In The Philadelphia Story, a lowly reporter played by James Stewart scornfully intones, “The prettiest sight in this fine, pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.” For one week on Martha’s Vineyard earlier this summer, that’s exactly what I was doing. And oh, what a pretty sight it was.
Certainly, the Vineyard—regularly ranked among the priciest vacation spots in America—screams “privilege” in any season, from its private beaches and golf courses to its posh restaurants and hotels to its A-list clientele.
In my case, however, the fact that I was among New England’s most well-heeled (albeit in a budget-friendly rental unit with no room service) was ancillary to the real privilege I enjoyed for eight days and seven nights on this triangular island seven miles off Cape Cod: The privilege to not care what was happening in the universe beyond the shore. The privilege to disconnect from current events and suffer no consequences whatsoever.
See, in my normal, landlubber life, I’m plugged into the global newsfeed about as deeply as any good American should be, monitoring Twitter and the New York Times with freakish regularity to ensure I am always in the loop about whatever unholy nonsense the president has gotten himself into today (among other things).
But while on vacation, I made a deliberate effort to disengage from the minute-by-minute deluge of copy that otherwise scrolls across my transom, and just try to relax for a change. By and large, I succeeded.
To be clear, this did not entail a total 24/7 news blackout. Rather, it meant checking Facebook two or three times per day instead of the usual thirty. It meant scanning Boston Globe headlines without necessarily reading the articles underneath them. It meant not watching a single segment of cable or network television.
Most significantly, it meant absolute abstention from Twitter, and all the nauseating, petty political catfighting contained therein.
It meant, in effect, that I still had a vague, general sense of what was happening across the seven continents, but without the fuss of getting bogged down in the details.
What I took away from this experiment—this voluntary, temporary withdrawal from the media-industrial complex—was how precious little I was missing. How trivial such seemingly earth-shaking stories really are when viewed in proper perspective. How oddly pleasant it was not to be waist-deep in the muck of political tomfoolery at every hour of every day. And how much I dreaded returning to my usual routine in the real world—which, of course, I did with all deliberate speed.
It begged the question: What’s so great about the real world, anyway? Why do I burden myself with the minutiae of global happenings when I could just as well spend my free time going for long walks and plowing through the collected works of Agatha Christie?
Keeping on top of the news may make me conscientious and informed, but does it really make me happy? Would I be any worse off, as a person, were I to harness the laid-back habits I picked up on the Vineyard and maintain them until the end of my natural life?
In all likelihood I would not be, and that, in so many words, is the true meaning of privilege in 2019 America. It’s not a question of wealth or fame (of which I have none). Rather, it’s about the ability to tune out. To be mentally on vacation for as long as one’s heart desires. To ignore such unpleasantries as war, famine, global warming and the Trump administration and be affected by them not one whit.
Deep down, of course, this is just white privilege by another name, since to be white in America is to know that, however bad things may get, there will always be a spot for you on the lifeboat. And to be a white man, all the better.
Naturally, as a bleeding heart liberal (or social justice warrior, or whatever we’re supposed to call ourselves now), I can hear the angel on my shoulder gently reminding me that the role of the Woke White Person in Trump’s America is to support and agitate on behalf of the downtrodden—immigrants, Muslims, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t Caucasian and/or male and doesn’t have the luxury to take a mental health break from reality—which requires paying close attention to what is being inflicted upon one’s fellow countrymen—and aspiring countrymen—on our watch, in our name.
On refection, it seems like a fair price to pay for someone whose life is sufficiently charmed as to be able to spend a week of every June on a place like Martha’s Vineyard, watching the sun rise over Edgartown Harbor and guzzling beer and clam chowder without a care in the world.
After all, there is some happiness to be found in simply being involved—however meekly—in the national discourse, particularly when Election Day rolls around, as it is wont to do every now and again. That’s to say nothing for the lowly blogger, who will sooner or later need to write about something other than lobster rolls and how to avoid being eaten by a shark.