BEWILDERED WORKERS

1 10 2009

When I was a little boy growing up in a poor family WAY back in the early 1960, I was really into learning things. My stern mom always gave me a smile when she signed my report card.

Later I became a teenager and began to wonder just why we were so poor and others in town so clearly weren’t. What did they know or have that we didn’t, that condemned us to be perpetually one mortgage payment away from the streets? I became then and remain to this day furious at that disparity, well expressed for me in 1966 by the Doors in these two lines:

Some are born to sweet delight,

And some are born to the endless night.

Still later I went to college and some of this mystery was dispelled…but that’s not what this post is about.

No, this post is about how I’ve always been able to see over the past two decades why Rush Limbaugh et al. appeal so strongly  to poor people — poor white people in the South particularly –, even though the fundamental program of the Right has always tended to work to the advantage of the rich, not the poor.

This lady (commenting on an article in the New York Times that I’ll cite later) expresses my understanding of this strangely self-contradictory phenomenon perfectly:

“I don’t know whether to call it nostalgia or anachronism, but this idea that there is some “working class” or “blue collar class” in this country does not fit the times. Outside of the wealthy we have a remnant of what used to be the true middle class. At this point, these are mostly sales people who can manage $100k plus along with a few remaining professionals, technical workers and some managers. If you don’t fall into one of those two categories, you’re just poor.

The poor are the people with the $10 hour jobs, if they have jobs. No benefits — no paid vacation, no paid days off, no paid sick time, no health insurance. If you show up and work, you get paid. If you don’t show up, you hope you don’t lose the job. If you’re part of a family and live in a home together, probably most people living in the house have one or more such jobs. You’re never sure you can get enough money to pay the rent, electric, gas, water, sewer, garbage collection, medical bills, credit cards, etc., etc. You feel under siege most days.

The poor generally do not have the thinking ability afforded by a good education. In a country with a failed basic education system, they may be high school graduates, but they cannot read well enough to clearly understand meanings in things like newspapers and magazines. They are large consumers of “free” media — broadcast television and radio. Without critical thinking ability they are the rabble being roused by hucksters with nothing but their own self interest at heart. Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, and Rupert Murdoch care only about possessing power and the money that comes with it.

Consuming that media, the poor are angry because they see themselves as being left out. Every show, fictional or otherwise shows people they believe are like them as being far better off than they are. The TV characters have better cars, nice houses, and they have no real worries outside of the scripted drama that is resolved so easily in the denouement. In the morning, the poor have to get up early, hope their 12-year-old car will start and make it to work if they can afford to put gas in it. This is a harsh and bitter reality that is almost a cognitive dissonance in contrast to the way they believe life is for most other people.

When they drive too fast on the way to work, police give them a ticket for speeding and the fine amount rivals their weekly take-home pay. Meanwhile they see politicians accused of crimes, and years later nothing has been done about it. They see police officers shoot apparently innocent people, and they get away with it. They hear about corporate executives being released from their responsibilities (fired) and given $25 million to take home with them. And when the poor don’t have the money to pay their speeding ticket a warrant is issued for their arrest. That leads to the loss of the car and the job and perhaps everything else they thought they had worked for.

These poor people are angry. They have a right to be angry. They were told in school they were being prepared for the “American dream.” Life was going to be the pursuit of more happiness today than yesterday. But they didn’t understand that their education was woefully inadequate to comprehend the current world. They weren’t told that corporations care about profit and nothing else, least of all them and their lives. They can’t accept that what they see and hear in the media they consume is a fantasy meant to take advantage of them in a hundred different ways. I could compare them to lost children wandering aimlessly around huge shopping malls angrily screaming at people in the food court who somehow have enough to eat.

We adults who have figured out how to get some food are at a loss to understand these people at their rallies saying the president is a monster. And calling them the working class or blue collar makes no more sense than labeling them “conservatives” or “patriots” or loose cannon for that matter.

