Joe Bageant's Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir

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George Victor
Joe Bageant's Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir

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George Victor
  1. White Underclass Crushed By Economy
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White Underclass Crushed By Economy

I don't know where to start with Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir. It's a book of two sides, two faces even. On the one hand there's Joe's evocative, heartfelt nostalgia for a life destroyed by corporate capital and on the other, his anger and frustrations, rants on occasion.

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RosaL

I plan to read the book. (I wish they had an e-book version, though.) 

George Victor
George Victor

Joe Bageant" - 2 new articles
 

  1. Lost in the American Undertow
  2. The Permanent White Underclass
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Lost in the American Undertow

Today, almost nobody in the social sciences seems willing to touch the subject of America's large white underclass; or, being firmly placed in the true middle class themselves, can even agree that such a thing exists.

al-Qa'bong

One thing that struck me about Ehrenreich's book was a comment made by one of her fellow cleaning ladies, who said she didn't resent the wealth of the rich people for whom she toiled because she hoped to one day be in their position herself.

This articulates the Horatio Alger delusion that allows the acceptance of such huge social and economic inequalities in the Great Old Republic®.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

That view is far from universal. The rich habitually isolate themselves from the influence of the "not rich". And the super-rich live in a completely different world. If the views of that particular cleaning lady were anywhere near more universal these practices would just be an unnecessary expense.

George Victor

[quote=N.Beltov]

[quote=George Victor]Today, almost nobody in the social sciences seems willing to touch the subject of America's large white underclass; or, being firmly placed in the true middle class themselves, can even agree that such a thing exists. [/quote]

ahem.

Barbara Ehrenreich - Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America - excerpt

This isn't the only resource by Ehrenreich but it is, perhaps, her most famous.

[/quote]

 

Yeah, NB, that was Joe you were quotin', not George.  If you take the time to read his stuff, you'll see that and many more gems to be mined.

And going farther in, you'll see he depends on the historical work of David Hackett Fischer (Albion's Seed) to explain why the Scots/Irish border folk who wound up as mountain people brought with them a certain style (fuedin, pride, etc.) that helps explain redneck culture to liberal progressive folk.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

[quote=George Victor wrote that Joe Bageant]Today, almost nobody in the social sciences seems willing to touch the subject of America's large white underclass; or, being firmly placed in the true middle class themselves, can even agree that such a thing exists. [/quote]

ahem.

Barbara Ehrenreich - Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America - excerpt

This isn't the only resource by Ehrenreich but it is, perhaps, her most famous.

eta: corrected by George downthread as to the author of the quote.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

ah. It wasn't clear to me that you were quoting Bageant. If I don't quote like this

[quote]quote by N.Beltov[/quote]

then I quote like this

"quote by N.Beltov".

Anyway, carry on.

al-Qa'bong

[quote]...that helps explain redneck culture to liberal progressive folk.[/quote]

 

Well, it isn't as if "Rednecks" are like Trobriand Islanders. I have no way of telling how insulated other babblers are from this substantial demographic, but were I interested in conducting an anthropological study of "Rednecks," all I'd have to do is visit with some of my neighbours and people at work.

George Victor

You are also behind in reading Deer Hunting, the source of concern for liberal progressives.  Bageant reserves a special place for the liberal perspective and their tendency to produce anecdotes from anthropology 101 which do so much for their facility to identify redneck values, take them into account at election time, understand their needs.  Thorstein Veblen used the islanders far more effectively to compare their habits of conspicuous consumption with the barons of finance in Teddy Roosevelt's time.

Fotheringay-Phipps

If I'd read Joe Bageant when he was published in 2007 I'd have considered him an amusing, angry guide to a peculiarly American pathology. Thanks to george victor's advocacy, I read him last summer and now see how my country has been slipping towards redneck status. In my opinion, DHWJ ought to be required reading for anybody organizing NDP campaigns, not in the sense of "you ought to read this", but in the sense of "Here's a short-answer quiz on that book you were told to read. Oh, and name in order the leading contenders in the Nascar chase this summer and the minor prophets in the Bible."

