In late 1970 John Lennon recorded a scathingly critical expose of the true reality for the majority of people living in the Western world. He titled the song ironically as “Working Class Hero“. In stanza after stanza he painted a picture of the life experiences of the typical Joe and Jane citizen struggling to adapt and succeed in a world in which they had no clear inkling of what the rules were, let alone what the game was supposed to accomplish.
As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
‘Til the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
One starts with little or no comprehension of who one is as an individual or what one wants out of life – how could you as a child? – and before that process even truly begins, conventions of conformity wrap themselves around you. If you are lucky, you have parents and family who love and protect you, all the while assisting with your passage into the greater society that awaits you. Nowadays kids are told immediately and repeatedly how special they are and that there isn’t anything they cannot do or become in later life. Undoubtedly they are special to their parents and family, but if everyone is said to be special, what practical measures are there to actually assess this. Their lives are regimented from the earliest of ages – pre-school for instance – as if 13 years in a controlled environment with a standardized curricula and countless rules for everything isn’t restraint enough. Watching over them, made ever easier in our technologically advanced age, are helicopter parents hypersensitive to all their child’s experiences both real and imagined. Bruises to body and ego are considered as failures by parents.
When they’ve tortured and scared you for 20 odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can’t really function, you’re so full of fear
Having been told how special we are throughout our earliest years, we are made to take, at the tender age of 15 or so, a career preparation course in school. Oh joy, now you can legitimate your career dreams for all to see and hear. Since you have been ‘protected’ from failure up to this point, how could your choice(s) be inappropriate or unreachable. Those children who are more in tune with their own abilities likely temper their desires to fit those abilities, while those who aren’t sure of themselves will falter to express their choices. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being different, fear of making judgments, fear, fear fear.
It has been 15 years since the 9/11 attacks on America and we definitely live in a fear culture. It shows itself daily in a thousand and one ways coming from a variety of sources. What are we truly afraid of? Failing! – to reach our potential, to achieve our goals, to make a success of things, to leave our mark on the world. We don’t even know it but we have been programmed to accept and perform our purpose from the very beginning. And what exactly is this purpose? It is to fulfill the role of good little worker drones. All the typical people and groups like family, schools, churches, associations, and social media, have made us conformist and compliant. As we enter the adult world and the labour force, we further reinforce and confirm our role in the grand economic structure of capitalism, convincing ourselves that this reality is the product of our freely chosen decisions.
Keep you doped with religion, and sex, and T.V.
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see
Is it any wonder living in this fear culture that so many people seek to dull the ‘pain’ by joining with any religion that offers purpose and comfort from their daily existence. Having someone or something greater than oneself who actually cares about you means that you do matter and that you are not ultimately alone. For millennia, religion has offered explanations for everything to the faithful, especially about their current circumstances and their future rewards. Until most recently, it has also provided a glue-like legitimacy to the order of things, most particularly the socio-economic structure of society and the political organizations that control and govern that order. Listen to your leaders, follow the rules, don’t be disruptive and you will be rewarded, if not in this life then in the next.
If one repeatedly accepts their present situation as the natural order of things, it makes control that much easier. Distraction is also a highly useful tool and to that end so-called reality TV is the 21st c drug. We apparently cannot get enough of this type of entertainment -for example, the show Survivor is now in its 20th year! How many cast-offs does that equal? Did our choice win? Hollywood myth-makers are paid ridiculous amounts of money even as they never seem to stray too far from the predictable and comfortable – the formulaic actually works by this measurement of success – and the multiverse of comic book heroes are now enlarged on the cinema screen in glorious 3D action. Just what we need in difficult times are a legion of superheroes to protect us and inspire us to act like them.
Because we were told we were special, we believe that we are inherently clever and free to make our own decisions about what it is that we want from this world. In this reality, belonging to a specific class is blurred by notions of what we can become with little or no reference to where we start from. Socio-economic means [class and money], educational opportunity, true political power are all obscured in this illusion of a life we control. Sure some peasants are (relatively) better off than others but this only helps to further obscure the collective reality that we are all still “fucking peasants”. The vast majority of us, the recently labelled 99%, don’t actually own anything meaningful in this economic system and we control absolutely nothing.
There’s room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
The myth that fame and fortune are simply there for you to take hold of continues to grip the majority, even when they see glimpses between that facade. Why? Because the harshness of their actual existence is often a painful reminder that they are not particularly special nor can they be whatever they wish to be simply by stepping out of their surroundings and wishing it so. The sad truth of things is that most people in the labour force express little or no satisfaction from their job and while they know all to well for themselves that real wages and incomes have actually been stagnant for decades, they still carry on perpetuating the same conditions. The difference between a rut and a grave is only a matter of depth perception.
This game (of life) was never really fair for the majority and the goal which escapes them was simply to maintain and perpetuate the status quo of power for the very few – the ‘they’. Nothing magical or mysterious in the end. And John’s appeal of “a working class hero is something to be” rings of sarcasm while simultaneously being both a declaration of defiance and a clarion call to change this reality. How sad is it then, that after 46 years, so little has truly changed and at best this is remembered as just another protest song from a counter-culture age long since forgotten.