Snow Job

February 17, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Watching toddlers in the snow last week reminded me of a bit the Daily show did a few weeks ago about the Fox News gang. The segment, narrated by John Oliver, zeroed in on a theme that runs through much of the conservative hand-wringing about the present state of the country: “an incredibly over-simplistic nostalgia.” Here were Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly all mourning the passing of the “the America we grew up in,” “those simpler times when people were together.”

We see a quick montage of each right winger saying, “when I was a kid.” Then Oliver’s aha moment: “It was a better, simpler time because they were all six years old!”

I’ve mentioned this before (here) – the tendency to confuse phylogeny with ontogeny. To the child, the world is a secure place with simple rules that have to be followed, a world where grown-ups are powerful, restricting but also nurturing. But when the child grows up and becomes an adult, the world as he sees it is a much less certain place, and his own powers to control things are limited.

What does that have to do with snow? There’s a cartoon (if I could draw worth a damn, I’d do a version of it here) that captures this same idea. It shows a father and his young son walking in deep snow.  It comes up to about knee-level on the father, but for the little boy, it’s nearly chest high, and he is struggling to walk. The father is gesturing, holding hand flat at the level of his own waist, and saying, “This is nothing. When I was a kid, we had snow up to here.” And when that child grows up, he too will remember waist-high snow.

In the same way, the Fox guys are all saying, “When I was a kid, the America that I grew up in was a safe, caring, and simple place.” Since these men all grew up in different eras, as Oliver pointed out, the nostalgia is not for a bygone America; it’s for a bygone childhood.

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