.

Today, for instance, I decided it was time to get a new bathroom scale (yeah, I wore the old one out, hardee-har-har...). So I set out into town to find the sort I wanted. Digital and modern, you know the kind I mean. Anyway, to the hardware store -- no dice. They had exactly one scale in stock and it was a crummy dial model. So the big grocery stores (these are stores that sell barbells and cell phones -- is a scale too big a leap?) but no luck at either of them. So on to the pharmacies (three different ones). The closest I got was when I was told they sometimes get them in around Christmas time. I almost asked if they sold time machines, then, but I'm trying to rein myself in these days.

So home it was, and on to the internet where I found just what I wanted at a site called Canadian Weigh. Stylish and modern my new scale is and packed with cool features. And it was on sale too. This company is going to be big.

So my hard-earned dollars that might have gone to the local economy -- might have if any one of six different stores had what I was in the market for -- has now gone elsewhere.

And no one in any of those stores knew my name.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Wonderful World of ISDY

Today I bring you a new feature: ISDY, short for "I'm So Disappointed in You."

This first installment shakes a disapproving head at the National Restaurant Association. As you may have read, a new commercial shows Britney Spears' ex Kevin Federline in a glitzy music video, but the gag is that it's just a fantasy sequence and poor Kevin is really working in a fast food restaurant.

So far so good -- until Steven Anderson, president of the NRA (the food people, remember, not the gun people) complains that -- wait for it -- the commercial is insulting to restaurant workers. Imagine suggesting that some restaurant workers might actually prefer to be doing something else, like, oh, I don't know, being rock stars.

Now, I have worked in restaurants in my time, and I will be the first to say that it is hard work; those who bust their butts to make an honest living and help people get their meals have my admiration. But let's face it, for virtually all fast-food workers, this is not their dream job. They didn't go to university and major in Rapid Gastronomy so they could fry burgers and mop up spilled ketchup. I dare Mr. Anderson to go into any McDonald's or Burger King and offer a million bucks to anyone who's willing to promise to never to work in the restaurant business again. Do you think he'd have any takers? Of course he would. The place would clear out. Why do think they have American Idol?

My point is that lobby groups like the NRA (butter, remember, not guns) should actually be working to improve the conditions of the people they represent. When people like Steven Anderson come out with frivolous complaints about insults that never were, it breeds cynicism about social action in general and undermines the credibility of those actually trying to improve the lives and rights of working people.

So, Steven Anderson and the National Restaurant Association, I have only this to say: I'm so disappointed in you.