It's impossible to prioritize the disasters of an average American's life right now but one thing we have going for us is self-esteem. Oh, we are flush with us. We've become our own role models. We emulate ourselves. We look up to ourselves. We are so taken by us, the ultimate interpersonal compliment of our time is, "He/she is just like me."
Just ten years ago, you turned on the television and saw people dream of being "like Mike." It made a lot sense: Michael Jordan was better than all of us. Better looking, better dressed, richer, taller, more eloquent with a higher vertical leap and superior access to free sneakers, soft drinks and underwear. Everything about Michael Jordan was out of reach and we loved him for it.
But now, we're over external hero worship. Our idol worship u-turned from realistic self-image to mirror image. We no longer admire people with inspiring traits, we admire people with traits identical to our own. It's difficult to pinpoint when this shift happened but it's not that long ago. Then again, another scary aspect of American life... nothing is that long ago.
Looking back eight years, you can see the rumblings of the Be Like Me Generation. During the 2000 presidential campaign, subjects like economics, foreign policy and education -- issues we've historically left to minds better than ours -- took a back seat to beer compatibility. Men were repeatedly asked, "With whom would you want to drink a beer, George W. Bush or Al Gore?" Suddenly, a skill set most men possess -- drinking beer and achieving peak levels of incoherence -- became a prime factor in electability. Being a "regular guy" became a job requirement for a job meant for extraordinary people.
And while the art of excruciatingly warped self-image has been accurately attributed in the past to men, women are on board with this one too.
When Sarah Palin suddenly became somebody, millions of women instantly loved her. The love was wrapped in a sentence of Paley-ean simplicity: "She's so much like me."
When John F. Kennedy beat back bitter cold and took the torch of a new generation, it's hard to imagine the average American thinking, "Gee, I could really get into this guy if he'd knock off a few dozen IQ points, tamp down the good looks, paunch up and botch some enunciation so I could relate to him. " But somewhere between Dallas and Intel, the torch was passed from the best and the brightest to the most average and me-est.
The big kick we get out of ourselves goes beyond politics. Paparazzi are paid adult dollars to photograph celebrities being us. US Weekly should be called US Momentary with its endless shots of blatant non-entity theft: Jennifer Aniston shops, Brad Pitt eats, Tom Cruise walks, Jessica Alba applies sun block.
This isn't the way it's supposed to be. Founding Father James Madison envisioned the people having the illusion of governing themselves by being represented by people who were smarter than us, brighter than us, better than us. But now, no one's better than us. They are we as we are they as we are all together.
We've got it bad for ourselves.
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