Tag Archives: elitism

When WASPs Celebrate Holidays


It’s been awhile since I’ve been on the Frontgate mailing list.

Frontgate fancies itself the purveyor of exclusivity and panache, “Outfitting America’s Finest Homes Since 1991.”

This is how I cope with laundry in my America's Finest Home.

This is how I cope with laundry in my America’s Finest Home.

I don’t know how I got on their list to begin with. I can only assume my address was sold from my subscription to the myriad unread New Yorker magazines that decorate woefully obscure my side tables, coffee tables, car door pockets, guest room, and bathrooms water closets.

I opted-out of many mailing lists years ago. The simple daily routine to fetch the mail morphed into strength training thanks to the deluge of phone book -sized holiday catalogs boasting cornucopian savings purchasing opportunities.

Today? What ho! I was “invited back!” to “Experience legendary Frontgate quality and SAVE 20% on almost everything” in the Frontgate catalog. I was thrilled! My pulse quickened.

Frontgate Wanted Me Back!!!

My eyes narrowed. I looked over my shoulders for “Punk’d!” cameras thinking that surely it was a ruse. Didn’t Fontgate know I’m Catholic?

My mother was very good at was recognizing the elitism (“We’ll take anyone’s money, so long as you don’t tell anyone about it,”) in catalogs and magazines. She was a satire savant and I have no doubt she would enjoy my upcoming critique of Frontgate’s early pages.

The first thing I am always willing to notice I immediately go after in any catalog or media is the gaping absence of multicultural and ethnic representation. In Frontgate, apparently only thin, wealthy, coiffed, dressed, repressed, and clean white people celebrate Christmas and they don’t mention Jesus and eventually dwindle things down to “the holidays” because well, let’s be honest: it’s tacky to mention the reason for a holiday… right?

I didn’t notice anything at first other than just the obvious exclusion of anything other than white people … at all … in the entire 54-page publication. (Just sweep it under one of the several expensive, plush rugs they offer.) In all fairness, I look for those omissions because I think it’s just plain assholic to not include all races and ethnicities in a catalog of purveyors to America’s Finest Homes; apparently they haven’t noticed that the Obamas live in the White House.

But it was one visual exchange conflict between two models in the photo that sucked me in and made me think of Mom, because she really loved this stuff.

Upon further examination, I began my descent into the murky world of fabricated mirth or … depending on the caption writing, just another dysfunctional family moment. It all looks fairly benign and sort of boring… until …

Well, here’s the image, you can look it over and I’ll let you know what did it in for me. You might even want to zoom in…

There are just so many opportunities to mock but so little time.

There are just so many opportunities to mock but so little time. (image: (c) Frontgate November 2013 catalog)

Besides the pensive and wan expression on the mature sylvan-locked dame (with the empty plate) at the table on the right in her Hermés scarf, I thought “staged … staged … staged…” and then my eye glanced over

Did you guess it?

Everyone’s having a great time at the Wentworth-Fitch house this year…. or is everyone?

What’s up with that exchange in the background between I’m guessing a drunk uncle and his grabby nephew? I saw that and I was all, like, “WOAH! What the what’s goin’ on back there?!”

That little scene is whacked. Druncle’s body language is saying, “Tryit, twerb. JuzGo ferit an’wellsee whadhappnznext. Yew might accidentally bumpintozat rackofribs on zhe table…. Youwoodntwanna go an’ mess up AundCecily’s nize spread now wouldja? It’d sure a beshame if somethin’ t’happen tuh it…”

His shoulders are leaning toward the kid but his hips are turned to the other direction. The torquing waistline in his sweater shows he’s turning AWAY from the kid. The whole thing reminds me of a Henry Hill flashback in “Goodfellas”; in fact I’m convinced that Druncle is an import, if you know what I mean. (WASPs don’t do facial hair, or apparently collarless shirts tucked beneath crew neck sweaters.)

Druncle’s hand is all, “I don’tzhink zo, zport.” or… “You wannago atthis?”

My money’s on the kid. Ten to one he sacks Druncle, makes a blitz for the gift and dashes up the service backstairs to tear into the prop.

So then my eyes started bouncing around the image. Like Gollum, I was possessed, Find more flaws, find more flaws… more weirdness…

The little boy at the table in the far left margin of the image is curious. The little girl, also an import because she’s just not blonde enough, is trying hard to make eye contact with him, but he is drawn to the woman who loves the baby more than she loves him.

I wasn’t convinced entirely that this was an Oedipal moment. It was something more… His expression reminds me of something… I got out a ruler and tracked his eyes gaze and they seem to end right at the woman’s right elbow or perhaps the sugared plums … but no. Upon even further examination (see, if Mom were here we’dve figured it all out sooner, but I’m doing this in the moment with you, so you have to bear with me), with a clear ruler and the adroit eye of my eldest, the sarcastic teenager Thing 1, we look again, and that kid’s honing in on the cake stand. It’s all about the cake, not Jesus, this Christmas.