If you can afford to burn one credit at the NYT, read this: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/us/16ohio.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=gallipolis+ohio&st=nyt It's a heartbreaking tale from Gallipolis, Ohio, 300 miles west of Winchester W Va, but in the exact same psychic territory,

It's amazing how the slash-taxes, bust-the-unions agenda has gained traction in Ohio, even as its failures become blatant. I find Bageant one of the few reliable exegetists for the poor Republican voter's intentions, and I use the word advisedly: following the twists and turns of the anti-union forces gathering force in the US would cross the eyes of the subtlest Jesuit casuist. Seldom has naked greed been clothed in such fine-spun hypocrisy.

Haven't yet read Rainbow Pie, but I will, I will

Farmpunk

Hey, Baegeant did a piece for CBC radio's Dispatches.  They're replaying a story he did about Belize in memorium.  Neat to hear his voice.

Farmpunk

GV, I think his piece is on the Dispatches website.  It should work on dial-up.  Not sure what you mean by US southern\western.

George Victor

Neat to hear that CBC offers it. (Wish I had heard it...is it U.S. southern, western, or NY?) When I move up from dialup this fall, I'm going to look up his Australian presentation. He was most popular there, first. Didn't offend the PC. 

George Victor

The colloquial accents of America given to us by Hollywood, or your own discoveries if you've travelled there much. Where would you place him, Virginia or a product of California, polyglot.

Farmpunk

Ah, I understand now.  

Southerner,  more mid-west than deep.  With some odd Kennedy-ishness.

George Victor

Joe Bageant" - 1 new article

 

  1. Bageant's Frustration: Extreme Isolation
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Bageant's Frustration: Extreme Isolation

There aren't too many leftnecks in the United States; of that, we can be sure. This was the source of Joe Bageant's frustration: extreme isolation. Because he realized that the U.S. was the greatest snow job of all time.

Slumberjack

Hey, a GV sighting.  Welcome back George.

George Victor

From the last chapter of Rainbow Pie, "A Long-Promised Road":

"After he'd built his present house, Clayton (a relative) and his sons used the chicken house as a deer-hunting cabin. Somehow it was fitting that it be a place where the menfolk could butcher deer on the screened-in porch by lamplight, and sit around the woodstove retelling the ancient family fables of the many hunts that took place on this land.

"No more, though. Now, one of his sons, Clay Junior, a construction laborer, lives in the chicken house with his wife Krassie and their three children, after having lost their own home in the national mortgage rip-off. Among America's disposable millions with disposable jobs and disposable lives, and among the grandchildren of those 22 million displaced rural foks (after the Second World War), they were born into a parallel world to the middle class. For them, it was one of life's givens that they would long have been working while others were pursuing higher education. Consequently they are among the 50 million Americans who read at a fourth-grade or fifth-grade level.

"They can be thankful, though, that they are not quite among the 42 million American adults who read even more poorly. Nearly one-third of our nation's population is illiterate or barely literate, and cannot read predatory car loans, mortgage documents, or credit-card agreements. The first to be discarded from the work force, they composed the vanguard and the bulk of property foreclosures and personal bankruptcies. That was before the national mortgage rot began eating into the middle class - people who could read well enough, but apparently could not do the maths, or believed that their job tenure as the Empire's paper-shufflers was vouchsafed by God himself. The Krassies and Clay Juniors at least have the excuse of poor literacy.

"America's semi-literacy, our general inability to read about the workings of government and the outside world, never gets in the way of our self-esteem. Fed on the delusion that all wisdom resides in the common man, and that our opinions and judgement are all to be equally valued, no matter what frothy dreck issues from our mouths and minds, we never doubt ourselves. This 'every man is a natural fountain of wisdom' myth is a sop, of course, and compensates for the obvious disparities and injustices taking place before our very eyes. No matter how bad things get, the rest of the world is worse off, because 'By God, I live in the only free nation in a world of dictators and jealous terorists. I live in an anointed republic where my opinion is just as good as any king's! More so, because I am the common man in a realm where the common man is king, dammit!'

Semi-literacy endows its tribe with the absolute surety and conviction of those who don't know what they don't know, rendering them blustering, happy idiots who haven't the slightest damned notion of anything beyond appearances. Delighting in the simple-minded images and slogans that have come to replace language, they buy the T-shirts of Barack Obama dressed as bin Laden, or sporting a Hitler moustache, and believe that the Democratic Party is setting up death panels for the elderly to save on the national cost of healthcare. Most ominously, they are hostages to political manipulation.

