So I was at a party recently and noticed that at least eight women were huddled around an attractive and charismatic fellow. I was informed that the man (not available on a sexual basis, by the way) is the face of Bravo, and the women were smothering him with questions about their favorite "housewives." They could hardly soak up enough tidbits about the shows they obviously watch on a regular basis.
I was ready to flaunt my superiority by boasting that I had never watched any of those programs, and to express sympathy for this obviously bored batch of females. I then learned that these were high powered, successful women who would seemingly have not one thing in common with the telegenic spouses from New Jersey, Atlanta, Miami, wherever. Here I was ready to accuse them of being out of touch with the real issues that matter, (blah blah blah) and instead, it seemed I was the one on the outside looking in.
Not that I still don't take some pride in being the last woman standing who has neither watched nor appeared on a reality show. But I take no pride in being so far from reality. I confess I brazenly predicted the genre would peter out somewhere between Who Wants to Be A Millionaire and Survivor. Yet, here we are more than a decade and some thousands of hours of programming later, and while everyone else has countless things to watch this summer, all I can do is suffer Mad Men withdrawal and watch a lot of baseball.
What does it really mean to be out of touch? Is it as simple as living on one of the coasts and spending scant time in the middle section? I know only that it affects all aspects of our society today -- starting at the top. Politically, Barack Obama is often accused of having lost touch with the "real" people out there. I am not ready to second that emotion -- do we really want our Chief Executive holding weekly town meetings? -- but I know it swings all ways. Richard Nixon was one of the first to accuse his opponents of being out of touch. (Those exact words are on his tapes) Frankly, I place much of the blame on the media for its bland and predictable "wisdom." Washingtonians talk to and spend most of their time with each other and almost always guess wrong when it comes to seeing the big picture.
A friend of mine recalls being one of the "girls" among the boys on the proverbial campaign bus years ago. She was one of the few to ever get off the bus and talk to voters. When she would report back to her bosses about what she was hearing, she usually found condescension and her pieces on issues like abortion would wind up in the "lifestyle" sections. Sadly, not much has changed in the game. "Experts" continue to be shocked when people either stop voting or start following leaders that seem crazy but may have their finger on the frustration pulse. No, Sarah Palin does not know what the hell Paul Revere said to whom, but her book sold a lot more copies than Ted Kennedy's. I will never read it but I can't deny it.
On the cultural front, those in power in Hollywood are frequently off the mark. George Clooney has said he is proudly out of touch and will continue to make movies (Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, The American) reflecting that. (He compromises with more commercial fare in between) Do you notice that every time a "womens" film manages to get made and does well--Sex in the City, Bridesmaids, Tiny Furniture, Salt, Julie and Julia) the studios wonder if it's a trend or, more likely, a fluke? It couldn't be that the movies speak to more than half the population! Yes, the monsters and superheroes do well but what are our choices if we want to see a flick in August?
On the most serious and personal level, we may think we understand our kids and hip to their every feeling and action, only to discover they have been leading secretive lives that may catch up with all of us. Likewise, millions of hormone-free, post- menopausal women may later be rudely surprised when our husbands stray because we've been selfishly negligent of their need to be touched.
It would behoove us snobs to recognize that there must be a reason reality TV appeals to many more people than the pay cable fare we swear by. At the same time, it behooves us all to welcome those who dare to stray out of the mainstream. The artist Cy Twombly died this week and the front page obit in the New York Times read, "Cy Twombly, whose spare, childlike scribbles and poetic engagement with antiquity left him stubbornly out of step with the movements of postwar America..." As usual, the key is balance: getting to a place where we stop looking down on those we literally fly over. We don't have to join them but we can try harder to understand them and maybe meet in the middle.
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