Wednesday, July 23, 2008

All this gas talk reeks of classism

By LindaBeth

You know, I'm really starting to get sick of all the "news" stories about rising gas prices and how that's affecting family summer vacations. Several times a week I hear, read, or see some sort of report about how people are "coping" with having to cancel vacations and instead are creating their travel experience at home (i.e., having a luau in your backyard because you can't afford to go to Hawaii). There's even a cute name for them: Stay-cations.

This is by and large the hot gas-related story of the summer. The gist of the story? Woe is me, gas is so expensive that we can't afford to take our family vacation, we're sooo stressed out over it, we're handling this stressful and tragic situation the best we can by having a pretend glamorous vacation at home.

Ahem, privilege, anyone? Honestly, I really don't feel all that bad for the families who are so economically privileged that they can actually afford to take off of work (or are privileged enough to have paid vacation time) and can go on a family vacation. Why should I?

I'd say I was solid lower-middle to middle class growing up. We went on a vacation every year: a week at my grandparents' condo in the Southern Tier of New York, less than 3 hours from home. Why? Because it was free. A few summers we didn't go; those years we visited my aunts, uncles, and cousins in New England. Besides the travel costs of my parents' station wagon? Also, for the most part, free.

We never went on what you might call a family vacation. And up until now, I didn't realize that going on some wonderful elaborate trip was some sort of innate American right such that we ought to spend valuable news time lamenting that middle class families this year can't afford to drive halfway across the country and stay in a resort for a week. Heaven forbid for a summer you actually spend that week doing activities--gasp!--in your own general region. Or that you might now have to vacation--shock!--every other summer. Or, that you--horror!--spend time socializing with friends and neighbors. In an age where we hardly know our neighbors, and where most people are unfamiliar with the gems and resources in their own town, is it really all that huge a loss that the privileged Americans have a Staycation?

Why are middle and upper-middle class families and their precious Disney vacations the face of the rising cost of gasoline and not the working class families who lived month to month as it was before the exponential price increases...who maybe have to skimp on food or medical services, and for whom a Myrtle Beach trip isn't even on their radar? Instead of moping about being stuck at home, maybe some of these families should spend part of their summer volunteering for charities who help those who will only ever hear about DisneyWorld in the stories told by other more fortunate kids.

(Cross-posted to Smart Like Me.)

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  • I agree. The fact is, Americans have been generally quite lucky to enjoy relatively low gas prices -- compared to the Europeans, certainly. And, as a result, travelling around in gas-guzzling monstrosities has become a sort of quasi-birthright.

    What gets to me about all this is how "whiny" it all is. Yes, I said it: "whiny." But not the way Gramm meant it. His comment was meant to be a blanket statement. Americans are whiny. That wasn't just classist, it was supremely elitist in a really bad sort of way. What gets me is that there really are people genuinely suffering out there. People out of work, families struggling to put food on the table and pay the bills. Gramm dismissed them entirely, but so do the high-gas-prices whiners. If that's all you've got to worry about, then you've got a pretty good life. Stay home, be a bit more responsible, maybe trade in your gas-guzzlers for a more economical vehicle.

    What's especially bad is how the media are treating the story with breathless accounts of life at the pumps. It's so expensive. Surely civilization is collapsing! Right.

    There a sort of upper-middle-class feel to the "woe-is-me" self-pity. Again, there are people out there for whom high gas prices mean they can't afford rent or food. But it's not really being reported that way because the people who run the media are pretty well-off themselves. They might as well be complaining about the high price of NFL (or opera) tickets. And it gets even worse when it's on CNBC, or any of the other financial networks, which cater specifically to those with disposable income to blow on the latest superstock.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 6:56 PM  

  • Several times I stopped myself from typing the word "whiny" because I didn't want to be misconstrued. But that's exactly what it is.

    This privileged whininess reminds me of the awesome Daily Show segment a few weeks back where a reporter talked to rich Beverly Hills women who couldn't afford their regular Botox treatments any longer and were devastated over the way the bad economy is affecting them (!) and also talked to plastic surgeons who due to the economy are losing business and, poor things, have to resort to doing reconstructive surgery for burn victims and the like, to supplement their income.

    If that's all you've got to worry about, then you've got a pretty good life.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:43 PM  

  • Ever been ti Disney World? A lot of obese drek waddling around. If that's "middle class America," I want to leave.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:46 PM  

  • i like disney world...

    By Blogger Unknown, at 2:02 AM  

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