Romney and The Help

September 20, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The “Romney 47%” recording reminded me of “The Help.”  Apparently, the recording was made by the help – a waiter or bartender or some other hired servant who, either independently or at the behest of a reporter, put the camera or cell phone on the counter and pushed “record.”

I didn’t find “The Help” all that impressive a film (further comments on it are here).  It was too pretty.  Emma Stone was prettier than the real author, and race relations in the film were prettier than Mississippi of the early sixties.  But “The Help” did accurately show one often overlooked aspect of the relation between servants and those who hire them:  servants are so powerless that from the masters’ perspective they become non-persons.   Servants are harmless.  And all they are is servants, at least to the master. 

No man is a hero to his valet.  But masters also forget that the valet may be more than just a valet. So masters relax the usual constraints of self-presentation and information control, and servants acquire a lot of information.

Most of the time, servants use that information only among themselves, largely as protection for the self.  By swapping stories that deflate the self of the masters, they  narrow the self-worth gap between the two statuses. Information is power, but the power of servants’ information usually remains potential. 

Still, every so often, as in “The Help” and in “Romney 47%,”  that power becomes actual.

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