Behind the Laughter

There’s a good Op-Ed by Bob Herbert this morning. It seems Conan O’Brien has been having fun making fun of Newark, NJ. Behind that laughter lies a nation full of urban tragedy. Our cities, as usual, are ignored and continue to suffer.

Here’s a couple comments, expressing better than I can how tragic this situation is:

I don’t know about Newark, but in college I had the opportunity to live four months in Dakar, Senegal, a city which we like to define as “third-world.” Back then I had this idea that I needed to see what “poverty” looked like. However, upon returning and moving to metro Detroit, I can see that there was no need to go half so far. Dakar is far better off than Detroit, with a comparable literacy rate (60%), fewer drugs, and far less violence. In parts of Detroit, poverty/unemployment/crime rates are through the roof, streets are abandoned, every other house is burned or falling in, every window broken, and empty sky scrapers crumble, condemned and overgrown with plants. You can’t believe it until you’ve spent time there.

Detroit is in appalling condition. I would never have believed that the United States of America, which brags and blathers so hard on the world stage, would allow such unthinkable destitution. The country that offered me so much privilege and even led me to assume that poverty was always elsewhere, that children were hungry in China and Africa but never here five minutes away, offers neither safety nor opportunity to so many children in Detroit.

Yet on every TV station there are self-worshiping blowhards in suits and ties frothing at their audiences of nervous middle-class mice about America, the “greatest country on earth.” What makes America great? Dakar is a wonderful place with serious trials and significant suffering, but also a lot of hope and spirit. Detroit is a toxic wasteland by comparison.

I share your concern, Mr. Herbert. But I don’t think Conan O’Brien is really the one in need of reprimand. In fact I almost appreciate his comments, for bringing at least a little attention to America’s dark secrets, and maybe even a little levity.

Thanks, m.s. from southeastern michigan.

And here’s another comment. This one from Kate Madison of
Depoe Bay, Oregon:

…”So what are we doing? While mulling the prospect of sending up to 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, we’ve stood idly by, mute as a stone, as school districts across the nation have bounced 40,000 teachers out of their jobs over the past year.”

YEAH! Conan O’Brien’s act is kind of like laughing at the funeral of a brutally murdered child–horrifying but understandable only as an act of total denial! WHAT IS WRONG WITH US that we are willing to think about sending many more of our young people into the horrific war in Afghanistan–denying completely that most will come home with PTSD (if they survive), just as they did in Iraq and Vietnam! Yet…..we LAUGH about the terror and poverty in a place like Newark that probably produces as much PTSD in its deprived, abused children as Afghanistan and Iraq combined!

Let us face it! We are a narcissistic, spoiled country, and we do not wish to see what is right in front of us everyday! If we did, we would never have let it happen in the first place!!!

Well, maybe we wouldn’t have let it happen, but it wouldn’t have been a sure thing, given inherent human selfishness.

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