Sadly, that kid and the cake just doesn’t keep me.

It’s that image of the kid and the d-bag uncle in the background. Even the chunky-thighed stiff baby and the impossibly slim model (mother of the sixth-month-old) doesn’t hold me for long. When I was nine months postpartum with Thing 1 at a Christmas celebration, I did NOT look like that. I was wearing a nursing dress or fat pants and a nursing top (much to the chagrin of my mother-in-law, she didn’t really get why I chose to breastfeed my kids; it irked her that she couldn’t give them a bottle to feed them, but the last time I checked, these were my kids — wait, have I gone in an unintended direction? Ahem, back to the catalog) and I can tell you with utmost certainty, my hair was not brushed. Nor most likely, were my teeth. I can recall this however, that my brother said to me that my boobs were huge … still.

But I definitely would’ve been wearing a cardigan. Or a zip-up hoodie. Or a bathrobe. Or completely absent from the photo.

The chairs in the image are foldable and are nicer than any dining chair I possess. At the ‘exceptional’ sale price of $100 each, they better be.

Later pages of the catalog show more white people enjoying things together. It looks like Blair needs a healthy G&T to get through a game of fancy Scrabble with step-daughter Chutney during compulsory Big Girl Time while Daddy is fox hunting with Skip.

EPSON scanner image

Always a good sport, Blair can’t help but mimic Tiger Woods’ famous fist pump, “Is THIS how you do it?” at the Masters all those years ago, in the dawn of pro golf’s integration. (c) Frontgate 2013

Don’t worry, that satchel isn’t Blair’s handbag, but a prim little faux leather accessory of the fancy Scrabble set, sure to be an heirloom that you’ll want to keep on display all throughout the year (or at least when company comes over), according to the editors at Frontgate. At my house, we keep our Scrabble letters in the plastic silver bag that game with our set (which we don’t leave out throughout the year):

This score was from a game I played with my husband in 1995. He kicked my ass.  My sentiment regarding the match is recorded succinctly.

This score was from a game I played with my husband in 1995. He kicked my ass. My sentiment regarding the match is recorded succinctly.

And from the Thanking God for Little Surprises department, I found this memento in the same box:

Further proof that I had NO strategic skills when it came to that game and that my mother was a triple-word viper.

Further proof that I had NO strategic skills when it came to that game and that my mother was a triple-word viper. I am happy to say that Words with Friends has helped. … somewhat. Seeing this scoresheet reminded me that Mom and I did play games, that it wasn’t all drama all the time.

Turn the page, and we find Biff showing young Kip a map where his diamond mine is located.

"Right, Biff! That's where cook's family came from..."

“Super, Kip! That’s exactly where cook’s family came from…” (c) Frontgate 2013

I like to see all the places where Biff and Kip have traveled. It looks like Vanavara, Russia and lots of hops about Europe, and America’s east coast, and of course Costa Rica (never Panama). Then there was that time they skied in Sweden and froze their asses off in Greenland (what?). Or … oddly, Moosonee, Ontario. No place is better to thaw than Esquel, Argentina, where they checked on their oil refineries.

What a random collection of travel destinations. They were smart though, and avoided all areas of open conflict (and poverty) in the Middle East.

Frontgate does see the irony, I hope.

Here we have The Help (because certainly Blair doesn’t wear jeans and flats on purpose) cleaning the crown moulding:

Looks like someone needs to do their roots.

Looks like someone needs to do their roots. (c) Frontgate 2013

I just hate it when I can’t reach the dentil friezes and soffit mouldings on my 20′ ceilings. It’s such a drag.

Here we have an image of when my “help” cleaned my kitchen:

Because I have no room to store things, we use the oven.

Because I have no room to store things, we use the oven.

Well, that’s it from the Snark Department here at Grass Oil. My dinner is here. From take-out. 🙂

Thank you.

Parenting: The Dangers and Influence of Elitism


I read an article, “The Master” by Marc Fisher about 2 weeks ago in The New Yorker magazine about an English teacher at the renowned Horace Mann high school in the Bronx.

The teacher’s name was Robert Berman, and the article was ostensively about sex abuse by Berman toward his male students during the 1970s. Accusations included all manner of abuse from emotional and psychological to physical and rape of these young men. Some of these students were so heavily influenced by Berman that they bought him a townhouse on Manhattan’s west side years after graduating from the school.