In November 2008, during the last days of the presidential elections, I stopped by to visit Clay, Krassie, and the kids...Stepping into the porch of the chicken house, I found the front door wide open before me, despite the cold, and a wood-pellet stove struggled away at full blast. It crossed my mind that Pap (the late grandfather) would have kicked somebody's ass for wasting heat like that. Visible from the doorway were the three kids on the worn, dirty carpet in a sea of crumbs, eating bright-orange, hyper sweet cakes out of a box. Clay Junior was off somewhere in his truck scouting for deer signs - hunting season opened the next week. Sprawled on the couch in a grungy pink sweat-suit, Krassie, overweight and fast headed for that permanent post-third child white-trash obesity, was immersed in a Fox News program about the elections, now just a couple of days away.

"Somehow, I'd not imagined her having the slightest interest in politics or the elections. As it happened, though, Obama's race had grabbed Krassie's attention. More accurately, America's far right had taken up residence in her vacant political mind. More bluntly, the Republican Party had run its hand up her ass and was now operating her like a puppet, flapping her mouth. After the initial greetings and obligatory Southern small talk, she informed me that, 'If Obama is elected, every white woman will be a slave to some nigger.'

"Even I, a man who listens daily to some of the most ridiculous, ignorant sludge that the American mind has to offer, was floored. This was raw-hate stuff here, and Krassie is by no means a hateful person. Dumb as a sack of goat hair, yes, but hateful, absolutely not.

" 'Where did you learn that?' I asked.

" 'It's right here on the Internet. I'll show you.'

"She sat down at her computer in the kitchen,which was parked beneath a mounted deer head on the wall. We Southerners see no conflict between taxidermy and kitchen decor...It struck me how much my mountain tribe, meat hunters for two-and-a-half centuries in these hills, are truly people of the deer. It also struck me that as a child I had curled up in that very corner where the computer sat, listening to hunting stories, and/or reading library books. In one of those strange, flitting memory images, I recalled finishing up Jim Bishop's classic, The Day Lincoln Was Shot, right there in that corner, right in that spot during one of our Christmas-holiday stays.

"The computer was agonizingly slow. While we waited for it to gnaw its way through to a modem connection, Krassie's oldest daughter, age eleven, offered her opinion. 'I like Obama,' she said. 'He's very smart.' There was no objection on Krassie's part. Remember: our people are believers in and defenders of the right to opinion, even the most ill-informed - probably because we own the majority of them. Looking at the child, I thought, Now there's a little niece who's going to feel very trapped in this wasteland, if she doesn't alrady. The computer ground on and on. Finally, I hedged my way out of the wait with 'I'll take your word for it, Krassie.'

Slumberjack

I can't seem to muster up the slightest bit of sympathy for any of these people.

al-Qa'bong

If one believes what John Taylor Gatto says in his article, "SOME LESSONS FROM THE UNDERGROUND HISTORY OF AMERICAN EDUCATION," having an ignorant underclass has been part of the plan for almost a century.

 

[quote]"It has come to be desirable that children should not engage in productive labor. On the contrary, all recent thinking ... [is) opposed to their doing so. Both the interests of organized labor and the interests of the nation have set against child labor. "

 

The statement occurs in a section of Public Education called "A New Lengthening of the Period of Dependence," in which Cubberley explains that "the coming of the factory system" has made extended childhood necessary by depriving children of the training and education that farm and village life once gave. With the breakdown of home and village industries, the passing of chores, and the extinction of the apprenticeship system by large-scale production with its extreme division of labor (and the "all conquering march of machinery"), an army of workers has arisen, said Cubberley, who know nothing.
.
.
Furthermore, modern industry needs such workers. Sentimentality could not be allowed to stand in the way of progress. According to Cubberley, with "much ridicule from the public press" the old book-subject curriculum was set aside, replaced by a change in purpose and "a new psychology of instruction which came to us from abroad." That last mysterious reference to a new psychology is to practices of dumbed-down schooling common to England, Germany, and France, the three major world coal-powers (other than the US), each of which had already converted its common population into an industrial proletariat long before.
[/quote]

 

 

George Victor

Anyone actually reading Bageant's work, and with any knowledge of the U.S.schools systems, understands that schools in the hill country are particularly vulnerable, not just an example of the "dumbed-down schooling common to England, Germany and France." And the political effect on the naive, underschooled, born-again redneck/hillbilly population is seen in every news story out of the U.S.

