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On Life

Ruminations and provocations.

Filtering by Tag: health care

Samuel L. Jackson just made struggling artists feel like shit

Stephen H. Provost

I’m a fan of Samuel L. Jackson’s work, and that’s probably not going to change. I enjoy his acting. I’m also a critic of Donald J. Trump, and that certainly ain’t gonna change. I don’t enjoy his play-acting as president.

But what Jackson said in repudiating Trump stuck in my craw: “I know how many motherfuckers hate me. ‘I’m never going to see a Sam Jackson movie again.’ Fuck I care? If you never went to another movie I did in my life, I’m not going to lose any money. I already cashed that check.”

Emphasis mine.

Here’s the point: Jackson can afford not to care. Most actors, writers, visual artists and musicians can’t. Jackson doesn’t have to choose between his integrity and his bank account. Gee, that must be nice.

He goes on to say he does care about health care, but not because he wants the best for his loved ones. Because he wants to protect his bank account(!): “Some of this shit does affect me, because if we don’t have health care, and my relatives get sick, they’re going to call my rich ass.”

Ask me if I feel sorry for him.

Somehow, he’s got enough money not to care about pro-Trump haters, but not enough money to care more about whether his relatives get good health care than the prospect of having to for it.

Actually, I agree with Jackson on this issue, too. The prices for hospital stays and prescription drugs are obscene; the system is broken, and it’s causing people to lose their homes, their cars and their retirement savings. But let’s be clear here: That’s not going to happen to Jackson if one of his relatives gets sick.

Say, for example, one of them had to stay a month in the hospital. At $30,000 a day, that would be $900,000. Yeah, that’s a lot of money. Now say it cost another $900,000 for surgical procedures and meds. Let’s round up to the nearest million. That’s $2 million. Yes, that would break most people. But Jackson? His net worth, as of 2019, is 111 times that much: $220 million. It’s a drop in the bucket for the man who made the 2011 Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-grossing actor of all time.

Gimme mine

Maybe Jackson’s just trying to be funny. He has, in fact, donated money to more than two dozen charities, including $1 million for the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture. But in spite of this, his latest comments come off as gloating. I’ve got my $220 million, and I’m gonna keep it.

And why shouldn’t he? He’s a good actor. He’s worked hard, and he deserves what he’s got. No argument there.

But there’s a flip side to his comments: A lot of people work just as hard and are just as good at what they do, but they struggle to get by. Vincent Van Gogh, famously, sold just one painting during his entire lifetime. He died a pauper. He killed himself. There are thousands of good – even great – artists, writers, actors and musicians you’ve never heard of who are in the same boat. Yet the notion persists that how much you have in your bank account defines your value as a person.

Bullshit, motherfucker.

Economic entitlement

In a world increasingly sensitive to attitudes of race- and gender-based entitlement, the concept of economic entitlement remains largely ignored. Health-care and education reforms are stymied. Sure, there’s talk about a $15 minimum wage, but that’s not even a living wage for most people. And indexing it to the cost of living? You might as well try planning a trip to Jupiter. Anyone who suggests leveling the playing field is accused of (gasp) socialism and de facto thievery.  

Because economic hardship isn’t always tied up in things like racial and gender identity, it’s assumed that those who don’t have money somehow deserve it. They’re a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings leeching off society because they’re allergic to hard work or don’t produce something of real value. Art? That’s dismissed as a “luxury.” But Jackson can’t very well say that, because he’s an artist too.

The work he produces is extremely valuable, but so was the work Van Gogh did. And he never complained about having to support a sick relative, because he never even had that option: His brother was the one supporting him.

This is why it’s so jarring to hear a rich actor issuing such a complaint, even if it’s to highlight the inequities of a broken health care system. Regardless of how talented he is or how many charities he’s supported, this is how it comes across: I’ve got my $220 million. You can’t have any of it.

Ironically, this is exactly how Trump thinks. He’s got his, and nothing else matters. Jackson is a Trump critic, yet he comes across as sharing the same attitude – unless he was just joking, in which case it’s not very funny. Because the joke is on creative folks who aren’t worth one one-ten thousandth of what he is.

I applaud Jackson for criticizing Trump. I share his views. But he doesn’t deserve any special pat on the back for voicing them when he has, by his own admission, no financial stake in the game. The people who do deserve props are the struggling artists who could lose a sale by speaking out – but do so anyway. The unknown Vincent Van Goghs of our time who might just, one day, change the world.


