I’m married to a nurse, my mother is a retired nurse, my sister is a nurse (NICU, which puts me in awe of her), and my daughter is in nursing school. It was unlikely I’d miss the discussion of Joy Behar’s comments and the resulting, entirely deserved firestorm, not to mention the failure of efforts to apologize.
I’m going to say very little about nursing. It’s a job I would be totally incapable of doing. I wouldn’t want to. The work is too hard, the sacrifice is too great, the pay is too bad, and the treatment they receive often leaves something to be desired. We need them badly, but we don’t generally realize it.
But the way in which one contestant for Miss America was treated is not some kind of accident. It is not just that someone misspoke or had a stupid moment. We can all have stupid moments when something comes out of our mouth that we didn’t really want to say. Many times, however, what comes out of our mouth at such moments reflects who we are and what we value more accurately than our carefully planned and nuanced statements.
Let me get one thing out of the way. I don’t like our media. I don’t like our entertainment industry. There are remarkable few things produced by it that I will watch. So yes, I am very biased. If I didn’t say it now you’d guess from what I’m about to say. I think our media is shallow. I think our entertainment is designed for the raising of non-thinkers who don’t merely have bad values; rather, they have no real system of values at all, unless we count mental (and physical) laziness. Parents who leave your kids to be raised by your TV: That’s what you’re asking for and it’s what you’re likely to get.
It isn’t that I’m extremely prudish. At least I don’t think so. I don’t even mind the portrayal of nudity and of sex in the media—where it is artistically appropriate. What I object to is the feeling that none of this matters. That sex, violence, indolence, irresponsibility, drunkenness, ignorance, and stupidity are so unimportant as to be routine. It’s not that sex before marriage is portrayed or implied in the shows. It is that it is assumed. You go on a date. You have sex. It doesn’t matter.
But I don’t blame this mythical engine called “the media” for this problem. No! I blame us.
One of the things I learned in economics that I’ve observed in real life is that prices are determined by supply and demand. There’s a corollary that supply will increase to meet demand. Even where governments have attempted to suppress the freedom of the economy, there is a limit on how much one can buck this one rule.
Now get this: The media doesn’t want to. Why do we see what we do on television? Because that is what we watch. We may talk about higher values and a desire to see good, wholesome, edifying content (no, I don’t mean just religious), but what we actually watch is not what we claim to want. The folks in Hollywood and in the executive offices of TV and Cable networks know that. They’re going to provide what you actually watch, not what you like to pretend—in church and in blog posts that others will read—that you want to watch. Yes, I know, some of us don’t watch that sort of thing. Some of us do look for better fare. But that is not where our culture is right now, and that is the problem.
I recall my hopes when I first got cable. I made sure the History Channel would be in my package. I planned to get all that interesting documentary material. And there are occasionally, very occasionally, things to watch. But most of it is not that helpful. My wife and I turned off cable some time ago. I admit we miss baseball, which is hard to get live, especially in the post season, but that and “A Capitol Fourth” are the only things I recall us saying we wished we had.
But this isn’t really about TV or the media, though those tend to reflect our values as a society. There’s another reflection of our values, the amount we are willing to pay for things.
I encounter this in working on computers. I’ll get called out to someone’s home or office to help them with their computer and they’ll complain to me about the lack of service provided by the manufacturer or retailer for their PC. But it often turns out that they have purchased the lowest cost discount PC from the largest discount organization possible. I don’t have a problem with that as such. But if you buy discount hardware from a discount retailer and then have trouble, it’s going to cost you. Just as we claim to want one sort of material in media but actually watch something different, we claim to want a certain level of service, but we give our money to businesses that don’t provide it. Guess what? Their prices are set with the intention of not providing that sort of service.
It carries over to churches. It’s very interesting to compare a church’s claims regarding its mission and priorities and then look at the church budget. A mission oriented church will turn out to spend 1% or less of its budget on missions. Churches that claim their priority is to “reach the lost for Christ” spend more on their softball fields, cemeteries, or recreational facilities than on their claimed mission. And yes, I know that the softball field and recreational facilities can be a venue for missions. But are they? Really? Or was that just the excuse given to the church board to justify the money spent. I’ve known churches who were quite willing to spend money on the facilities and who claimed that those facilities were there so the church could better serve Jesus, but who then refused to spend the utility money to keep the building open for young people who weren’t church members.
We may not want to talk about money, but money, in my view, is the surest way to tell what one’s values actually are. That goes for individuals as well as churches.
And if you look at the numbers, we don’t really value nurses all that much. To some extent we value doctors, unless you bother to consider the student loans they’re busy paying off. (Some of those nurses have a stack of those too. Settle that against the amount they earn!)
I don’t begrudge good money to sports figures and entertainers. A great baseball player is a percentage of a percentage of a percentage of an already fairly elite group. He works hard to get there, and he’s fun to watch. But the proportions of what we pay for stars? It’s not explained by all that effort or even by the numbers. Not unless you include our value system as a society. We’ll complain about Joy Behar and The View today, but tomorrow she’ll still be making more money than dozens of nurses combined, even with the way advertising is being pulled form the show.
We’ll complain that the electrician, the construction worker, the checker at the nearest box store, or the receptionist in an office don’t do their jobs well enough, but do we treat them with respect? If they do their jobs well, do we say something? If we’re their employer, do we pay them as valued people? We need all those people along with the doctors, nurses, lab technicians, radiology techs, and so many others, but despite anything we say when we have an incident like this, many of us are going to say “Wow!” when we see the celebrity and “just another nurse” when we see the nurse. In our heads, I mean. Part of it’s the routine. We see more nurses than famous actors or actresses. We like to see people who have a gig that’s better than we expect. Sure. And that right there reflects our real values.
So I think we should complain when someone says something stupid and demeaning about an entire profession. That’s good. Let’s have plenty of letters, stories, essays, and tributes about/to nurses. They deserve every bit of it.
But let’s go a step further. Let’s reorder our values. Our children who are in football are not more important than those in music, or those in science programs, or those who are preparing to be excellent construction workers. We want those jobs done well. How about starting by reflecting in words and actions every day how much we value them?