Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What's Mything Here?

My youngest son and I were cycling to his school one morning recently when he noticed a bumper sticker on a parked car which read: "Bart Simpson, Underachiever". He is a big fan of the Simpsons so he knew only too well who Bart was, but the word "underachiever" baffled him.

He is only seven, but he is already a high-achieving student. This is the norm for him so he is not really aware of the opposite state of being.

The concept was a difficult one in some ways to explain. I tried to do it by resorting to contrast and historical precedent. I explained that before the Simpsons exploded into the global consciousness, American sitcoms had always portrayed the American family unit as wholesome and squeaky clean. Any child of the 1960s can well remember the American television fodder foisted upon us. Leave it to Beaver, Happy Days, The Brady Bunch, My Three Sons...the list goes on. I tried to explain how The Simpsons sought to subvert that very unrealistic portrayal and almost went to the other extreme by portraying a very dysfunctional family.

It got me thinking. Those early wholesome portrayals were nothing more than myth-building. Cheerleading for capitalism and the nuclear family.

But the nuclear family is a creation of capitalism, born out of the Industrial Revolution. And despite the cajoling of politicians and big business, the nuclear family has unravelled to a large extent. It is not a model for most indigenous peoples who prefer the extended family. It is not a model for same-sex partners or solo parents.

We need to embrace all families, however they are composed. We probably need to examine with great scrutiny the concept of the "underachiever" too. Whose standards are we measuring achievement by? Some of this "great" achievement got us pollution, oil spills, vanishing species and global warming.

So I look at global culture, dominated by America, and I ask: "What's Mything here?"

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