Deserving. May 27, 2008Posted by phledge in black bile, fat, feminism, health.
There are two things wrong with the word “deserve.”
First, it perpetuates the culture of entitlement to which we all belong here in the West. The trigger for this post was actually a car commercial, one notable for its lack of bragging about its >30 MPG (which amuses and disgusts me simultaneously, as it’s pretty bogus to suggest that anything below 40 is reasonable)—presumably it doesn’t get good gas mileage. Anyway, in said commercial, a woman slinks by the side of this vehicle—I seem to recall it being a Mercury—and says seductively, “You deserve it.” The implication here is that if you’ve been Good then you deserve to splurge on something that will kill your pocketbook and the oil fields. Forgive me for picking on the car folks; this is not just their flaw but ranges widely across many, many advertisements. “You work so hard and isn’t it a pity that you haven’t given yourself a Coke today? Because, Jesus, you deserve it. Like you deserved that diamond bracelet and that off-road vehicle and that flat-panel TV that’s just like being at the game and that cell phone now with fifty percent more shit you won’t use anyway.” Anyone here old young enough to remember the McDonald’s jingle, “You deserve a break today, at McDonald’s?” It’s like that. So when kids come to their parents and give them a ration of shit because they don’t get everything they want, and they pine, “But maaaaaaaaahm, I did my homework and my laundry and I even ate your horrible casserole! I deserve to go to Brittney’s house!” we know from whence this attitude comes, or at very least is reinforced.
The second beef I have with the concept of deserving is that it skews our perception of how the world really is. How is it that poor kids deserve less attention at Christmastime than rich kids? Oh, wait, they don’t. The rich kids didn’t earn it, and the poor kids did nothing to lose it. Who deserves cancer? Who deserves being raped? We have an inflated sense of vengeance justice and we like to see it served, don’t we? When tragedy strikes (and don’t get me started on how so few “tragedies” today really qualify as such in the classical Greek sense of the term), we cluck to ourselves and think, “Well, maybe that person deserved it.” And we hope that we don’t. But really, there is no turning back either blessings or curses. Much of our lives are driven by sheer luck and showing up.
Of course, in fat hatred we find people justifying their prejudices by insisting that the fatty deserves everything they get, from mockery to malpractice. How comforting it must be to think that the recovered fatty doesn’t deserve these things! Surely this is one of the Fantasies of Being Thin—not ever being sick! In medicine, it’s not uncommon to find caregivers who think that smokers deserve lung cancer and emphysema and, by extension, do not deserve excellent medical attention. (See also alcoholics, IV drug users, drug users in general, unwed mothers, liberals, illegal immigrants, and the homeless.) Oh, if ONLY people wouldn’t drink, smoke, fuck, eat, ride bicycles, drive, get piercings, move, breathe, live—ah, THEN we would not have sick people! Huzzah! A profound achievement in disease management!
Then you’d deserve good medical care.
If deserving is an element of justice, then I think we could all do well with a dose of compassion, which is an element of mercy.