There was an interesting spontaneous moment on a recent Real Time with Bill Maher that speaks to the complication of class relations.
While making a comment, Dallas Mavericks billionaire owner Mark Cuban accidentally knocked over the water of fellow panelist Christia Freeland. He apologized and continued with his thoughts. As he was speaking, someone off-camera put a towel on the table, so the water could be discreetly wiped up. As it turned out, it ended up being the third panelist, gay rights activist and sex columnist Dan Savage, who took care of the spilled water, pointedly saying as he did so, “Here’s the working class Irish guy, cleaning up after the billionaire.”
Upon first watching, I was immediately struck that the moment represented a central problem with the uber-wealthy: lack of awareness, and the expectation of others to deal with the mess you create. Cuban accidentally knocked over the water, nicely apologized, and then went on with things, paying no mind to the effects of his accident. And furthermore, it was tended to by Savage, reared in a working class household, who has been taught to do just the opposite.
But after a little reflection, it seems the class influences at work in this brief exchange between Savage and Cuban are a bit more complex.
Savage is an extremely successful columnist, radio host, published author, activist, and regularly-featured national commentator. He might not be a billionaire, but he’s more comfortable financially than most people. Of course, as he was brought up working class, maybe he still identifies with that reality, as is no doubt the case with many folks: being molded foremost by the class experiences of their childhood. But Cuban, too, was brought up working class. The grandson of Russian immigrants who were processed at Ellis Island, he sold garbage bags when he was twelve to pay for a pair of sneakers, and so forth.
So if Savage was still identifying as working class, then it seems a little unfair to negatively label Cuban as “the billionaire.”
Maybe this incident is not significant of any larger issues, class or otherwise? Maybe it was indeed an example of a class microaggression?
What to make of it?