Friday, February 23, 2007

I go for coffee, and ruin someone's fun

This morning, I was in my local coffee shop, and the woman behind the counter showed me how she'd gotten burned. The burn had occurred while she was baking, but the man behind me--Mr. charity golf shirt with a cell phone--didn't know that, and quipped "Too bad this isn't McDonald's--you could sue."

I turned around, did my best confused smile, and said "What do you mean?"

"You know, McDonald's--hot coffee--lawsuit..."

"Oh, you mean the coffee is multiple degrees over the federal safety level and the government has warned McDonald's repeatedly how unsafe it is, and McDonald's ignores the warnings, is in contempt of federal standards, and then someone has an accident?"

He looked stunned. Then he said, "I didn't know that."

On the one hand, of course he didn't know it; the news media went out of its way to protect McDonald's and make everyone think that 79-year-old Stella Liebeck schemed to part poor McDonald's from its money. On the other hand, I knew the facts of the case, and there really isn't much excuse for Mr. Quick Wit's not knowing them.

But Americans aren't interested in learning facts. What they are interested in is making fun of victims, whether they are rape victims, victims of corporate negligence, victims of natural disasters, or victims of smear campaigns. The thread of sadism in the national conversation is getting thicker every day.


I really feel for poor Stella. Her case made her a laughingstock and an easy example of the frivolous lawsuit. I've explained it to dozens of people who shrug off my facts like they don't matter. It's like I'm spoiling the fun they were having making fun of the lady who got millions for spilling coffee on herself, even though that isn't at all what happened. Good for you, setting the guy straight. I'm happy to read that he took your comments seriously. -L

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:19 PM  

Over and over I have students bring that case up and over and OVER I set them straight; once I made a student write his PAPER on the case: get this: he researched the case, and half a dozen just like it, found exactly what you're saying, that these are NOT frivolous lawsuits at all, and STILL in his conclusion said something to the order of "too many Americans are suing each other for stupid reasons and making lawyers rich." As if he had not just spent a semester doing research that had proved the opposite. It makes me doubt the central tenet of my life, Diane, I swear. Maybe we can't educate the little gits after all? --delagar

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:04 PM  

Wow. What an example. I have racked my brain for the reason for this type of cognitive stubbornness, and all I can come up with is: People love to blame the victim (I believe this is a direct result of the cult of so-called masculinity, something I plan to write an essay about). This is projection, of course. If we blame the victim, we push the victim farther from us and we don't have to think about what happens if we are the victim.

I saw a dramatic example of this several years ago. An otherwise intelligent boss of mine was an enthusiastic Republican, doing and saying all the things enthusiastic Republicans do. Then she developed a chronic illness and had to deal with the healthcare system and insurance industry. When she finally rose from her hospital bed, she was a liberal.

There used to be a saying: "A conservative is a liberal who was just mugged." Perhaps it's really "A liberal is a conservative who just got screwed by the establishment."

By Blogger Diane, at 7:18 PM  

I had a boss who became a vocal advocate for accessibility for the disabled because she broke her foot and had to hobble around in a cast on crutches for a while. She went on and on about how hard it is for people who don't have the mobility most of us enjoy. Then the cast came off and we didn't hear another peep about it. Yup, her consciousness was raised for exactly the length of time that she was personally affected. Pretty par for the course. -L

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