Focus on the Family (FOTF) and The Real Housewives of New Jersey Have a Lot in Common


This election season, it's important to remember the meaning of commodification when we talk to each other. We can relate to each other as real, compassionate, whole people, or we can treat each other like nickels that we collect and spend on bus fare. I experienced those two alternatives today.

First, I listened to a civil conversation between two men who led organizations that were at odds. On the one hand, Jim Daly, current head of Focus on the Family: a political lobby that, under it's previous founding president James Dobson, was an abrasive, outspoken, intensely divisive Evangelical battalion against marriage equality and abortion. On the other hand, Gabe Lyons leads a seminar series for young people who are abandoning the Evangelical establishment, and who considers FOTF to be emblematic of the problem with Christianity today.

These two people who are at odds over a real, divisive issue (the future of Christianity) became friends in a tangible way. Did they change their positions? No. That wasn't the goal of the conversation. But they came to know each other as people, check each other for pointy tails and horns, and now they can move forward to see about working together to find solutions to the problems that they face together. They learned that they share more in common than they argue about, so a friendship or working relationship would be fruitful.

Then I watched the season finale of the Real Housewives of New Jersey. Don't click on that link. It is a reality show about family and friends —mostly wives and sisters —, who fight over nothing, threaten each other, backstab, and speak ill in a context of extreme wealth and luxury. The positive scenes throughout the season just make the inevitable conflict worse because you know that these people are so close, they have so much in common. They have beautiful kids, similar tastes in fashion and food, tons of common (non-show) friends, and a lot of the same family. Frankly, I think they all even look the same: uncomfortable and rich.

But instead of just enjoying their luxurious fashion shows and vacations, instead of celebrating each others' daily successes (like a big business contract) or working together to overcome challenges (like what to do with mom) LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE, they bicker and complain and pull on every cuticle that sticks up until everyone looks pissed and bloody.

That's why they all have crazy-eyes - the production team and the fame about losing their humanity to be replaced by objects that buy and sell each other escalate the whole show. They all have the same hair stylist and they get along worse than an LGBT activist and a family values lobbyist.  

It's just entertainment. I get that. But it gives us a vocabulary for being real assholes to each other. In a word, it is a template for being inhumane. Because two real people can disagree about big issues over a beer (just like President Obama's "beer summit"), it's not that hard, there is a language for that.

So please help spread the good news — we aren't nickels to throw into a tollbooth. We are people who have a lot in common.