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Ted Williams and the Triumph of American Dream Propaganda

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Thanks to near-ubiquitous national media coverage, you probably know by now that Ted Williams was a homeless and jobless man who is now being offered fairly major media jobs because he had the random luck of becoming a YouTube sensation. This is certainly a heartwarming story, and we should all be genuinely happy for Williams. It's a blessing when anyone is lifted out of such destitution.

However, there's a dark side to all this. No, not about Williams (who himself rightly acknowledges that this is like "hit[ting] a million dollar lottery" and not typical of anything), but about the phenomenon Williams has inadvertently come to represent.

In a country whose social class mobility has now dropped below many fellow (and often "socialist") industrialized nations, Williams is being implicitly promoted by our media as a representative example of how the American Dream still exists. I say "implicitly" because other than NBC explicitly insisting Williams' story is "proof that life in this country can change overnight," most of the media is not making such absurd claims. However, the very fact that this has become such a huge national story logically implies that all the media promoting it believes it represents something bigger or national. Indeed, why else would the national media cover the story of one homeless person as a national story, if not to suggest it represents something of national importance?

This, then, is a microcosm of a media that has become far more a manufacturer of false, establishment-serving storylines than a documenter of genuine everyday reality. The idea that the American Dream still exists and that everyone can "make it" like Ted Williams is, by all objective economic measures, demonstrably false. But that idea is nonetheless incessantly promoted by politicians, corporate leaders and their media servants because it convinces large swaths of the put-upon general public to refrain from asking fundamental questions about inequality, poverty and the punitive structure of our economy -- i.e. questions that corporate-backed politicians, pundits and media institutions do not want asked.

What's so galling about this particular instance of American Dream triumphalism is the most famous player now involved: The Cleveland Cavaliers. As Cleveland's ABC affiliate reports, the NBA team owned by Quicken Loans' CEO has now "offered Williams full-time voiceover work" and "offered to pay a mortgage on a home" for him. The ABC affiliate -- like the rest of the media -- hasn't bothered to point out what The Nation magazine's Dave Zirin has previously noted: namely, that Quicken Loans has been one of the major banks throwing people out of their homes during the foreclosure crisis. Yes, that's right: The same company that is bragging about offering a single homeless man a job is the same predatory subprime firm that is making many people homeless -- and none of the media covering the story have mentioned that. All we get are stories about how wonderful and generous the Cavs and Quicken Loans are for making their offer to Williams.

This is exactly what I mean by manufacturing false, establishment-serving narratives. Instead of using Williams' story to highlight the thousands of other rank-and-file Ted Williamses who didn't get lucky enough to become an Internet sensation, we are effectively led to believe that Ted Williams is a classic American story emblematic of what supposedly happens all the time in our allegedly well-functioning economy (ie. "proof that life in this country can change overnight"). Likewise, instead of highlighting the hypocrisy of a company that has caused so much homelessness now using a homeless man to whitewash its corporate record, we get hagiography making that company out to be a benevolent savior.

In short, instead of journalism that educates us about truly important realities, we get propaganda that perpetuates the plutocratic status quo.