Bageant explains the Tea Party origins:

"Even knowing where Krassie got this stuff, I had to verify it: 'Where did you learn all this?' I asked Krassie.

" 'On the Townhall website,'

"Along with the Fox Network and the rabidly right-wing website Free Republic, Townhall.com helps make up the information trinity for millions of redneck and underclass whites. America's political elites quite well understand that not only is this class disposable, but so are its handfed truths. Any expedient lie that works can be used, then flushed and replaced with the next one, ad infinitum, even if today's lie contradicts yesterday's lie. THeir memories are less than an inch long, and yesterday's lie is  completely forgotten.

"On the other hand, installing a hot button in their brains is about as easy as it gets. When it comes to the effect of simple repetition on simple minds, you couldn't do better than my native stomping grounds of Virginia and West Virginia, as was demonstrated during packed 'town hall meetings' during President Obama's healthcare reform initiative....In Southwest Virginia's voting district 0, the town hall meetings' sponsoring congressman was Rick Boucher. 'Slick Rick', a 14-termer, is one of those rightist Democrats never examined by our simplistic media, which treat coth parties as if they were completely uniform in their make-up. He is pro the Iraq and Afghan wars, he is bought and paid for by the utilities and communications companies, and he is the tenth most powerful person in Congress.

"A throng of Krassies - those screaming, red-faced white folks so loved by news cameras - turned out to fill his town hall meeting. Ruddy, overweight working people with neck veins bulging and fists shaking, they made gripping footage for the news hour, even with the sound off. In glaring contrast to them was a lone older back woman, there to tell the senator about her Down syndrome grandchild: 'The child can't get the physical and mental care he needs because our family can't afford any kind of healthcare at all...We are just too poor,' she concluded, near tears. Her touching plea was interrupted by a sheer burst of redneck compassion. Yessiree! A young white man jumped up and screamed, 'It's a wonder they didn't abort him!' An angry chorus of mob agreement went up.

"Between that whole sorry assemblage there was not enough combined brainpower to piss, much less ask: Who didn't abort the child? Who are we talking about here? And what in the name of heaven does this have to do with fixing the healthcare system? The implied villains were - who else? - those dirty liberal baby-killers. Instantlty , abortion rights had become the main theme of the meeting. Goodbye to any further discussion of healthcare reform. All it took was one well-inculcated hot-button word: 'abortion'. My redneck people had responded right on cue.

"Few if any of them could be called political types by any stretch. Ordinarily, they would have been home stuffing their pie holes and waiting for that day's winning lottery number on TV. But they had shown up at the behest of local Republican businessmen, the Chamber of  Commerce, and fundamentalist pastors, who in turn were orchestrated by healthcare-industry lobbyists and industry public-relations firms. And, by golly, America was gonna hear the genuine, bona fide, straight-from-the-horse's-mouth, unadulterated opinion of the common man! Just as soon as they were all instructed as to that opinion."

 

Slumberjack

These people were lost and reported missing from the human collective ages ago.  It's long past time to call off the search parties.  They're better left to the vultures to pick over.

al-Qa'bong

[quote]

Anyone actually reading Bageant's work, and with any knowledge of the U.S.schools systems, understands that schools in the hill country are particularly vulnerable, not just an example of the "dumbed-down schooling common to England, Germany and France."[/quote]

The reference to the European school systems signifies that they were a model upon which the US corporatists had their agents design their curricula...almost a century ago.  Some European systems are still quite active in sorting out, at a startling young age, who will become a bus driver and who will be a surgeon.

George Victor

Returning to Virginia hill country and Bageant's explanation of their politics:

"The sad truth is that the pent-up anger has little to do with feelings about healthcare, but a helluva lot to do with all the shitty breaks, insults, and degradations that come with being an underclass citizen of the Empire. We are conditioned in much the same way as a dog is trained to bite on command. It doesn't matter who gets bitten - the dog gets the satisfaction of biting somebody for a change, and his master looks pleased when he does.

