Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Butlers and Speaking Fees and Missing Major Political Points



         We've missed a key point with the stories that Donald Trump's butler emeritus (Anthony Senecal) is a racist. Equally important is that Trump had and has staffs big enough to require management and therefore has had (and still has?) a butler. Bruce Wayne has a butler, Alfred Pennyworth, who is succeeded in some Batman versions by "Aunt Harriet" Cooper — thanks to my friend Dave Taylor for that bit of Bat-trivia — but neither Alfred nor Aunt Harriet manage a staff of servants or function as alpha-lap-dog for an entourage.

         Similarly, we miss a key point if we succumb to the temptation to view with alarm the high speaking fees received by Bill and Hillary Clinton and miss the larger point that no speakers should be receiving huge honoraria. Universities have better things to do with their money than lure in Big Names for prestige, PR, and minimally-targeted marketing; big businesses are either wasting stockholder money or buying access — or paying bribes.

         I was taught, and taught correctly, that the two great over-arching political theories of the 19th and early 20th centuries were class on one hand (most extremely with Marxists) and race on the other (most extremely with Nazis). In the United States, class and race have been intimately intertwined, and if we do very poorly discussing race in America — and we do very poorly — we don't do much better on class.

         Start here, then: Bruce Wayne doesn't have a large staff of servants to avoid obvious plot problems with Batman stories but also because (1) audience members rarely ask about the lower orders in heroic narratives — Who's preparing all those feasts in Tolkien's Middle Earth? —  (2) because we don't want to reduce our identification with Bruce Wayne by looking too closely at his privileges; and (3) because for all of our pious blather about equality, we in America habitually accept as just normal that some of our fellow citizens can have a staff of menials and some of us will be those menials, if lucky enough to get the jobs. And most of us accept as normal that a rich hotshot can earn more from one speech to a banquet than two or three or more of the waiters will make in a year, combining their incomes.

         In 1993, Judy Brady did an instant-classic short essay, "I Want a Wife," which can add gender to the class/race mix here. Well, wives are okay, but more than a wife I want a staff or two, and a butler to manage the domestic one. And I want a manager and an agent from my business staff to start the bidding at $50K for a mostly-canned speech by me, plus the mana of my presence at a commencement or at an invitation-only, haute cuisine fête for the obscenely rich.


         Judy Brady didn't get a wife, and I'm not going to get a butler and a domestic staff or even just an entourage. So I'm not going to accept as normal and inevitable that a trust-fund-baby/con artist like Donald Trump can afford to indirectly pension off old retainers, or that people far less talented than the Clintons can demand and receive thousands of dollars for twenty minutes to an hour of banalities and/or craziness — or even a pretty good but not history-making speech.

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