Colin Kaepernick settled his collusion case against the NFL last week. According to reports, the payout is somewhere in the $60 to $80 million range. Add that to his multi-million dollar Nike ad campaign, and it’s clear that martyrdom has been a lucrative gig for the former quarterback. So lucrative, in fact, that he won’t return to professional football for less than $20 million. Beggars can’t be choosers, they used to say. Just one of many old nuggets of wisdom that’s been turned on its head in our upside down world. Kaepernick has turned victimhood into a business. And business is good.
His case may shed some light on the Jussie Smollett situation. As it becomes more and more inescapably clear (though it was pretty obvious from the beginning, we should note) that the “hate crime attack” against Smollett was an elaborate and poorly staged hoax, people may wonder why a guy with a cushy job on a network television show would risk it all on such an idiotic ploy. The people confused on this point have not been paying very close attention. As Kaepernick demonstrates, victimhood pays. We have elevated victimhood to a desirable status. Our children are raised to crave it, envy it, seek it. The great paradox of modern American culture is this: victimhood equals power.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when a man would never dream of inventing a story about getting beaten and defiled. If anything, his tall tales would run the other direction. If he was going to fabricate a physical altercation with imaginary assailants, he would be the victor in the story. He wanted to paint himself as the tough guy, not a pitiful sap who got doused with bleach by a couple of random punks. If he really did get into a fight, he would exaggerate to make you feel sorry for the other guy. He didn’t want to be a victim. To him, victimhood was degrading and humiliating. Even if he really was a victim, he did not like to think of himself that way.
I don’t mean to suggest that there is shame in being an actual victim. I only mean that if we have to err in one direction or another, it’s probably better to err on the side of embarrassment at our victimhood rather than excitement. Better to not see ourselves as victims when we are than to see ourselves as victims when we aren’t. At least the former stems from a healthy human instinct. The latter is gross and small and pathetic and it is rapidly creating a country full of Smolletts.
I say that victimhood “pays,” but it’s important to understand that the payment comes in more than one form. Indeed, if Smollett’s gambit had worked out as he planned, he would have ensured himself a continued gig on his current show and an endless supply of acting jobs thereafter. Film and television producers would have been anxious to demonstrate their compassion by finding a role for the guy who got assaulted by MAGA thugs. This is the financial benefit of victimhood.
And then there is the emotional payment that victimhood confers. You will notice that people who invent hate crimes are rarely cancer patients. They usually aren’t poor, either. They aren’t refugees who fled unimaginable brutality and misery. They aren’t Holocaust survivors. They aren’t elderly black people who lived through segregation and Jim Crow. No, those sorts of people don’t need to go looking for pain and misfortune. They have seen quite enough of it and know that there is nothing sexy about it. The hate crime hoaxers, on the other hand, lead enviable and cozy lives. Their primary hardship is their lack of hardship. They fetishize oppression because they feel ashamed of their privilege. How appropriate that Jussie Smollett is a Hollywood actor living in a Chicago high-rise. He is exactly the type for this kind of thing: bored, comfortable, well off, empty. Persecution is a game to him because it has never been a reality.
I suppose we should feel grateful that we live in a country where people have to hire their own oppressors. But we should be worried that so many people find oppression desirable in the first place.