"Healthcare reform had 70 per cent support when it began. After a few weeks of orchestrated slap-downs of its proponents at town hall meetings, and staged citizen revolts, public opinion of healthcare reform was in the toilet. Ordinary, quiet people, who never evendiscuss poltics, started to have doubts when they saw folks like themselves on television rising up in what was touted by blonde meat-puppet anchorpersons and jowly, self-important male pundits as  'a nationwide protest by the common man'. Boucher could now go back to Capitol Hill and give evidence that voters in his white underclass district were vehemently against any kind of insurance-industry reform. They prefer the status quo. They like the fuck-job they are getting. They prefer being without health insurance, and going into medical bankruptcy, rather than enjoying the benefits of affordable healthcare.

"Once again, my people, the great unwashed and unlettered, had been sicced like dogs onto challengers of the status quo. Every time this kind of thing happens, a cheer goes up from American news consumers dining on the spectacle and hyperbole of it all. 'By God Helen! The common citizen, the working guy, the little guy, is standing up to Big Gubbyment. Says he ain't gonna take it anymore!'

"Ideas like that of 'a white woman slave to some nigger' play to our unlettered and uncultured redneck attraction to the extreme and entertaining. I've heard it said again and again that 'Old people will be killed off to save money when the government has to pay for nursing care,' and I've refrained from pointing out that the vast majority of America's elderly are in facilities that are already being paid for by the government. But the notion of government death panels killing dear Grandma is far more entertaining to our imaginations than guaranteed access to chest-screening tests and blood-pressure medicines. Two generations into this national infantilization, it's now the only political life that the underclass knows - the ideological spectacle made real. It serves the few against the many, the rich against the poor, in a last big grab at what dwindling wealth remains. Ideology has uttely triumphed. If reaching right down into Krassie's world, way out here on this ridge, isn't utter triumph, I don't know what is."

Maysie Maysie's picture

For a class analysis of white privilege that doesn't insult the white working class, check out the 6-part piece by Tim Wise on the Pathology of White Privilege.

Part 1

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

I watched that video and it contained no class analysis whatsoever.

al-Qa'bong

That post has no place in this thread. 

Rainbow Pie is all about the opposite of "white priveledge."  Bageant anticipates good ol' Maysie, where he says one of the most destructive weapons used against working class "Rednecks" is political correctness.  These people are easily corralled in a 60 million soul-strong underclass in part by the smug attitudes of liberals who dismiss them as ignorant racist yahoos who deserve their station in life.

George Victor

Absolutely, al-Q.  That is the refreshingly relevant -if bitter - message. 

Slumberjack

They dismiss themselves in their ignorant, racist, yahoodom.  Descriptive commentary is pretty much all that anyone can attempt, and as complimentary and compelling as both works are, they shouldn't be confused with attempting to salvage this particular demographic from their own stupidity.  Nothing can change it at this point, they're too far gone.

Maysie Maysie's picture

Did you guys watch the entire talk which is, as I said, in 6 parts (11 minute YouTube chunks)?

Who's side do you think I'm on here?

Slumberjack

I viewed all parts of that talk before, and found what figured throughout to clearly resonate as the truth.  I appreciated Bageant's approach through his particular writing style as well, and I think that if you examine Tim Wise's presentations alongside Bageant's work, they don't appear to contradict one another.  The same sitation is approached from different perspectives.

George Victor

The late Joe Bageant would invite the reader to "drop by my home in Winchester Virginia and get the tour... Dozens of foreign journalists do so each year." It was an "inconvenience" but "well worth the effort to watch their jaws drop in stupefaction. So step right up to the arcade of disposable minds and abandoned lives in the Ideological States of America, where we are always psyched and ready to fight for the beliefs we are told we hold. We always show up to fight on the wrong side, and end up killing one another, but we show up for the brawl, by God!

"Regardless of appearances, these people have normal IQs. They are born with the same number of brain cells and potential as anyone else. So why is it that when those with the most to lose to manage to rally for the fight, they always show up in the wrong camp?  As I am asked in early every interview, 'Why do they work so hard to screw themselves?'

"It is because the screwees have no language of their own in which to talk to themselves, or to discuss their condition with others of their own class. When they speak at all of these things, they speak in the language of their screwers, a language in which terms such as 'socialism', 'universal healthcaare', 'welfare society', 'citizen entitlement', 'social taxes', 'solidarity', 'fair go', and 'common weal' are deemed profanities. Without language and the education to use it in defining concepts, their intellectual life is a constellation of deeply internalized corporate state-media imagery - commercials for the American brand entertainingly presented in a theter of political and social kitsch.

