JUNE 14, 2010.  At a recent “inspirational conference” a friend attended, speaker after speaker marched up to the podium to recount a horrible life story of abuse that eventually turned into gold.

I believe the speakers were trying to say they had been victimized and THEN picked themselves up and made successful lives, but in my role as cynic in such matters, I wondered how much the victim-story had been USED AND PROMOTED to make that success happen.

Anyway, at least several audience members wondered how they could possibly compete with the speakers because, damn it, they didn’t have a history of massive abuse they could use as a banner headline in their own lives. 

I’m citing this conference as a cameo of the society at large.  People—but kids, especially—are always looking for stories that will “play well.”  What happens when the trend turns negative, when it’s perceived that you need a loser’s saga?

In recent years, the compelling need for such a story has become more obvious.  Television reality shows and talk shows are a bundle of best-selling tales of victimhood. 

Add into that mix the relentless advertising of diseases and disorders paid for by drug companies, and you have a blueprint for popularity: “I’m screwed bad.”

It’s a badge of honor.

I’m screwed bad, and I need help.

The whole culture is brimming with stories about victims.  And you can bet kids with a few smarts are getting the message.

Q:  What do you have, kid?

A:  Well, I was diagnosed with ADHD.  The doctor wanted to put me on Ritalin, but my parents said all that was nonsense.

Q:  That’s nothing.  Can’t you come up with something better?

A:  Let’s see, my father hit me once.

Q:  With a golf club?  A sledgehammer?  There was a brain injury?

A:  No.  It was a rolled-up newspaper.  It was an accident.  He was trying to swat a fly in the kitchen.

Q:  Come on.  That’s so lame it’s ridiculous.  Were you ever shot in a drive-by?

A:  What?  No. 

Q:  Did you ever get real drunk and smash up the car and almost die?

A:  No.

Q:  You’re pathetic.  Don’t you at least have a favorite relative who died in a horrible fire and marked your psyche forever?

A:  No.  Is something wrong with me?

Q:  You bet.  What’s wrong is there isn’t enough wrong with you.  Don’t you get it?  Are you in the closet, sexually speaking, and afraid to come out?

A:  No.

Q:  Do you have a congenital genetic disease?

A:  No.

Q:  Are your parents getting a divorce?

A:  No.

Q:  You’re in deep trouble.

A:  I can see that.  I need to cook up something.

Q:  How about this?  Your eyes are backwards.  What you should be seeing out of your left eye you’re seeing out of your right eye, and vice versa. 

A:  Hey, that’s pretty good.

Q:  It‘ll give you some interesting talking points.  You’re a weirdo who can’t live in the world.

A:  Yeah, I get it. 

Q:  You keep parlaying that as you get older, you could probably write a PhD thesis about it.