De-fanged by culture

Note: The following is a personal commentary on the sociology of family and political culture and does not reflect any political endorsement or lack thereof.

Last night in a particularly telling scene from the E! special, "Kim's Fairytale Wedding," (notice it wasn't called "Kim and Kris' Fairytale Wedding"), groom-to-be Kris Humphries clashes with overbearing monster-in-law Kris Jenner as they plan the wedding menu.

The dialogue, while I do not have a transcript, goes roughly like this:

Groom-to-be: "I'd like to help out with the menu."

Mother-in-law: "So Kris what do you want?"

Groom-to-be: "Well I was thinking burgers."

Mother-in-law: "You've GOT to be kidding...well, maybe Wolfgang can cook us up some sliders."

Over and over we see the same painful dynamic playing out until the tension finally explodes:

Kim: "This is MY dream wedding and I've been planning it since I was 10."

Kris: "And you could just slide any groom into it, couldn't you." (Door slams.)

Sometimes justified and sometimes cruelly, the women continuously run down groom Kris Humphries. They question his motives, exclude his parents, hand him his opinions, and generally do everything they can to turn him into a brainless Ken doll, smiling like a bobblehead as he accompanies Kim-the-Barbie before the cameras.

In short, they treat him like handlers to a politician.

A terrible headline appears in today's The New York Post: "Aimless Obama walks alone." I read the story, which expounds on the headline, in sadness.

I remember when I first tried to learn more about President Obama's views by reading The Audacity of Hope on vacation. I remember being struck by how smart a book it was. I'm a sociologist by training and a marketer by profession and I could see an incredibly savvy mind, in both fields, working there.

It struck me immediately what a great, great personal and professional brand was being launched through that book.

At the same time I found myself a little unnerved by the very same sophistication, especially about marketing politics. I wish I could find or recall the quote about how you sell things without being to overt about it. I read it and worried that a politician must be a little different than that. They must be smart but also resistant to being too smart for their own good. They must be purely issue-focused and absolutely overt about what they believe. Two examples:

* Michael Moore, the political activist and documentarian, was interviewed on C-Span's Book TV the other day. Moore is a tell-it-like-it-is kind of person. He is a champion of the middle class. He wears his politics on his sleeve. He talks common sense, and he is saying what he thinks, but he is not selling anything. I can't imagine anyone telling Michael Moore to order sliders from Wolfgang Puck.

* Elizabeth Warren, the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is also a champion of the middle class. Watch her talk for two seconds and you can see the same intelligent, highly informed, common-sense mind at work. LIke Michael Moore she is not marketing herself but rather is focused on an idea. When people take potshots at her, she ignores them (much like Hillary Clinton), and professionally walks away.

Political culture, like Kardashian culture, absorbs unique people with something to offer and then neuters them. What happened to these words from The Audacity of Hope?

"Whenever we exaggerate or demonize, oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose....What is needed is a broad majority who are re-engaged and who see their own self-interest as inextricably linked to the interest of others."

This is all stuff most people believe in. But unfortunately, an individual alone cannot surpass the workings of a dysfunctional culture, something President Obama himself anticipated:

"There are a lot of well-meaning people in both political parties. Unfortunately, the political culture tends to emphasize conflict, the media emphasizes conflict, and the structure of our campaigns rewards the negative....When you focus on solving problems instead of scoring political points, and emphasize common sense over ideology, you'd be surprised what can be accomplished. It also helps if you're willing to give other people credit - something politicians have a hard time doing sometimes."

What if we went back to the beginning and just dealt with each other as people, ordinary people, in a healing way? What if we forgave each other for being human and stopped trying to score points, letting the best ideas win the day? And worked together across the political spectrum to solve our problems together?

Maybe it is time to overcome our dysfunctional culture, and let people just be themselves instead of making them fit into some sort of brand. And let them contribute the way G-d intended them to.

If we decided to do that, it would be a great day, indeed.