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The XX Files 9.28.05

Poll dance


It's funny what Americans say when talking to pollsters. A recent poll shows that two-thirds of Americans think creationism should be taught alongside evolution. What's even funnier are the poll results the media choose to ignore. The same poll found that a majority of Americans favor government-guaranteed health insurance. And nearly 70 percent favor "more generous government assistance to the poor," according to the poll, conducted by PewResearchCenter.

I'll bet you only heard the disturbing creationism statistic, right? That's because it's big news, I guess. But having lived through the public flaying of Hillary Clinton when she tried to organize guaranteed health care, it's big news to me that most Americans favor it. Why, then, don't we elect pols who can implement health care for all?

And the bit about a majority in favor of helping the poor? That's big news to me, too. I thought --- based on all the tax-slashing Republicans we keep voting into office --- that we didn't give a rat's ass about people who receive tax-funded government aid with housing, food, and, there it is again: insurance.

Do the polls lie? We generally don'tcare about the poor until something --- like Katrina --- raises their suffering to the level of spectacle. "How very poor the poor are!" we cry. We stare, we gape. Admit it. It's almost pornographic. Wait, no: It's poornographic.

First, the foreplay: a weary man wades in sludge; a woman bounces two listless babies. The tension builds. A body slumps in a wheelchair. They're dying now. We reach into our pockets and grab. Yes. We throw money. More! More! Then, the release. The money shot: airlifted mothers reunite with children --- Yes. Yes. --- weeping men drive 10 hours to hug their rescued cats --- YES! YESSS!

What will we do with our purported desire to help the disadvantaged while we wait for the next tsunami, Katrina, or Rita? Thank goodness there's Three Wishes, NBC's faith-inspired reality series starring Christian singer Amy Grant. Each week the show fulfills the wishes of, the ads say, deserving people when whoosh! Grant swoops down, Clarence-like.

"Deserving"? Is that some white, middle-class code word? I don't see what this has to do with faith. Three Wishes is just soft-porn, titillating us until the next big spectacle, be it a natural disaster or manmade one.

Can the media address poverty responsibly and hold the public's attention? I can't. Once, in this column, I compared the cost of living for a woman with kids to what women actually earn. There's a massive gap. But I didn't get through to everyone. One guy said that while reading the column he'd become "lost in all those numbers." He advised me to stick to writing about sex.

If only poverty were sexy! I'd have such an easy job. Some people have it all figured out. Take Dateline Hollywood, whose satirical piece xxxx; which successfully floated a hoax that brought sex --- that is, sexual preference --- into the Katrina debate, which was, when you think about it, the only thing that was missing. A joke story had Pat "Who Would Jesus Assassinate?" Robertson saying Katrina was God's punishment, for having a lesbian, Ellen DeGeneres, host the Emmys.

Not so farfetched when you consider Robertson's other pronouncements about God's motives, which brings me back to Creationism. The Pew poll revealed that creationism --- traveling in drag now, with the illusion of science stuffed into its bra, as Intelligent Design --- is welcomed into classrooms by people who don't even believe in it. Even the smarty-pants Darwinian secular humanists say, "What the heck; this is America. Let 'em all in." Americans are pragmatic. We say tomato, we say tomahto, let's call the whole thing God.

I raised my kids with creationism. And with Raven, the Native American trickster who stole the sun and put it in the sky. And with Gaia and Uranus and their monstrous children. I tried to read them the Norse creation story about a magic cow who licked the god Buri into existence, but we had to stop. We were laughing too hard.

When I got done with my kids, their little heads were spinning. But that was the point. The wonder of life, and the desire to explain it, is universal. Even as we accept the Big Bang theory, the bacteria that farted the atmosphere, the fish that crawled out of the sea like those amphibious Duck Tours except without tourists, and our chimpanzee forebears --- even as we accept all that, we still wonder about who we are, how we got here.

When one of my kids was 7, he said, "How do I know what is real? Maybe everything I see is just in my mind. How do I know I'm even real?"

I brought out the Elizabeth Bishop poem In the Waiting Room, where, as a 7-year-old, Bishop has a similar mind-blowing notion. The poem recalls how, while reading a National Geographic magazine in a dentist's waiting room, Bishop became unglued by the exotic things she saw, "A dead man slung on a pole" and "Babies with pointed heads/wound round and round with string." She wondered about herself, about her connection to others. "How had I come to be here/like them...?" She had "the sensation of falling off/the round, turning world/into cold, blue-black space."

It is this sensation --- this fear of blue-black space --- that drives us to invent our story over and over again. If Amy Grant offers me three wishes, I'll wish for schools to address the universality of wonder and fear along with evolution. Skip the creation stories.

To see the real wishes Grant is granting, search on "three wishes." Be careful. The first website most search engines find is, a sexy lingerie site where the clothes of low-wage occupations --- maid, cab driver, laborer --- are transformed into outfits of desire. Finally, poverty made sexy.

* The original version of this article portrayed the Robertson quote as fact rather than the satire that it was.