Isaac asks a wonderful series of questions (getting to be a regular occurrence) that is prompting me to elaborate on my philosophy (which is one of the main reasons I decided to blog, by the way -- each challenge or even each misunderstanding makes me adjust and fine tune my ideas). So here is what he wrote in my comments box:
"Why for the love of god do you think the middle class needs protection? Why do you feel a need to stick up for us? We run the fucking world. We own it. Especially boomer generation middle class. The world exists to not only indulge their every whim and desire, but to tell them that they are entitled to that indulgence.I just don't get it. I don't understand why we should make ourselves feel good about this incredible waste of power and priviledge currently going on in the world. We have a criminally negligent society, and that criminal negligence extends to people's taste in art (they want art that makes them feel good about themselves, which is not always true in all cultures throughout time and can hardly be calleda particularly high purpose for art) and I don't understand the point in not pointing that out for fear that it'll make someone feel bad. Or offend them."
The short answer (which will be followed by the long answer) is this: because middle class "deadness" or "complacency" is the symptom, not the disease, and by attacking the middle class for displaying these symptoms, we are attacking the victims instead of the disease. Let me elaborate.
What is the disease? Late capitalism combined with scientific materialism. Scientific materialism, because its proponents have de-spiritualized the world, eliminating all sense of mystery, all connection between humanity and nature, leading to a deep sense of being cut off from anything that might imply meaning, purpose, or hope in the world; late capitalism, because it tells us that the hole in our hearts can be filled with expensive "stuff": bigger cars, bigger TVs, etc. These things must be paid for with money earned by spending more and more hours at work, and fewer and fewer hours with family, friends, or even alone reflecting. Also, Late Capitalism, through its mass media, tells us that the status quo cannot be changed.
The middle class are as much victims of this overpowering ideology as every other group in the world. Let me tell you a story. I sometimes teach a course on the Hero's Journey in Literature, Film, and Drama to incoming freshmen Honors students. These kids almost always are from upper-middle-class households in the suburbs. These kids tell me that, from the time they were in late elementary school, they are being groomed for college and a "good career." They are told to participate in extra-curricular activities not because they are interested, but because it will "look good on their resume" when they apply to college. They take classes not because the subjects interest them, but because the classes will look good on their college apps. When they finally head to college, they are pressured to major in something that will lead to a "good job," so that they don't "waste" their superior intellects. By the time they get to me, and I start talking about their lives as a hero's journey, and ask them what sorts of things really excite them, they stare at me, open-mouthed: they have been told what to do so long that they have never really asked themselves what they love, what makes them happy, what excites them.
These kids will do well in college, because that is what they have been trained to do. They will complete their education and get a good job that will allow them to live the life that their parents aspire to -- a comfortable life in the suburbs. But at night, they will lie in bed asking themselves, "Is that all there is?" And they will feel the hole in their hearts, and they will secretly dream of making a contribution to something larger than themselves, but they have been taught to be afraid -- to choose security over all things. As Lerner says, "They often turn to demands of more money as a compensation for a life that otherwise feels frustrating and empty." If they ever had any artistic leanings, they may become season subscribers to MTC or some other theatre, and they will arrive in their SUVs and eat in a nice restaurant before heading to the theatre. And you will all scorn them.
These people are victims whose souls have been oppressed by the Expectations of Late Capitalism. They have been locked up in spiritual prisons as strong and oppressive as the actual prisons that I teach in every Tuesday night. They are in pain, and they cover that pain up with what seems to be superficial laughter, but is actually a defense against despair. These people don't need to be attacked, they need to be encouraged to break out of their prison and follow their hearts. They need don't need to be told they are evil, but rather shown that it is possible to live without fear and to join something bigger than themselves. They need to be shown that there is fulfillment outside of "stuff." They have forgotten where their soul is.
So I am not saying that we should confirm them in their current way of life -- that would just add another padlock to the prison door. They might be shown, as Chekhov does, how tedious and boring their lives are as a starting point, but in such a way that a door is opened, not slammed shut. They need to be shown another life, one of imagination, of beauty, of risk, of contribution, perhaps of pain, but dignified pain, noble pain, pain with a purpose.
Encouraged thus, they might see that the "power and privilege" that they have can actually be used in a way that would contribute to the world, and fill the hole in their hearts at the same time. That it is an opportunity to fulfill themselves. They own everything, as Isaac says -- they can change things.
Many of them have been betrayed by the people they should have been able to trust: parents, teachers, friends, and they have believed what they shouldn't have: the mass media. And that betrayal is painful and damaging, and deserves understanding, if not sympathy. I think art should recognize this wound, rather than judge the behavior that results from it. Don't reinforce the old message, but create a new one. Do surgery to repair the wound, don't sneer at the bleeding.