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DO AMERICANS DESERVE A/C?

Recently Penelope Green of the New York Times resurrected the question of whether air conditioning is necessary, whether it’s sexist, etc. She focuses largely on well-off Americans in air-conditioned spaces, references the sexism of office air conditioning temperatures, alludes to A/C alternatives being developed, and includes whatever the written version of a talking head is. A/C is described as “extreme dieting,” and the question is raised, why would you want to condition your air?

It’s a rather short article that doesn’t go into a lot of detail, and the first time any lower-income people are mentioned is in the last, brief, paragraph. “People in countries with lower G.D.P.s … are more comfortable with a wider range of temperatures. It appears that first world discomfort is a learned behavior.” Article ends.

Of course it’s sexist to tailor the office environment to women instead of men. But it’s also incredibly dishonest to spend the bulk of an article discussing a very specific, first-world problem — office air-conditioning is too cold, because it’s tailored to men’s suits rather than women’s dresses — and treat it as a sweeping generalization. This obviously isn’t an article about all, or even most, Americans; it’s an article about New York Times office workers. It’s dishonest to imply that Americans as a whole are simply too coddled to handle high temperatures, without even mentioning the low-income Floridians who are suffering of heat stroke in high numbers.

As much as we claim to understand that clickbait is using us, and pretend that we don’t fall prey to it, pretty much all of us keep letting ourselves get outraged over insignificant, menial shit. Getting upset on Twitter feels productive to our animal brains, it feels like we’re doing something worthwhile; even if we logically know that’s not the case. The New York Times and most other major publications use this to make money.

This is absolutely not news, but still worth repeating: our attention is not on the folks suffering in Florida because they can’t afford A/C. Our collective attention is on someone who rekindled an old Twitter argument for money, because they know that outrage is lucrative. It’s particularly lucrative if you emphasize the rich-woman angle and merely give other factors brief shout-outs.

Frankly, the NYT does not care if they misrepresent an entire group of people through hyperbole. They know we won’t be able to resist that red-hot burst of rage, regardless of where we stand on the issue. By generalizing about a complicated topic, focusing largely on the white-collar victims of it, and only giving a quick shout-out to poor people, they can piss off all of us at the same time. They get all of our anger, views, money, and don’t even need to work that hard: all you need to do is look at what people have been arguing about online, and repackage it as if it’s a new topic.


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