Sick today, so took the opportunity to kick back on the couch and watch Status Anxiety with the cats, who were most anxious to prove their status by their relative proximity to moi.
Well, seems like America's in the poo with just about every populist doco maker (if not everyone) at the moment! It certainly wasn't long before dear Alain was hotfooting it off on a jetplane to the US to follow in the steps of de Tocqueville and marvel at the way in which a meritocratic, egalitarian society had brought about so much envy and angst into the world.
I don't know that I would go so far as to say I found some of the content of SA disturbing -- maybe perturbing is more like it. There were some odd subterranean drifts present, like the passing implication that it might be a bad thing that Americans had gotten rid of the class system in its pursuit of the meritocratic ideal. Indeed, there seemed to be some strong hankerings after traditional institutions such as class and the church at times. And perhaps even the medieval wheel of fortune, with Alain's musing on the supposed disappearance of 'luck': e.g. 'essentially luck has disappeared as a plausible reason for not succeeding.'
And then there was his rather skewed use of the term equality: apparently, 'equality' and 'egalitarianism' are to blame for the dismantling of the social security net. While it's implied this is due to a limited, neo-liberal packaging of equality, (which, it's true, derives from Enlightenment notions of equality roughly contemporaneous with the founding of the States), the critique of 'liberal equality' by the left and difference theories is totally ignored, (unless you count his visit to a native American reservation and panning shots of beggars). And I was fairly uncomfortable with his suggestion that 'equality' had led to a huge increase by citizens in their expectations (this is the 'rights' vs 'expectations' debate -- see post below on 'strange smelling meat and the culture of complaint').
I think my problem with Alain (and maybe it's really just my problem) is that he's a philosopher rather than a historian, and his ideas seem rather scattered (like his hair) and lacking in adequate contextualisation. I mean, really, why pull out de Tocqueville, apart from the fact that he visited the US? Or Rousseau? What about linking liberal notions of the self and equality more strongly with the rise of capitalism? I wouldn't have thought the pressure to succeed was necessarily the only determinant of the pressure to acquire.
And then there's the whole presentation of Alain himself, like a solemn, blinking foetus from his mother's womb untimely ripp'd. Or (perhaps that's a bit unfair) an overgrown Harrow boy suddenly unleashed from his public school enclave to make a documentary on the world outside. There's something of the 'alien amongst us' about dear Alain as he peers at washing machines, rides jetboats with the descendants of Pocohontas, talks to a poor white trash woman with only one front tooth left, claps and sways with American Pentecostals, has cups of tea with English vicars, (an Aspie will never be 'everyperson', that's for sure).
Which brings me to another thing: the first episode ended oddly on a note of rivalry between American Pentecostalism (the get-rich type) and good old C-of-E-ism (the vicar-and-cups-of-tea type). If you're looking for authentic church-ness, why not go to Rome (too much status anxiety there?) or Galilee? I read this as being more of the strange ex-public school boy rivalry between England and America as 'top nation' (tho Alain is half-Swiss, I believe). To quote the final sentence of 1066 and All That: 'America was thus clearly top nation, and History came to a .' Status envy.
There were also lots of shots of high rise buildings and tunnels. Awfully obvious, I thought.
As for Alain's hair (see 2 in the post below): that's the easy bit. They repeatedly chopped his head off like the top of a boiled egg for close-up shots. I notice they're doing the same for Jason D in the promo's for the latest ABC disaster series.
Anyway, perhaps I expect too much and this is what's good for the masses...