This election isn’t Gilligan’s Island. It’s Green Acres.
posted at 12:00 pm on September 25, 2012 by Libby Sternberg
Google the name Thurston Howell, the wealthy and somewhat clueless castaway on the popular old Gilligan’s Island show, and you get a prompt to add Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s last name to your search. That’s not surprising, given the candidate’s wealth and his “47 percent” gaffe leaked to the press, an occasion that prompted NY Times columnist David Brooks to pen a piece titled “Thurston Howell Romney.”
Brooks described what Romney said at a fundraiser thus:
Forty-seven percent of the country, he said, are people “who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
And then the columnist went on to defend those 47 percenters and to suggest that “Romney doesn’t know much about the culture of America.”
This article prompted conservative writer Michelle Malkin to enter the sitcom analogy fray with her own piece about the New York Times columnist himself. Titled “Eddie Haskell Brooks,” her commentary criticizes Brooks for “sucking up to empty suit Barack Obama (and) mocking grass-roots conservatives as ‘teens’”:
New York Times columnist David Brooks is the Eddie Haskell of the Fourth Estate. Like the two-faced sycophant in “Leave It to Beaver,” Brooks indulges in excessive politeness while currying favor with political authority. He prides himself on an oily semblance of maturity and rational discourse.
So, Romney is Howell from Gilligan’s Island and Brooks is Haskell from Leave It to Beaver.
Maybe Malkin has a point. Brooks’s Thurston Howell reference is a simplistic and obvious analogy, something that you might expect from an apple-polishing Haskell.
But…a more nuanced and sophisticated view of this election through the metaphorical lens of situation comedy would suggest that (wait for it)…. Green Acres is the place to be.
Yes, this election is really about Oliver Wendell and Lisa Douglas, two people whose life experiences and outlook put them far away from the everyday concerns and routines of their fellow Hooterville citizens.
But in this campaign, President Obama is the naïve and out-of-touch Oliver, filled with grandiose ideas about chucking the materialistic life and relating to his new salt-of-the-earth neighbors, setting up what he hopes is a rural utopia for himself and his bride.
And Mitt Romney is the equally out-of-touch Lisa, who is far more comfortable in the rarefied air of her fellow elites but, despite her background and personal preferences, manages to relate to her new world and actually get things done.
Consider, for example, the episode in which a local organization, C.R.U.B.T.R.F.F., is sponsoring a rummage sale. While Oliver is completely ignorant of the event, Lisa already knows about C.R.U.B.T.R.F.F. and its sister organization. She’s in touch while he’s not. She’s often far more sympathetic to the locals, and they to her, as well. You might go so far as to say she understands that C.R.U.B.T.R.F.F. did build that–the rummage sale, that is.
Neither Lisa nor Oliver has a background that relates to the “hayseeds” in Hooterville. But neither do the current candidates. President Obama’s history includes globetrotting, an Ivy League education, community organizing and a leap into political life. How many average Janes and Joes have had similar experiences? Like Oliver Douglas, Obama has a vision for a better future that is largely based on unrealistic and wrongheaded ideas.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, had privileges and opportunities—and wealth—equally removed from those experienced by average Americans. He shares a Harvard background with the president, and he went on to his own higher-level “community organizing”—in the sense that he worked with an investment firm that helped start businesses and with the grand community of the Olympics when mismanagement and corruption threatened it. Few can claim a brotherhood with that background. Like Lisa Douglas, however, Romney knows how to make things work, even if he is more comfortable hobnobbing with the country club crowd.
The important question Americans face in November is this one: which out-of-touch Douglas—Oliver or Lisa—do they want running Hooterville? For that answer, we’ll have to … stay tuned.
And now, since you probably have the theme song running through your head already, here it is in all its splendor:
Libby Sternberg is a novelist.