Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Help

“It’s the template, stupid!”

That is an alternate title for this post about the movie “The Help.”  More about that in a moment…

The movie is scheduled for release this weekend.  It is a motion picture based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett covering racial segregation in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s.

The book has been well-received.  Enough time has passed that events which were a source of discomfort to so many people can now be rehashed.  (Note to high schools students writing a book review: Ms. Stockett offers up the classic theme of “man’s inhumanity to man.”  Also, note her use of the words “nauseous” and “alright.”  Is this purposeful?  Discuss...)

The book describes what it is like when a culture divides itself into a “dominant group” and a “deferring group.”  In “The Help,” that division is based upon heritage and skin tone.  It is a familiar representation to us, as we see it referenced as a political tool in America today.  We also see this kind of cultural division centered in certain religious beliefs, particularly in Islamic countries.

Here in the United States, our current cultural division is based upon political beliefs.  The techniques used to maintain that division are the same as those depicted in “The Help.”  Cultural norms are contrived to favor a dominant group and promote its superiority and popularity.  This is “the template” referred to above.

In “The Help,” Aibileen is the main character.  She is a black maid caring for a young family in 1962.  The culture in Mississippi at that time dictates that she use a separate bathroom at her employer’s residence.  The difficulty comes when the toddler in the family is being toilet trained, and the toddler comes to prefer using Aibileen’s toilet in the garage.

The toddler’s mother tells her she must not use that toilet because it is “dirty.”  We see that young Mae Mobley is being taught that Aibileen could be passing disease because of her skin tone.

It might seem silly now, but keep that thought in mind as you watch this two-minute Vimeo presentation by a couple of sixth graders.  The children give their impressions of the recent debate on our debt ceiling.
(Hat-tip to RightKlik posted at Left Coast Rebel.)

Notice how our President is referred to by his official title, but the Speaker of the House is “…this orange, crying, drinking, smoking dude called John Boehner.”  Our children are being taught that Republicans are inferior and should be treated with contempt.

But back to “The Help”:

Later in the book, Aibileen is being lectured by an employer that “colored people and white people are just so … different.”  Aibileen thinks to herself (in the writing style used by Kathryn Stockett), “A course we different!  Everybody know colored people and white people ain’t the same.  But we still just people!”  Aibileen’s lament is that cultures should not place human beings into artificial divisions.

Yet we see that template in use today.  James Taranto, writing at Best of the Web Today, provides a compilation of the vitriol recently piled onto Republicans.  He points out that some of the most common descriptors used as epithets are “terrorist,” “racist,” “uncivil,” and “insane.”  Republicans are not just different, they are characterized as dysfunctional and an existential threat.

This is what our culture accepts and promotes and believes.

Could a novel about our cultural division be written today?  Probably not, but here is a possible scenario:

The story line in “The Help” could actually be built around the circumstance of conservative bloggers engaged in their battles on the public Internet.  If you view the motion picture this weekend, imagine someone like Robert Stacy McCain in place of Aibileen.  How about Chris Smith as Minny?  As Stacy and Smitty risk their reputations taking on the prejudices and stereotypes of our culture, can you envision Andrew Breitbart as an Elaine Stein, working the grand strategies of the publishing and opinion business? How about (get ready for this) Sarah Palin as a Martin Luther King character, spreading an uplifting message about the type of country our Founders hoped to preserve for us?

The idea of conservatives being victims of discrimination may not be ready for prime time, but the cultural parallels are there.  Human beings like to be part of a group that dominates another group, and the techniques used to obtain that status are the same.

While this cultural template may not be obvious when it is in active use and is depicted as what is “right and natural,” it still creates discomfort for individuals in the deferring group.  These are the people who just might make a difference.

Maybe “the awakening” has even happened to you.  Think of it as a “YGBSM” moment.  (I know; just Google it.)

Here are some indicators of an impending conversion:

Concerned about foreign policy?  Upset that our military is being deployed like mercenaries?

Concerned about domestic policy?  Feeling squeezed as the things you own lose their value while the things you need cost more?

Hearing an inner voice beginning to shout, “I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE!”?

That’s the moment.

That’s when you’re going to want to take back our culture.
UPDATE 8/9/2011:
Linked by Left Coast Rebel!  Thanks, Tim.

UPDATE 8/16/2011:
This post from reason.com dramatically shows how American children are being used to influence our culture.  Note that the Vimeo presentation from nymag.com has been removed from that site, evidently because of "some negative reactions."  Do you think there will be any "negative reactions" to this use of children to push the anti-Republican message?

Return to Top

Return to Bottom


  1. Isn't it telling that the same culture promoting differences today is of the same party that enforced segregation in Aibileen's day? I am a child of the south (1939), observed with anger the antics of Democrats of old and see little difference in the behavior of Democrats today. I remain puzzled why so many blacks give the party a pass when it is responsible for so much of the injustices heaped upon them then and now.

  2. Anonymous:

    We all want to be on "the winning team," that dominant group. It's our human nature.

    But it's also difficult (and sometimes puzzling) to watch that facet of human nature being exploited. Your comment points that out very well.