21 September 2016

Rodney Dangerfield Sociology

by F. X. Turk

Ok, Ok.  Don't get too excited people.  Seriously.

Watch this for about 90 seconds, because it this is where we are today as a society:

The video above is loaded to start at about 1:45, which is after Dangerfield has done his "blue" routine about his relationship with his wife.  The remainder of the bit is his self-deprecating "no respect" routine in which his doctor, his bartender, his wife, kids and parents all treat him with, as we can probably guess, with "no respect."  While he probably didn't invent this trope, at least today he is the one best known for it because of his rapid-fire delivery, his amazing physical presence, and the undeniable dog-faced charm which he never drops.  He is the character needed for the jokes to work from start to finish, even in the walk-off.

So why break my hiatus -- which I am loving, by the way, and I am sorry that you miss me (follow me on twitter if you miss me that much) -- to show you 90 seconds of Rodney Dangerfield on a once-famous blog which was well know for both high-quality theology and red-hot biblically-based commentary?

I have invented a parable this week, and I wanted to run it by you.  In order to sort of get the full effect for that parable, I wanted you to first listen to Dangerfield to set up what I am trying to say here.

So   let's imagine for a minute that you work with a guy that looks and acts like Rodney Dangerfield -- let's call him Andy.  When he comes to work, he wears a decent suit, nice shirt and tie, clean shaven every day.  On the surface, he's just like you -- a person in the image of God, and maybe because he's a little less Brad Pitt and a little more, well, Rodney Dangerfield, Andy knows that he can't come to work looking like he's about to go to a picnic after work.  He has to come to work, as is proverbially said, dressed for the job he really wants.

But as he does his job, week in and week out, Andy is in a routine where he is actually using the classic Dangerfield trope of "getting no respect" whenever something at work happens.  Project is due? Of course it's late - I went to IT to get them to solve the problems with my Outlook, and they told me they didn't have any confidence in me, either.  Customer is unhappy? Of course he's unhappy -- he told me he wanted me to take him to lunch because his doctor said he had to lose weight, and I was so ugly he'd lose his appetite.  Quality is bad? I asked Production if there were any quality issues I should know about, and they told me I was fat and a liar and that I smelled bad, too.  It seemed funny at first, but Andy does it every day: everything that goes wrong around him is not only not his fault, it is draped in this complaint that everyone around him will not give him any respect.

It gets so bad that you decide to take him to lunch to see what it is he thinks he is doing, and if you can help.  And this is where it gets really interesting because even as you invite him to lunch, he says to you, "I know what you're trying to do, but it's no use: this is all your fault."

"My fault?" you say. "How can it be my fault?"

"It happened before you got here, but nobody here shows me any respect. I'm convinced that there's a company policy at this point, a policy of systematic no-respect.  Everybody shows me no respect, all the time.  No respect.  Everybody - even you."

Now, this is absolutely not what you expected.  You actually came to him because you could see that what was in fact happening was that this guy was making the whole company lose confidence in his performance, and as he made more of these unfunny excuses it became harder and harder to judge him according to the content of his character because his character, frankly, was not good.  It also made it hard to give him the benefit of the doubt when circumstances actually were stacked against him -- because whether the issue was impossible to resolve or he just never tried, he always blamed everyone else and their lack of respect for him.  You thought he was kidding at first or looking to buy time, but here it turns out that, unbelievably, he is convinced that the reason he's constantly failing is that nobody actually gives him any respect. And that lack of respect is somehow baked into the company's way of doing business.

"OK, hang on a second Andy," you say.  "What about Randy?  You know Randy, right?"

Randy, it turns out, looks like Andy -- I mean, like brothers.  Like there before the grace of time and natural selection (not that we are evolutionists), you could mistake Andy for Randy from behind for sure, and maybe out of the corner of your eye.

"That guy?" Andy says. "He's the worst of all.  He's like my Uncle Thomas.  I told Thomas I was joining Gamblers Anonymous, he gave me 3 to 1 odds I wouldn't make it."

"What?  What's that supposed to mean?"  It's a funny joke, but you have no idea where he is going with it.

"I'm saying that while everyone is down on me, he's actually getting ahead by using me and pushing me aside."

"That's not true," you tell him.  "You came here from Detroit, he came here from Nigeria.  You have worked in the US all your life, he has only been here a few years -- maybe since just before college.  You started here before he did, and yet somehow even though he has some disadvantages you don't have -- he had to learn the language, he had to become a citizen to keep his job, he has to live far from his family -- he's about to get promoted to the department head, and you are still in this same job because you blame other people for your condition, and he is, frankly, trying to make his own condition."

When you say that, Andy gets really upset.  He starts to shout at you, as if you were the one saying that there was no way for him to succeed on his own. "I can't believe you!  You and your work privileges!  You and Randy and everyone else around here think that it's easy to get by, but you don't know what it's like for everyone to be against you!  Nobody appreciates what I do no matter what I do. And things will never get better around here unless ... " and suddenly a light goes on behind Andy's eyes.  You can see the dawning of revelation as the gears turn in his head and suddenly a new idea is born in him.  You watch him a a minute, and you think he has suddenly realized what you came to tell him.

"Unless you stop blaming other people and get yourself on the team, right?"

His lit-up visage suddenly reverts to an angry glower.  "Are you kidding me?! Are you serious?!  That will never work," he yells.  "But what will obviously work is if they fire the Boss and they put me in charge!  That's what would make things change around here!  In fact, I am going right now to HR to tell them that they better make me the guy running the show around here to make up for all the years of people disrespecting me, or else I'm going to sue them into the ground!"

Andy marches off to the HR office, and you head out to lunch.  You're pretty sure they are going to fire him when he goes up there, but you don't want to be here to see it.

As with all parables, it ruins it to explain it.  But: for those who have ears, let him listen.  


Even So... said...

Well done. There are many modern contexts where this would apply. I was thinking about a certain social narrative as I read, as well as the timeless nature of this truth. I see your flair for writing hasn't gone on hiatus.

Unknown said...

Wowee! What a carefully crafted parable this is!

It would be interesting to ask a random panel of Americans what happens to Andy in the HR office.

FX Turk said...

I think that many would tell us that what OUGHT to happen is that they should not just give him the job, they should also give is family back-pay and other company assets to make up for years and years of no respect.

I was about to happen, "but what will really happen is ...," and then I realized that my next statement was going to be what would happen in a sane world, not this one we are living in where people who riot are virtuous and people who are trying to enforce the law are demonized.

Kyle said...

TLDR please.

FX Turk said...

And that is why I have retreated to Twitter: tweets for people with attention spans of chipmonks.

Andrea said...

It ruins parables to explain them? Our Lord didn't think so. The Holy Spirit, who put Christ's parables and their explanations in scripture, clearly thought otherwise, too.

Otherwise, definitely a challenging and thought provoking post. Thanks for putting it on Pyro.

FX Turk said...

Jesus did not explain all his parables. For example, he does not explain the parable of the talents, nor the 10 virgins.

I think it does spoil it when the point here is so obvious.

Michael Coughlin said...


Dan said...

I appreciate your take on this. I work in law-enforcement (corrections), and spend many days surrounded by "Andys". Too many enablers in their lives pat them on the bottom; encouraging "Andyness", when they should be pointing them toward a "Randy". There is always a "Randy" in every environment; so there is none without blame.