Tuesday, March 17, 2009

the extreme version of us, and I hate what I see

I don't watch very much television (although that is less true than it used to be; I'm insane for "The Amazing Race" and "Project Runway", and Iris Uber Alles and I have been watching old seasons of "The Office"). In particular I haven't watched "Wife Swap" other than one episode years ago, which I watched after I was approached online by someone purporting to be a producer of that show recruiting me for it (I didn't follow up). Over the last some weeks I've heard mention now and again of a local venture capitalist whose shameful behavior on that show is creating a lot of stir. I decided the other night to see what the fuss was about, with a little help from Youtube:

I soon found myself full of rage at this smug Noe Valley couple for going on television to represent San Francisco environmentalists. As if people don't hate us enough already, we had to have bullying Stephen Fowler spouting his superiority on national television at a perfectly nice woman who committed the unforgivable sins of being born in Missouri and not going to college. His wife, while not abusive, was just as snobby. As Stephen's wife Renee sniffed, the other family didn't have advanced degrees, and she gave an interview to ABC where she espoused the feeling that the only positive thing that came out of participating in this show was that her children have been vividly taught the value of a good education. The children are now terrified of ending up like Gayla, a pleasant, friendly woman who seemed bright enough and who took a genuine interest in their well-being and tried to influence their blowhard father to lighten up on them.

Stephen Foster, who brags about having once scored in the 99th percentile on a standardized test (assuming everyone is too stupid to understand what that means, Foster spelled it out in irritating detail that it means he has an IQ of 158 and is smarter than 99.9 out of a hundred of the rest of us), blames the producers for manipulating him into being a bullying elitist snob. Well, Stephen, if you're truly smarter than 99.9 % of the rest of us dumb Americans, then you should have been smarter than 99.9% of the producers and realized that it is not a good idea to behave badly on national television. Calling a nice woman a "dumb redneck" to her face and sniffing that you're surprised she can read is pretty rude, and Stephen Fowler added hypocrisy by saying to his child in front of Gayla, "She's a rude lady, isn't she? That's because she doesn't have an education." All his education didn't train him in etiquette to any noticeable extent. He seems shocked now that his charities have canned him from their boards and that his house was egged.

I'm fascinated by the fact that Stephen Fowler is so obsessed with his superiority due to his advanced degrees from Cambridge, but yet he's married to a New Age charlatan whose career, "certified life coach and certified destination coach", is lacking in intellectual rigor or scientific basis (Renee's bouncing about to demonstrate how she physically wafts energy back towards her clients is usually the sort of thing which irks a highly educated person). But I'm not fascinated enough to ever want to interact with him. I'm thoroughly irked that he portrayed people of my ilk so horribly.

I told the Sober Husband that I felt Stephen and Renee were an exaggerated version of us, and that is why I found myself actually caring over how someone acted on a foolish reality show (although I certainly don't care as much as the person who went to the trouble of creating stephenfowlersucks.com).. He was drawn aback by that, but I noted the following similarities: a couple with two children, living in San Francisco, who both have advanced degrees and place an extreme value on education. We also have a "no shoes" policy in the home, and I'm a rather gung ho recycler and composter (but that is typical in San Francisco, where we have a municipal composting program). I also pride myself on my foreign travel and am trying to raise my children as citizens of the world. We also send our children to an expensive private school, and like Stephen, I'm overly fond of a bottle of wine. I buy a lot of organic produce and care about my carbon footprint.

I meet parents like Renee and Stephen who drive their children far too hard (Stephen and Renee's poor children have to earn the right to a playdate, and Stephen and Renee have already determined -- for these little, little children -- which athletic pursuits they must perfect while learning three languages and the piano in order to get into the top colleges of Renee and Stephen's choice). At our school, I admired a self portrait of a second grader who'd painted herself with elaborate bloodshot eyes, until I found out that the child in question had painted herself that way because she'd been crying so much because a tennis injury had caused her parents to freak out on her that she was no longer on track to become a world-class professional tennis player.

