Tomorrow I have to cast a primary vote in Tennessee for the upcoming presidential election. I think we can all agree this has been some kind of disturbing election season, which I think portends a work God is doing to show us who we as Americans, and in particular Christians, truly are, in the eyes of God and everyone else. I am not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to suggest the kind of person to vote for.
Vote for Pedro.
Those of you who are now confused (or think I am being racist) are obviously the few who have not seen the wonderful and insightful (and funny) 2004 movie Napoleon Dynamite. The “heroes” of the movie were a trio of geeky outcasts at school – the types we all knew, or better yet (as in my case) were. One of the main story elements was a competition for school student body president between a socially awkward Mexican transfer student Pedro, whose shyness reveals the courage and daring (or madness) he exhibited in even deciding to run, and the domineering “insider”, the popular and beautiful cheerleader “Summer”. While her many popular friends posted “Vote for Summer” signs everywhere (she probably did not have to compete for Prom Queen), Pedro’s buddy Napoleon sported the now societally-popular phrase “Vote for Pedro”, using an old iron-on “puffy” transfer on a T-shirt. As the movie’s many viewers fondly recall, Pedro was ready to get his head handed to him in the election, when a school assembly beforehand let Summer and her cheerleader friends use their sex-appeal in a dance number, contrasted to Pedro’s unassuming and unimpressive speech, until Napoleon saved the day with the most exotic dance number ever put to celluloid.
The message of this aspect of the film is more relevant now than ever. It contrasted the two kinds of people in the world – the “insiders” (“Summers”) and the “outsiders” (“Pedros”). We and the public make numerous value judgments each day over who are friends are or those we want, the leaders we want to follow, the people we want to trust and then purchase from, the company we keep, and the kinds of people we aspire to be like. In this context, the “Pedros” never have a chance when it comes to earning our devotion, wallets, endorsements and emulation. Ads and commercials are filled with beautiful and macho “Summers”, male and female, who have ideal weight and body type, do amazing physical sports and exercise, go on all-inclusive vacations to the Bahamas and dance in formal wear on the beach, walk with a swagger and confidence, and “know what they are doing”. And then there’s the rest of us – including those who try with great effort but in vain to measure up or gain their acceptance and approval, or those of us who gave up, either due to lack of energy or interest.
Here’s some of the traits I can think of concerning the “Summers” and “Pedros” of the world:
Seen as physically attractive, sex appeal “Average” or less looks, appeal less noticed
Confident in statements and positions Tentative, self-critical, slow to speak
Swagger in style and image – “big talker” Meek, self-effacing
Surrounded by adorers or other “insiders” Loners or small group of fellow “Pedros”
Often born into “Summerdom” by parents Humble upbringing
Wealthy, connected, advantages for success Starts from the bottom, no insider help
Gets heard, attention whenever they want Often overlooked, seen as hopeless, “loser”
Gets all the breaks Gets few breaks
Will drop friends when no longer useful Loyal to fellow “Pedros” who offer nothing
I could go on, but you get the point. The “Summers” get picked first in pickup sports, get invited to the slumber parties, get multiple prom date requests, selected as team captains and class presidents, fraternity and sorority offers, lucrative job positions, quick promotions (particularly in the military) regardless of true skill, and offers to join high society. And then there’s the rest of us “Pedros”, who could only dream of such attention and opportunities, and watch such people adored on TV and elsewhere. Janis Ian, a backward wallflower growing up herself, wrote of these latter people in her hauntingly melancholic hit song, “Seventeen”. Some of the lyrics are
I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for the beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth
And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
And the rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly
To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me
These “Summers” are the people who are “super-salesmen” who we admire and thus succeed, becoming charismatic military leaders, entrepeneurs and CEOS by “looking like they know what they are doing”. Even well-known pastors in mega-churches and para-church organizations can come from these ranks.
I have been blessed to be around wise Christian family and friends of great attributes but humble estates my whole life. I have rubbed shoulders with billionaires and connected people in my early career, and even had Lear Jet rides and the keys to executive positions dangled in front of me. However, I knew then I could never fit in or pull it off, and I am greatful to God to be spared such a shallow and unfulfilling existence. When one becomes aware of the move-prop facade this type of “success” is, one cannot help losing one’s natural envy of others who do “make it”, and all its material perks and supposed esteem-builders, and feel sorry for those struggling so hard to find that elusive contentment and real acceptance with that crowd, and truly feel pity for their BMW and “work hard/play hard” worlds. If is particularly sad to see women in Southern California, and now everywhere, who have been told that their value is merely their looks and youth, and thereby mutilate themselves at times in a vain attempt (excuse to the pun) to retain their “utility”.
The ultimate domain for the “Summers” is in the field of politics. It is often all about image, swagger, “tough guy” mentality, and frankly being a bully. As you can imagine, in a regular field of narcissists we now have a candidate who probably is the ultimate “Summer” – a wealthy billionaire born into wealth and connections, with people who hang on his every word, whether it is foolish or not, and even if he is insulting them or pandering to them in an obvious condescening way (and I have to say that Christians always seem by and large to be the most gullible). They are dealing with a “dealer” whose life of deals are not those that are “win-win” for two parties who meet each other’s needs, but where one is a “winner” and the other a “loser”, decided on who has more inside information or assets, or merely by bluff, bullying and intimidation. Those who are in the way either get out of the way, or get sued – just ask Merv Griffin – to further show his awesome “power”. His success? You know what they say – “Everybody loves a winner”. The people proving this adage the most by beating a path to sit at his feet are many of our most prominent Christian leaders, and professing American Christians in general.
Well, I have started a movement some time ago to start voting for the “Pedros” of the world. If it is real popular in society right now, be it a television show, style of music, gadgets or other styles, I’m probably going to take a pass on it. If it is a “trend”, “fashionable” or status symbol – count me out. If a person comes well-connected or with lots of money in their background, I’m probably going to write them off right on the spot. If they come with associations with powerful or prominent organizations and institutions, I will probably write them off too. If they are not selling themselves, but rather a noble idea, particularly one that looks out for the Forgotten People (those in institutional care, the elderly or low-income, all of whom are of no interest to Madison Avenue, Wall Street or the politicians, or others “out of favor”), then I will probably buy in, even if I disagree with them on certain matters; it is a question of integrity. If “insiders” recommend them, groom them or try to influence them, they are off my list, regardless of the good “positions” they claim to represent – I am old enough now to know whose interests they really represent.
This is a life decision for me, concerning all aspects of life. Tomorrow I am going to “vote for Pedro” at the ballot box. Won’t you join me?