Since the allegations were made several years ago, Facebook groups have formed and legal suits against the school have been filed. Berman has maintained his innocence, and true to his reportedly elitist and highly eccentric personality (according to Fisher, Berman encouraged his students “to subvert standardized tests by answering every question with the word ‘five'”), Berman has remained a mystery and largely silent, requesting his privacy, insisting that he is an old man who wants to live out his final fragile years with dignity and solitude. He “speaks” through seeming disciples and communicates via hand-written letters delivered by the postal service or hand courier.

Part of the draw of people like Berman is their charisma and their personality; they create a mystique and an almost cult-like fascination for students who hang their achievement on their every word and preference. Many former students cited his strangeness but also considered him genius and a driving force in their successful careers as writers, artists, and musicians. This is all well and fine, for those who got away.

While the allegations are horrid and disturbing, the article discussed –but as far as I’m concerned largely glanced over–  a very subtle yet more sinister element in all of these troubling stories and that is the power of elitism — the severe and undue influence that any authority figure has over children (or any at-risk person), regardless of environment. The food of elitism is the subject’s desperate need for approval, acceptance, love and attention. What I’m talking about is really subtle: it’s not just that Berman did these things; but what I’m talking about is the how; the tool and the device he used to do it so insidiously.

Like the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal at Penn State, more times than not, many of these children were lured by these people because of their emotional vulnerability or a less-than ideal home-life: often they came from broken families or from families where the parents were angry, overwhelmed by their jobs, health issues or other major distractions.

Even kids from so-called good homes (both parents present, gainfully employed and stable families) were still susceptible to these types of authority figures because they were reduced by Berman. Everything they previously thought that was of value, was devalued. From music, to art; from literature to movies; from girls to sports, Berman found a way to denigrate their opinions and replace them with his. He found a way to tell them that what they loved before was worthless now because he deemed it so. By doing this with the students who were at risk, he groomed them to need his favor and his good opinion. They wanted to fit in … somewhere. This is a tool used everywhere, but it’s so subtle.

By replacing their esteem with his judgment, they gave away their power. They lost their bearings, they discarded their own benchmarks and valuations and began to engage in behaviors and studies and experiences to seek and win his approval. As time wore on, his admonitions were more severe and their appeasement became more desperate and his abuse escalated to untenable levels. Not all students were selected and preyed upon by Berman, and of those who were, not all succumbed to his advances. Some former students who stepped forward discussed their experiences with him and how they got away from him; and that once they did get away from him, that they were deemed “dead” to him. But of the others, the nightmares continue and the trauma is just beneath the surface.

Elitism’s power and the abusive influence of authority figures is not really about sex. Like all matters of abuse, it’s about power, control and the need to build a power base due to the abuser’s own issues with mortality and other screwed up reasons.

Revealed most recently: Rutgers University Basketball coach Mike Rice’s abuses. Why those huge college students put up with his crap is beyond me. But look further: these athletes are exploited plain and simple for the betterment and bank accounts of the colleges, advertising agencies and television networks. They pin their hopes on an NBA career and curry favor of the whims of insatiable coaches because of those hopes.

As parents, we need to do a better job: we need to talk to our kids about these subtleties. As a parent of three boys, all of whom are engaged in sports (two at the neighborhood club level, my oldest in a high school rowing program), my husband and I do our best to make sure the boys respect the coaches; that they listen to their opinions and practice good sportsmanship as well as work on their skills. My oldest son is just beginning this journey. Regardless of the benefits and challenges of a rigorous rowing training program, he needs to know of most of all the concept of self-respect and what that looks like not only for himself, which is paramount, but what it looks like in his teachers and coaches. A good coach will show you how it’s done and train you do to it; a bad coach will strip you of your dignity, beat the crap out of you and denigrate you and reduce you to make himself feel better and to wait for you to appease him or her. While we’re at it: there is no place for inquiries about personal preferences, and opinions of behavior.

As high schoolers, we liked teachers and coaches who were like us: who cursed, and maybe smoked or showed some rebellion. We related to that; that was cool to us. Looking back: those teachers were needy losers.

As parents, we need to hold teachers and coaches to a high level: they must behave themselves and not work so hard to earn our kids’ favor. Trust is earned when it’s proven. It’s the same as “stranger danger” — as I say to my kids and any kid or their parent who will listen: “No adult ever needs the help of a young child to do anything.” Same goes for coaches and teachers and other authority figures. They are there to teach and train, plain and simple.

The article in The New Yorker is linked above; it’s long, as many articles can be in that magazine, but it’s captivating and important to read. Elitism from our friends, our parents, our siblings, relatives, teachers, coaches, priests — anyone really — is corrosive and dangerous; its intent is to breed subservience, supplication and submission. It’s the “mean girls” of anything we do. Anyone can have their own opinions, but the moment they become empirical, black & white, or critical of yours or your child’s is the moment they can become dangerous and they create a perfect breeding ground for inadequacy issues and second-guesses.

Thank you.