I was a judge for a film festival competition earlier this year – it’s always interesting to see films from around the world. One thing that struck me this time was that several films (OK, three) had as a main thread the desire of a character not to be a loser. And I thought, where does that – now common – expression come from? I mean, what does it really mean?
On the one hand it’s simply the flipside of the desire to be respected – to be looked up to, or at least treated as an equal. But the idea that if you are not a conspicuous success, then you are a person to be looked on with contempt and treated as barely human is surely pernicious. Not to say evil. Yet that’s where the idea goes. If you are a loser, then nobody cares about you and you deserve everything you get – or don’t get.
It’s a very western attitude, amplified by the myth of the American Dream. Whoever you are, if you work hard and smart enough, you can get rich; maybe become President. Obviously then if you’re not the President – or at least rich – then you must have serious failings which are all your own fault. You just haven’t tried hard enough. Or – worse – you have tried hard enough, but you just can’t get it right. Because you’re a loser.
On these terms nearly all of us are losers – because we’re just ordinary people. It’s not possible for everyone to be above average; and there’s room for only a few top predators in the jungle. Indeed, most people have no interest in being a predator, top or otherwise. We just want to manage our lives. The myth that everyone should be a success and it’s your fault if you’re not is immensely damaging. Damaging to whole societies, because that’s what lies behind the current uncaring and vindictive attitude of the British to social security, an attitude that causes such misery and – yes – starvation. But, hey, those people don’t matter because they’re the non-deserving poor.
Well, I say if you want losers, how about the people who are so insecure that they have to keep telling you how important and successful they are?