Self-Invention Jumps the Shark

To a certain extent the American dream -- the notion that working hard in a land with few barriers to advancement makes it possible for each of us to achieve success -- carries with it an element of self-invention.        

As F. Scott Fitzgerald noted of the title character in The Great Gatsby: 

His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people -- his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all.  The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.  He was a son of God -- a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that -- and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.  So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.

Pretending to be something one is not for social and other advantage is fairly common. We have now, for example, a president who duped the elite opinion makers into thinking he was a genius, though there’s never been evidence of that, and he refuses to ever release his academic records. In that regard he was following in the footsteps of others like Adlai Stevenson, whom the smart set regarded as brilliant compared to his opponent Dwight D. Eisenhower. Hidden from the public by Dean Erwin Griswold was the fact that Adlai had actually flunked out of Harvard Law School  which, had it been known, would have made clear that Eisenhower, the successful Allied commander, was the more capable leader.

Today, we are faced with an even more ridiculous and spreading series of self-inventions.

As artificial barriers to advancement -- like affirmative action programs -- and Balkanization by race, class, and gender rise, the ludicrous self-inventions increase with people adopting fake identities to take advantage of the benefits of belonging to groups considered society’s victims.

We have Elizabeth Warren pretending to be part Cherokee to get a desirable high-status, high-paying job at Harvard Law School which she would never have gotten had she not engaged in this pretense.

We have fake rape victims at Duke and Columbia University and several other colleges as well, pretending, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to have been victimized. In this way they gain status on campus and attention, one going so far as to schlep a mattress with her to all campus goings.

Last week, to great financial advantage, there was the Caitlynization of a former Olympic star, Bruce Jenner.

This week, we have Rachel Dolezal, head of the Spokane NAACP who for a couple of decades has been pretending to be black and the victim of parental and spousal abuse, rape, and hate crimes. We might excuse this behavior as the product of a troubled mind, but as with Warren, Jenner, and the mattress girl, there are external payoffs for such deceptive behavior. As Powerline reports: “For Ms. Dolezal, being black wasn’t just a delusion. It was, seemingly, a career choice.”

Pretending to be black landed her a position as Adjunct Professor of African-American Studies at Eastern Washington University. Ms. Dolezal’s bogus status as a black woman landed her a municipal position, too as chair of the Office Of Police Ombudsman Commission:

“Her application to that position included the self-identifiers black, white, and American Indian. Spokane City spokesman Brian Coddington admitted, ‘The community wanted diversity and limited background checks.’ He also admitted that race ‘was certainly taken into account,’ according to”

Powerline asks, as we all should:

What can we make of the story of Rachel Dolezal? It is bizarre, but also, in my view, emblematic of our times. She may be a lunatic, but -- in the words of John Lennon -- she’s not the only one. This woman received constant support and encouragement -- and in some cases, money -- from the NAACP, Howard University, Eastern Washington University, the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, the City of Spokane, and, apparently, the United Nations. She has made what seems to be a fairly decent career out of a transparent tissue of lies, which went unquestioned until her parents finally blew the whistle.

Ms. Dolezal pushed all the right buttons: she was black, her parents and husband abused her, she was once raped by someone who was too rich to prosecute, the KKK (!) and the Aryan Nation are out to get her, she was born in a teepee to a family that hunted with bows and arrows (hence the Native American element in her ancestry), and as a result of this tortured history, she is now an expert in African history, the “black woman’s struggle,” African art, the African Diaspora, “black women in visual culture,” “fairness and equity in law enforcement,” ethnic hair styling, and -- before long! -- surgery.

The story of Rachel Dolezal reads like a parody of modern liberalism, but it isn’t a joke --these people really are that crazy.

My friend Barbara Duran is stricken: "Every day I think "This time they've jumped the shark," but I'm always wrong. There'll be something new tomorrow.”

David Kahane and I are taking another approach. We’re jumping aboard the self-invention train. He’s decided to self-identify as the reincarnation of a black woman who's dead: Ella Fitzgerald. I’m not going to be left out. I’m self-identifying as Iowahawk. His shrewd humor will make it easier to abide this raging lunacy.

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