Sunday, June 26, 2005

30 Days & Nellie Bly

I'm not sure how old I was when I first read about Nellie Bly--I must have been somewhere between 8 and 10--but I remember being really moved by her life story. Here was a woman who, in a time that few middle-class women worked outside the home, was a world-class journalist. I know that I was most impressed by the parts of the story that dealt with her going undercover on Blackwell's Island to expose the inhumane treatment of the insane, and her work in a sweatshop. Her work led to real reforms in social and public policy, and I thought that was so cool.

I think Barbara Ehrenreich and Morgan Spurlock may be her modern-day descendents, in the kinds of work that they're doing, but I don't see them having the same affect in the social arena. I wonder what it is about our time that makes this muckraking so much less effective. Is it that there has been enough positive social change, so that the 'bad' conditions that they have to report just aren't as compelling? I don't really believe that.

Is it that, as a nation, we've become so dulled to other people's reality (or lack of it), that all things real seem like fiction now? I wonder how much the Real World/Survivor/Big Brother types of programming have ripped the teeth out of real investigative reporting. If everyone has some kind of petty drama (as we see on those kinds of shows), how can we prioritize one person's drama over another's? If the (mostly) women that Ehrenreich works with in her crappy, minimum wage jobs as she researches Nickel & Dimed are having crisis after crisis, do they really deserve to be elevated over the contestants on the Amazing Race, who perservere over a new crisis every week? In some ways, Nellie is responsible for this craze, too, since she was one of the first women to engage in 'stunt' journalism (think around the world in 80 days).

I'm afraid that by making entertainment out of things that are really hard, that really matter--things like how does one live on the minimum wage--we risk devaluing that struggle.
At one point in our history, our goal as a country was to make poor & working-class folks more like us (and by us, I mean white middle-class people). We wanted to give them stability and help them move toward being productive members of our society. We've changed our focus, and we've lost our way. Instead of figuring out how to level the playing field with social policy, we've decided that if we all just have a chance to win a million dollars, then it must be fair.

• Posted By landismom @ 6/26/2005 12:23:00 PM
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