Reading the onslaught of angry denunciations of Burger King by mental health organizations and mainstream media reporters this past week reminded me of a characteristic of the Left not often commented on: a certain joylessness, even an antipathy to the little joys that contribute more than almost anything else to most people's ability to endure the difficulties of life.
These characteristics further reinforce the view that Leftism functions as a (secular) religion. Like medieval Christians who wore hair shirts and Puritans who thought dancing was sacrilegious, the Left, consciously or not, is uncomfortable with many of the joys - with notable exceptions such as sex and drugs - that people experience.
Needless to say, the Left always has noble explanations - usually, the protection of people's emotions and health - for opposing and even banning many joys of life. But the end result is fewer of these little joys that mean a great deal to people.
Burger King's ad was innocuous and innocent. It featured the company's royal mascot running through a building, knocking a person over and crashing through a glass window to deliver the new Burger King Steakhouse XT burger. Called "crazy" by those present, he was finally tackled by men in white coats. "The king's insane," the ad noted, for "offering so much beef for $3.99."
This has triggered a storm of criticism from activists (a term which, unless otherwise specified, means liberal or left).
Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, called the ad "blatantly offensive ... I was stunned. Absolutely stunned and appalled," he said. David Shern, president and chief executive of Mental Health America in Alexandria, Va., echoed this assessment. And reporters from the Associated Press to the Washington Post all agreed.
If this were isolated, it would be worth mentioning only in the context of wondering why people who run mental health - and most other activist - organizations seem to have little common sense. They should listen to William Gardner of Los Angeles, who wrote to me:
"I am a father of a 24 year old son with mental health issue. I am particularly tuned to protecting my son's self-image. My son and I have both seen the Burger King Ad that you have referred to. It did not occur to either of us that the Burger King Ad was offensive in any way. Why would I raise my son to be hyper-sensitive about his disability? My objective as a parent is to strengthen him. Making him hyper-sensitive would have the opposite effect."
But the Left has problems with much else as well: smoking (including cigars and pipes); virtually all kids games that can make a kid feel at all bad or get hurt; wood-burning fireplaces; cars; most jokes or any flirting in the workplace; incandescent light bulbs; cool homes in summer; and more.
One of life's great little pleasures is tobacco. Just watch old war reportage to see the serenity and joy a cigarette brought to a wounded soldier. Though I do not smoke cigarettes, I have been smoking cigars and pipes since I was in college (my father still smokes cigars daily at age 91), and it would be difficult to overstate how much I enjoy both.
No one opposes educating the public about the dangers of cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking shortens the lives of up to a third of smokers, often in terrible ways, and that is what public health organizations should be saying. But the battle against smoking and tobacco has become a religious crusade for anti-smoking zealots, who are almost invariably on the Left. If the Left hated Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro as much as it hates "Big Tobacco," the world would be a better place.
But because the Left hates the fact that people smoke (tobacco, not marijuana, which the Left defends) it uses totalitarian (I use that term with no exaggeration) tactics to eliminate it. Just as the Soviets removed Trotsky from old photos, anti-smoking zealots have forced the removal of cigarettes from old photos - from photos of FDR, from the famous Beatles photo - and from movies whenever possible. Torture and murder are ubiquitous in films, but smoking is all but banned - even cigars are now banned from James Bond films.
Smoking has been banned in entire cities, outdoors as well as in. In Pasadena, Calif., one cannot even smoke in a cigar store. That the Left has contempt for Prohibition reveals a lack of self-awareness that is quite remarkable.
Kids Games such as Tag, Dodgeball, Soccer, Touch Football, Monkey Bars
Virtually every game I played as a child during school recess is now banned because organizations such as the National Program for Playground Safety deem games in which kids are "running into each other" as too dangerous. Someone might get hurt.
Until a few years ago, just about every American boy, and many girls, played dodgeball. No more. This joy, too, has been eliminated from American life. "We consider it inappropriate to use children as human targets," said Mary Marks, physical education supervisor for Fairfax County, Va. And it may hurt the feelings of kids who are eliminated. For the same reason - potential hurt feelings of those eliminated - musical chairs is no longer played in some schools.
Some might argue that these bans are not because of Leftism but because of fear of lawsuits. But in light of how leftwing the trial bar is, that only reinforces my argument.
For men working in, let us say, a car repair shop, there is not much by way of excitement or visual beauty. So the typical repair shop or factory had its pinup calendar - a calendar featuring a photo of a beautiful woman in a sexy pose, usually clad in no more than a bikini, sometimes less. The Left, in another totalitarian move, has banned pinups. The reasons: Sexism and possible Hostile Environment. How can a woman possibly work or bring her car into a repair shop where there is a picture of a scantily clad woman? The same people who clamor for a woman's right to walk in public with no top on (because men are allowed to) have banned photos of women with no top on.
Flirting at Work
A joy in life since the advent of men and women has been men flirting with or "chatting up" women. No more. Virtually anything related to a male reaction to a fellow employee who is female can be grounds for his losing his job and worse. What began as a campaign against bosses trading professional advances for sexual favors has degenerated into the elimination of essentially all the fun - and, yes, potential emotional hurt - of man-woman dialogue. At work, a man never knows what comment to what woman will trigger his being sent, a la Communist regimes, to a "re-education" program, being fined, having charges leveled against him, being humiliated, having a permanent mark on his employment record, and, of course, losing his job.
There is no question that some men went too far in their sexually charged comments to women. But as a rule, we have wildly overreacted. Women are not wimps. But the Left has inculcated a sense of victimhood into large numbers of women and thereby rendered them weak - just as it has, in ways too numerous to mention, emasculated men. I deplore crude comments. But in the America I grew up, it was legal to speak crudely, and either decent men would shut the crude man up or women would give the man a well-earned smack across the face.
Today, any hint at the sexual tension that naturally and joyfully exists between the two sexes has been banned. In the attempt to eliminate all pain caused by potentially inappropriate comments, the Left has done what it tries to do about all pain - ban actions that may lead to it. As a result, gone are the joys of the man-woman repartee in the workplace.
For most Americans, the car is not only a source of much pleasure, it is also rightly identified with individual liberty. But here, too, to the extent the Left is able to, it will tell you what kind of car you can drive and, if possible, get you out of your car and into mass transit.
To the Left, your home is not your castle; it is another place of too many joys that the Left would like to ban.
One joy I particularly identify with is the wood-burning fireplace. In California, activists on the Left, aka environmentalists, have banned them from being built in all new homes. Too many harmful emissions. Meanwhile, at the other end of the temperature spectrum, activists wish to determine how low you can set your air conditioner, lest you use more energy than the Left believes you should.
Do you like your present light bulbs? The Left has banned them in favor of CFLs that contain mercury. These new bulbs give a fair number of people headaches, emit less pleasant light, are initially much more expensive and, if broken, necessitate opening windows even in winter, and people and pets must leave the area. The EPA has issued a 16-point procedure to follow if a CFL bulbs breaks.
Indeed, if the Left had its way, the house would eventually become an anachronism as everyone gradually moves into space-saving, less polluting, less energy-wasting apartments.
Every poll has concluded that liberals are less happy than conservatives. There are many reasons for this, and given the importance of little joys to happiness, the Left's religious-like opposition to many of them is surely one of those reasons. The problem for the rest of us, however, is that, like most unhappy people, many folks on the Left don't like seeing anyone happier than they are.