I used to feel a bit guilty that I didn't push the overly bright Iris Uber Alles harder. Then I did some research on "gifted children" and came to the conclusion that the best gift I could give my daughter would be not to turn her into a perfectionist who was expected to constantly excel. Recently I let my children quit piano lessons, which surprised everyone. I had by happenstance heard Dr. Laura (I always feel ashamed when I admit to my secret love of Dr. Laura) lecture a mother about the importance of letting children quit. Dr. Laura opined--- quite convincingly to me-- that it discourages children from trying new things if once they start something, they can't quit it if they end up not liking it. Meanwhile grown-ups hypocritically quit things all the time.

I wish I could lock Stephen and Renee up in a room with Dr. Laura. Or perhaps exile them to the Mall of America. I'm ashamed of them, deeply ashamed.


just a kat said...

I forget how I found you, but I've been reading you for a bit now. Love you! You crack me up, it's a good thing.

I saw this episode and was completely appalled. COMPLETELY MORTIFIED!! This man is a pompous, arrogant ass, who needs to be subjected to living in the hollers of Eastern Kentucky/Western West Virginia - to see EXACTLY what it is like to live BELOW the poverty line. His wife is no better. I feel deeply for his children, for their trust funds will be consumed by the therapy they will so badly need to merely pass for functioning humans after having grown up at the hands of these 2 pretentious twats. Twats, not twits.

Oh - and Fowler can disavow himself of his American Citizenship. People like him are not WORTHY of being naturalized citizens of our great country. Go back to Britain, please. Quickly.

I daresay you are NOT FosterLite. There's a difference between making a difference, and making a different ASS of oneself. You fall in the former, not the latter. You are merely doing what is right for your children and shame on you for being educated, keeping a nice home and having a nice bottle of vino! (smack hand at once!! j/k)

And by the way - should it matter - not a day of college for this chick. I'm from the midwest originally (Illinois AND Missouri) - my people are ALL farmers and you are damned straight I am proud of them. I was a gifted child who has a gifted child. The apple does NOT fall far from the tree in this family.

Kat, getting off her soapbox and delurking....(back to the shadows)

Davi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dread Pirate Davi said...

Oh, noes!! I've been living in the Midwest for five years - - now I understand why my intelligence has been on the decline!!

He makes me want to punch babies. Ugh.

Missy said...

There is nothing more pathetic than someone bragging about a test score. I can't bear to watch Wife Swap; the only time I endure it is when I'm getting a mani-pedi.

I really think the producers of this show look for the most obnoxious, extreme people possible and set up the show for conflict.

I can't imagine you or your husband being as self-servingly pretentious as Fowler.

Anonymous said...

I really wish I could kill that man.

Carroll said...

Why oh why have I not been following your blog more closely (at all) over the years?! If I so much as get started on a single word about parents pushing their kids as you describe, I'll get kicked off your comments section for exceeding bandwidth by a mile.

(begin rant)

You are *so* right to at least try to let your kids be kids. For gosh sakes, they only have but one childhood. Let them turn into scholar athletes if they must, but please, let them do it on their own terms, not their parents'. I have seen so many teenagers who feel like failures because of an "A-" (rather then an A+) Oh, the horror! Tell me, how many adults do you know who are good at everything? Yet we expect our kids to excel at such disparate subjects as Math, Writing, History, Languages, Science, PLUS have a stellar resume of extracurriculars including a *minimum* of one varsity-level sport and one prodigy-level musical talent. Really, people! Was Einstein a star athlete? Did Tiger Woods finish college? Give your children time to just "be" and explore the world on their own terms. Whatever bubbles to the top as being important to them, that's what they will be good at -- despite (not because of, except as you support their own unique skills and interests) you!

(rant off)

Joyce said...

I so think it's the way of gifted people to want to drift around, turning their energies to this and that, until they find the thing they lock on to. Your girls are so small...it's too bad they didn't stick with piano, but they'll find something else they like better.