This is hardly earth-shattering news, and not very timely besides, but last week Parade Magazine published its annual celebration of pecuniary envy, “What People Earn”. This gives us, amid all the ads for weight loss systems and USMC-themed Hummel-like figurines, the chance to line up what Tiger Woods makes with the take-home of a janitor in Billings, Mt., and a circuit court judge in Kalamazoo.
Now, I was always taught that it was rude to ask people what they earn. In some circles (like among Europeans), it’s actually bad form to try to maintain a conversation by talking about something as boring as a job–a person should have (or try to cultivate) better conversational skills using more intriguing methods of interpersonal exchange. So I guess instead of dissing Parade for being nosy, boring, and banal, I should thank it for asking the questions people want to know.
Then again, screw it. I’ll thank them when Walter Scott answers the reader question: “What does Courtney Cox think of man’s basic nature? Is there really an objective division between good and evil, or are our souls the active battleground of good and evil, as the Manichaeists believe?”
The results of Parade‘s crack reporters’ research shows that, by gosh, just as you might think, there’s a huge range of dollar amounts for everyone listed. Tiger Woods, $100 million. A pastor in Wichita, $5,800. US Army dog handler, $30K. The 25-year-old CEO of Facebook, $3 billion.
Sure, I believe that guy’s worth $3 billion. Until the next big computer fad comes out, and he’s left to scrounge nickels like the guys from Napster, MySpace, and Netscape.
Seeing Parade in the Sunday paper always makes my skin crawl (True headline from this week’s online edition: “Lisa Kudrow Says It’s Important to Keep History Alive!”). But this paycheck issue is always extra-creepy, for a number of reasons:
* It’s plain nauseating to think that Glenn Beck made $23 million last year (which is a low guess anyway, since Forbes estimates it was closer to $32 mil.), because that’s just not a world I want to live in. Ditto Jay Leno bringing in $32 mil.
* There is a forced camaraderie and false connection implied by lining up everyone’s picture on an equal grid, so that Johnny Depp and a nursing home worker look like fellow students in a high school yearbook. Sorry, Johnny Depp seems like a likeable down-to-earth megastar, but he lives on a different planet. And on that planet, he owns four houses and lives with a French model. Nothing against Seymour, Tenn., but Johnny Depp is not popping in for a BBQ anytime soon, no matter how friendly the people seem.
* The strained equivalences are reinforced by use of the first person plural throughout the article. “How We’re Making It Work.” As best as we can, thanks, though the cost of living is a lot different in South Dakota than in suburban Maryland, and people like Kanye West are making it work because they can afford lots of handlers and lawyers to keep them out of trouble when they get drunk and abuse people.
* It forces me to consider scenarios in which I’m working in a menial job in a flyspeck town. Fate may be capricious, of course, and it’s a longshot that it would happen, but what if an old “Twilight Zone” storyline came true, and you woke up one morning with your body switched with a complete stranger’s? And why should you have people across America learn that you make crap wages?
* It hurts my head to imagine the reality behind some of the people’s occupations and stated income. A modern dancer in Murray, Utah, earning $32,000? There’s a modern dancer in Murray, Utah? And she makes a living wage? Weird, baby.
* And I hate it because it’s so transparently shoddy, for all the above reasons, and so illuminates the problem of ranking articles like this, whether published by Forbes or Inc. or Jack & Jill. While trying to pass as important sociologically and even anthropologically, they are always merely one editor’s idea of an interesting topic, fleshed out under deadline with questionable methods. How did Parade find the retail salesperson in Kreamer, Pa., and why did she tell them she only made $8200 last year? And what conclusions can be made from a call that certainly was made randomly? And I hate myself for getting sucked into articles like this, too.
And then there’s a long, long argument to be made about whether a person’s income is in any way reflective of the worth they add to society, and the growing chasm between the wealth of the richest and the poorest in America, but those are for another time. Most of the people in the article aren’t too concerned that the average CEO makes 300 times what his average worker makes. They’re probably just happy to have their pictures in the paper.
And heavens, that’s enough time spent on THAT magazine. Sorry for wasting your time on it.