This is what it's like to be laid off in America

Stephen H. Provost

This is what it’s like to be laid off in America. Whether you’ve been working at an auto plant or a steel mill, at a department store or a white-collar job.

It means telling your family you no longer have a job, and feeling like you’ve let them down by failing at the one thing that you’re best at. The one thing they were counting on you to do.

It means trying to act “professional” even though you’re suddenly without a profession.

It means no longer living from paycheck to paycheck, because now you’re living from no check to no check.

If unemployment is low, you see yourself as part of the bottom 5 percent. If it's high, you feel like just another statistic.

It means asking others for help even as you update your resume to read that you’re a “self-starter.”

It means knowing you might not have the money to pay the rent, but that you might not have the money to move, either.

It means being pissed as hell that you’re losing your health insurance. That you might have to accept a job that doesn’t include that benefit. And that the government still hasn’t figured out how to be compassionate to its citizens when it comes to their health.

If it even wants to.

This is what it’s like to be laid off in America …

It means starting from scratch in the middle of life. It means putting plans for vacations and celebrations on hold. Indefinitely.

It means changing your personal information on Facebook from “works at” to “worked at,” and signing up for LinkedIn again, which you’ve let lapse because you’ve never had much use for it and thought you never would.

It means listening to people tell you how sure they are you’ll find something else, something better, and agreeing with a smile because it’s socially acceptable, even though deep down inside, you have no idea whether it’s true or not.

When strangers ask you what you do for a living, it’s too embarrassing to tell them you’re unemployed, so you cushion the blow by saying you’re “between jobs,” even though you know they’ll get the message, anyway. Which is something you didn’t want to share. But, again, it’s the socially acceptable thing to do.

And if you’ve got impostor syndrome, if you feel like you’ve been faking it all along, you take this as confirmation. But knowing you were right doesn’t help because you’d been hoping you were wrong.

Yet now you have to put your best foot forward and sell yourself again, even though you’ve been made to feel as worthless as you have in a very long time. You know it’s not your fault, but that doesn’t stop the emptiness that somehow manages to tie itself in knots down in the pit of your stomach.

It means feeling taken advantage of, betrayed and used. You find yourself saying the words “irrelevant” and “expendable” in your head, and applying them to yourself.

This is what it’s like to be laid off in America …

It means putting on a brave face for co-workers at your going-away party, even though you know you might never see them again and, yes, you’ll miss them. They say nice things about you that make you choke up, and they give you heartfelt gifts. This makes you feel like you’re a Viking at your own funeral, receiving treasures to preserve you in the afterlife, and you tell yourself you were slain in battle and that being a Viking is pretty damned cool.

You tell yourself that there are far worse things in life, like incurable cancer or losing a spouse that it would be far worse to wake up each morning without the love of your life beside you, or knowing that you only had a short time left to live. But knowing these things doesn’t help; it just makes you feel guilty for feeling bad about your own situation when others have it worse, and that guilt is like toxic frosting on top of the pain you’re already feeling.

It’s being told that it’s nothing personal. That it’s a business decision. And you want to tell them that people are more important than their bottom line, but you know it won’t make any difference, so you keep your mouth shut and act professional. Like you understand. Like you’re comforting them. But they’re the ones who don’t understand.

When they say that, it’s like when your significant other breaks up with you and says, “It’s not you. It’s me.” And you want to say to the bearer of this bad news, “If it’s your fault, then why aren’t you handing in your resignation?

You wish it had been a performance issue, because then they would have just written you up and you would’ve had a chance to improve. Then you would have had some control over the situation.

Not like this.

You wonder if you were let go because you were making too much money. If you did your job too well and they could no longer afford someone with your skills. Was this your Catch-22? If you do well, you’ll get a raise, but at the end of the day, that will be the cause of your termination?

You feel like collateral damage, marginalized into the minefield of someone else’s bottom line.

It’s hating that your former employer did this to you, but wishing the best for the people who still work there. Your former comrades in arms. Your friends. It’s trying to reconcile those two feelings in the back of a mind beset by new worries and fresh disappointment.

But mostly, you just feel empty and rudderless, hurt and alone. And disempowered.

This is what it’s like to be laid off in America.