Think back—a few minutes, or a few months, or a few years—to a major screwup that’s affected you. Something personal that happened within your peer group. You know—like, your friend blew off plans for the third time in a row. Or maybe it was something that happened at a larger level and gnawed into your consciousness—say, your government botched the occupation of a Middle Eastern country.
Now think of the language that surrounded the aftermath. Chances are, it involved someone playing a card of some sort. The Race Card. The Gender Card. The Gay Card. The Addiction Card. The Bad-Childhood Card, the Bad-Parents Card, the Bad-Colleague Card, the Bad-Boss Card, the Bad-Apple Card, the Bad-Intelligence Card.
If it weren’t for the fact that I was dealt this unfortunate card—through no fault of my own—this wouldn’t have happened!
Is absolutely everybody a whiny, self-pitying, blame-shifting little bitch these days? Can’t anyone just swallow hard and own up—just take the blame, the whole blame, and nothing but the blame?
The concept of owning up has become so foreign, so unfamiliar, that self-directed blame-assignment has acquired its own jokey, insincere catchphrase: “my bad.” Meanwhile, every day in the news and in pop culture, major and minor public figures shuffle blame-shifting cards with all the pseudo-finesse of sidewalk grifters. Mel Gibson spews hateful anti-Semitism to cops (and calls one Sugar Tits). His first response: to play the Booze Card. “I have battled the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse. I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state.” Ah, yes: brave Mr. Braveheart, battling the bottle! It wasn’t me, it was the inebriated me: a creature even I don’t recognize! It took Mel several more days—after it became clear that more substantive spinning would be necessary—to apologize to the Jewish community and ask for face-to-face reconciliation. (Oddly, Sugar Tits didn’t rate even a “Sorry, Toots.”)
At the other end of the celebrity food chain, blame-shifting card games fuel any number of low-grade reality shows. The token gay guy on MTV’s recent Real World season, the insufferably vicious Tyler Duckworth (apt name, that), constantly persecuted his roommates. “Svetlana’s like that bad puppy that pees on the carpet—she needs to be punished,” Tyler sneered. “And that’s why I punished her.” Yet when called on the carpet for his cruelty, Tyler broke down, crying that “we’ve all had our moments where we lashed out in the house, but to me, I’m very tender about the way people speak to me.” Voilà! Tyler dealt the Gay Card. He’d been verbally bashed in the past, you see.
Ah, yes. The cycle of abuse.
Of course, Tyler had nothing on Omarosa Manigault Stallworth, from the first season of The Apprentice. She was the consummate reality-TV card-player, who flashed not just the Race Card (claiming a fellow contestant brandished “the N-word”) but, amazingly, the Disability Card: After she got brushed on the head by a falling chunk of plaster at a Trump construction site, she insisted that the resulting migraines hobbled her performance.