Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spoiled by entitlement

Those with a healthy, cultivated, insightful sense of entitlement will not read this just as they will pass over columns about executive pay controls. The entitled rarely write about something so innate. Caitlin Macy’s stories reveal this guarded state.

Sometimes, it’s only with fiction that words can become more than a concept.

In the nine stories comprising her book “Spoiled” (2009), we meet women in the enriched circles of New York City’s educated, preened, and socially aware. It’s not always about money. Place has much to do with status, or how others speak of you. A sense of entitlement as described here involves a few dimensions of self-sense. Education and where one acquires it is important. Where we spend our time vacationing, the view from our apartment, its location...but these are mere veneers of the attitude.

Expectation, in the way we see that with this way of behaving that something good and better will result, is one aspect of her characters natures. Hard work and ambition connect her characters. Expectation has additional definition here, where given one’s station and status, things should be done...doors opened, lines bypassed, reservations not required. Like entitlements many facets, entitlements underlying "expectation" is layered and complex.

An attitude of entitlement and cool distance works well when there’s plenty of cash flowing with calm, combined with adequate seating at that special restaurant, but what’s interesting here is that Macy’s characters bump into the unexpected inconveniences of life…pregnancy, a limited income (comparatively speaking), children, and the past.

Disappointment replaces expectation, when reality changes life, when control is not enough. But even disappointment cannot dash a well cultivated sense of entitlement. It’s not about money, trappings and executive pay with bonus clause.

Personal reinvention in America is one way to understand "the American dream"; where a young woman named Martha Kostyra, from Jersey City, New Jersey, can become through her own hard work and vision…Martha Stewart.

Few of Macy’s characters were born with money, or received inheritances. These are women working and earning their ways. So while we enter this spoiled world expecting brats, that expectation becomes superficial. These are people who understand the nature of reinvention.

We can confuse entitlement with snobbery. We feel the snobbery while the entitled go about their lives seemingly oblivious. Discussing class in America is awkward. Lately, it’s as if many of Macy’s characters have had to move from Manhattan.

Her book is like a farewell lunch to a time, but there’s a reminder here that entitlement is not built upon money but rather hope, ambition, education, and generally “curating” ones own life.

We see the trappings of entitlement while the entitled choose, in their minds, wisely; something everyone can do in various degrees…curate (selecting, collecting, storing, doing, what we value).

By Caitlin Macy
220 pages. Random House. $24.

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