They are simply poor. They are without hope. And they cannot understand what’s going on when they look at the Mercedes next to them at the stoplight and a black woman is in the driver seat. So they turn up the radio and Glenn Beck tells them Obama is causing it all. It has nothing to do with either work or class.”

— Tracy

If I had stayed in East Texas and  stayed uneducated, and there had been a Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck on the radio then, I would have believed everything he said!

___________________________________________________________

The comment quoted above was to this article:

http://egan.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/working-class-zero/

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UNFLATTENED IN BATON ROUGE

27 07 2008

The Uses of Snobbery

I plead guilty to being an intellectual snob. It comes from having been a poor outcast fat kid in the backwards backwoods of Texas long ago. I had to cling to SOMETHING to have value in my own eyes, and I chose the contents of books. The ability to read “hard” books and to become lost in them was the only thing I had going for me.

Compared to those contents, as illuminated by my imagination, the squalid surroundings and dimwit country culture of my small-town Texas childhood became dismissible. It was like being thrown into prison and coping with the noise and danger and ugliness and cruelty and excess macho nonsense of the other prisoners by dreaming about your life when finally released. Seen through the mist of those dreams, it was all dismissible, hence bearable.

There is lots in American culture now, 40 years later, that remains unchanged (after a brief abortive flirtation of the USA with being civilized that occurred in the 1960s). If you actually live within the soup of media-business-religion-sports that constitutes all the “culture” that the USA has, then you will slowly be de-brained. I understand that this lowest-common-denominator culture is the natural product of a country made up of persons of so many ethnic and national backgrounds that, other than a burning desire to make as much money as humanly possible, they have historically had very little in common. But I don’t have to join the de-brained brigade just because I was born here.

After a lifetime of being regularly fed drivel, I now watch no TV, read no magazines (celebrity, so-called “news”, or otherwise), consume only carefully-selected contemporary movies, go to no theme parks, read no best sellers, and listen to no radio but NPR.

But I still actually live in the American South. People here are friendly and polite in their personal lives and daily contacts. And this state I now live in is unique among Southern states in having a strong minority population (the Cajuns) with a distinctive culture that influences many aspects of life here. But the public reality that reigns in this place and time is still highly driven by the larger mass of US media ideas and images that flood in upon us daily, and by a good deal of local self-deluding nonsense about the glorious Old South. The result needs continually to be dismissed if one is not simply to despair for one’s country. I can’t turn on the main local AM radio station without hearing a local Homer or Jethro imitating Rush in order to book his own transient local fame. (The usual chorus of drawling dittoheads always obligingly call in to agree.) This city, Baton Rouge, has a paroxysm every time the LSU Tigers play a football game and doesn’t notice much else that happens publicly. In politics it is cruel, in art is is limited to country and rap and phony Cajun music, in public thought it is limited to a slavish love of business and business persons, and a widespread desire to try to guess what they might want before they want it, so they won’t get in a huff and take their many dollars to some even more accommodating Southern state.

Oh yes, the folks did stir from their torpor recently to get incensed when the state legislators voted themselves big raises—raising themselves from tiny salaries originally based on the fact that theirs was once a part time job to middle-class level salaries. Smart people I knew joined the brigade of the incensed. I didn’t point out to them that if you pay people with power peanuts you give them tremendous incentives to take bribes.

It would have been pointless, and gotten a lot of folks mad at me.

The USA has a history of driving its artists and intellectuals into exile. In the 1920s through the 1940s it seemed as if most such folks were to be found in Paris. Now they have found a precarious home in academe. For those of us who are unacademicized, there is only the internal exile of dismissiveness. One gets ones information through the Internet, and lets the drivel go.





RADIOINACTIVE

22 07 2008

Used to like radio? Agree that it sucks these days, but can’t explain just how? Check this out:

http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=210911197940766187&postID=927594264676413993

It might help you clarify the nature of the suckage.

And then if you’re interested in the business of radio, read the smart, knowledgeable blog that my contribution is a comment to.