Monday, August 11, 2014

It Teaches Work Ethic

Weeping Sarah Palin, by j4design (2008).

It Teaches Work Ethic
by Sarah Palin
“We believe fast food workers deserve a livable wage.” —Sen. Elizabeth Warren 
We believe 
Wait, I thought fast food joints 
don't you guys think that they're like
of the devil or something?

you want to send those evil 
employees who would dare 
work at a fast food joint
that you just don't believe in 
I don't know
I thought you wanted to send them to purgatory
or something.

So they all go vegan.

And wages and picket lines
I don't know
they're not often discussed in purgatory
are they? 
I don't know
why are you even worried about fast food wages?

Well, we believe
an America where minimum wage jobs
they're not lifetime gigs
they're stepping stones to sustainable wages.

It teaches work ethic.
(from a transcription by Catherine Thompson, Talking Points Memo)

Everything about this poem is indirect, including its surface, at which Palin is addressing a paradox at the heart of conservative belief: that loading up on inexpensive fat-and-salt calories at the drive-in is an essential part of our spiritual lives as Americans, as much as our guns or our Steve Doocy, and yet its acolytes, the people who actually give us our burgers and fries, do not deserve to be paid enough money to live on. Instead of confronting the paradox head on, she attacks it by imagining its mirror image, a funhouse liberalism in which McDonald's workers are literally evil, "of the devil or something", and yet should be "sustained" by the society that they harm.

Having distanced herself from the problem in this way—"I don't know"—she is enabled to mediate it, with the concept of Purgatory, a halfway-ness between the diabolical position of the beginning and the resolution she yearns for, where one can "purge" one's sin (note the association with fast foods and eating disorders such as bulimia) and work one's way out, as through fasting ("going vegan") and prayer, not preoccupied with such material issues as wages. (In Purgatory we don't receive wages but avoid them, since the wage of sin is death and the purpose of Purgatory is eternal life.)

Thus the fast food workers turn out to be sinful, indeed, not because of their workplace but simply because they are human—as in all Palin's work, one deserves to live only before one's birth; being born is the original sin. Because of the sacramental character of the fast-food workplace, they must suffer (poverty, obedience, chastity) to represent us.

Enchantingly, the poem itself "purges" itself, with the triple repetition of "I don't know", to a point where she can speak of the conservative paradox and articulate it into a higher paradox of existential severity: working, in America, at a minimum wage job, is a set of "stepping stones" of suffering, not a lifetime but a deathtime as it were, where we must be unsustained in order to attain sustainment; the "work ethic" of "You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."

The Weeping Woman, by Pablo Picasso (1937).

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