i don’t like the world we live in, a lot of the time.

i don’t like the bitchy, vapid, rampant consumerism that passes for chicklit these days, nor the fact that chicklit isn’t itself an ironic categorization. i don’t like the sanctimonious mommy wars. i don’t like the veneer of cheap celebrity and snarky gossip that passes for public discourse, nor the fact that i have opinions on Brangelina despite the fact that neither Brad nor Angie would know me if they sat on me. i don’t like what image the combination of all these cultural bits and pieces makes of me as a woman, a female, a category…a person.

nor do i like what a sanctimonious, bitchy, tabloid-eating, mommy-warring pill i actually morph into whenever i consider the train wreck that is Britney Spears.

but what i really don’t like is when i go a step further and become the caricature of myself that all that misogynist pop culture would like to reflect me as, and buy into it, get lost in it. i think i crossed a line the other day when i came face to face in a grocery store lineup with news of Nicole Richie’s pregnancy. Nicole Richie, all 81 pounds of her, has miraculously managed to conceive and carry a child for four or five months thus far, and has already blossomed in the public eye from a rehab candidate on a variety of fronts to that blessed, anointed creature – the mother-to-be. the happy ending.

and my first thought? was cruel, and shameful. that little Miss My-Daddy-Was-Once-Famous does not deserve a healthy baby on top of all the bounty she’s already been given with no seeming effort or talent on her own part. that it’s really enough that she’s been stuck in front of our faces for years just because she grew up with with Lionel Richie for a father and the please-god-let-this-be-a-joke Paris Hilton for a friend. erm, enemy. erm, friend. whatever. that it’s really enough that young women struggling with eating disorders with no resources available to help them have had to watch her waste away in the public eye for waaaay too long now. that it’s really enough that people with normal adult body weights struggle to conceive, to carry…merely to ovulate, for chrissakes.

i have a truckload of empathy for all the people who are NOT Nicole Richie, and for whom watching her blossom her way through this pregnancy presumably without a hitch will be one hell of a bitter pill.

and i had a truckload of pity for me, who never had rehab available nor a tv show handed to me, nor…well…a happy ending with my firstborn.

but i had none o’ that for Nicole Richie.

because somewhere, obviously, i’ve bought the myth. that not only are celebrities open season, which – given the perks – may have some merit…but that they are actually NOT human beings, in need of common human decency. from me. that the world of glamour and privilege and apparent silver platterdom that they represent is a zero-sum economy: their presence in it is keeping ME out. their cakewalk is responsible for my heartbreak, or for the pimples on my thighs, at least. just for a second, i wished statistics would catch up with Nicole Richie. i wished her loss. i wished her crushed, like so many ‘real’ people have been, just so i could stop reading about her little miracle and the sunbeams suddenly emanating from her butt. so i could stop hurting in the place where the article was rubbing salt in all my old wounds.

and then i was horrified with myself, and ashamed. because i do NOT really wish that particular heartbreak on any human being. not one. certainly not just because they’re privileged, or lucky, or famous. there is no equation there.

and yet, in media and discourse we move more and more towards a cheap flippancy that encourages that equation, that fosters an ambulance-chasing fascination with celebridee foibles, for huge money. and the step between eagerly watching someone crash and burn, and wanting them to crash and burn, whilst licking our lips and telling ourselves they deserve it, is a very teensy one. i don’t think it’s a coincidence that the German word “schadenfreude” entered our pop culture vocabulary somewhere in the past decade or so.

and it’s ugly, taken to its extreme. it’s ugly, when i look at it in the mirror. it’s ugly, to take a real wound and make of it a hateful, blameful, dehumanizing cheap shot. and then to have a cultural bandwagon that in any way allows me to feel smug and “normal” for having such vitriol for a person who bears no relation to me whatsoever.
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i don’t think that either Nicole Richie or her unborn child will be impacted by my moment of bitter Grinch-heartedness and ill will…my superpowers, for good or evil, are not so impressive. but i will be impacted by that nastiness, if i don’t prune the branches of the tree it springs from. and Oscar will too. i have no problem with him learning to have opinions and pass judgements, even disparaging ones, critical ones. but i don’t want him to learn to discount other people’s humanity…even people it’s hard to see as people sometimes.

so when i came across Alpha Dogma’s post on schadenfraude and it’s opposite, mudita, last week…i was humbled. and hopeful. i’ve never heard of mudita – the altruistic joy of witnessing the good fortune of others – before. i’m not even sure i believe, precisely, in altruism.

but i think i’d like the world a whole lot more if it had more mudita going on it. if that was the lens we trained on those we choose to celebrate, whether in dumb tabloids or in our real lives.

So AlphaDogma…thank you. for something that was lovely, and opened up a window for me. for something that was perfect. Perfect Post Award for August 2007

you deserve this.