"The people become bored at increasingly higher thresholds, as the media's depiction of life becomes more bizarre. ('Of course it's real, otherwise why would they call it a reality show/') And, like children, they delight in and expect a new and more mesmerizing spectacle daily, resulting in what can only be called an induced mass hallucination. Boundaries dissolve between plitics and personal fantasies: today they involve white slavery, voodoo, geriatric death panels, and whole political parties getting sex-change operations; tomorrow, it's swarthy terrorist cells in the cul de sacs of cupcake land, and flu vaccines bearing malevolent nano-chips into the public bloodstream.

"Entertaining and titillating as it is, life on Planet Tabloid is not as depressentg as real America is these days - and the America in which your son or daughter is doing a fourth rotation in Iraq because there are no jobs in the home of the brave. It's certainly better than contemplating America falling apart before your very eyes - not to mention the unnerving impression of inhabiting a spent empire locked in its inexorable orbit, and growing darker by the day."

al-Qa'bong

"Only the clan patriarch and matriarch remained, but Maw died of her diabetes not long after the fire.  She was sixty-three.  (My father also died a diabetic at the age of sixty-three.  I am a diabetic, and this week I turned sixty-three.)"

George Victor

At other times, Bageant expressed his concerns for the future, and wrote of his admiration for the work of James Howard Kunstler - The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophies of the Twenty-First Century; The Geography of Nowhere, etc.

In Rainbow Pie he finishes with his fears for a fascist outcome to recent developments:

"I have rattled on at such length about underclass political consciousness, especially the town hall meetings, because they represent a new development in which the white underclass plays a pivotal role.It feels to me like a build-up to an incitement of violence - if not now, then someday not far off - that will either be purposefully managed or will erupt spontaneously. There is an odour of fascism and nascent brownshirts about. A look around these meetings, for instance, will often reveal a firearm - not as a bulge under a coat or jacket, but worn openly on the hip or in a sholder-belt holster. This by no means illegal if the wearer has a weapons permit; guns are openly worn in this state and in many of the heartland realms I travel. I grew up accustomed to seeing guns, and seldom found it disconcerting. Until now. There is some new dimension to the presence of handguns at these public events, which are allegedly dedicated to civil public discourse. Until 2009, I never saw a gun worn at a public meeting or civic gathering. People with weapons permits have always considered such behaviour inappropriate and the sign of a boob. But now these guns in public view give me the willies.

"Ostensibly, the guns are a display of Second Amendment rights...(but) exactly who are the guns supposed to scare? I don't know - liberals I suppose. What breaks my heart is that the guntoters are invariably my own people. My family's people. Clayton's people. Krassie's people. What will happen when things get worse for them in this country? And they surely will. Hell, we've got car camps of homeless people now - in some cases, sanctioned and overseen by municipal governments.

"And by official count - which is always doctored by the regime in power to look better - one in eight Americans now suffer from food insecurity. Undoubtedly we will see a fraudulent, manufactured 'recovery'.  For a few years, the powers in charge will manage to waste our remaining resources, human and natural, extending a doomed system long enough to extract those last few trillions, instead of creating something more sustainable. At some point, the country will end up even worse off than now. And my people will be among the worst off. What then? Will they be sicced like dogs, as usual, or will they savage the same peole without having to be sicced?"

 

 

 

Slumberjack

[quote=George Victor] -----------"It feels to me like a build-up to an incitement of violence - if not now, then someday not far off - that will either be purposefully managed or will erupt spontaneously. There is an odour of fascism and nascent brownshirts about. ---------- [/quote]

For the moment, there is no threat whatsoever from any real or imagined progressive arm of the political spectrum which cannot be dealt with through cash and carry politics as usual. As for those non-white constituencies for whom things would have to take an exceptional turn toward the worse to notice any difference, who have always been on the short end of the stick in that society, and who might find a certain resonance within progressive discourse if it ever truly spoke to them about the urgency of mass mobilization, the generation after generation experience here has consisted in large measure of varying combinations of beaten down marginalization, fear of the state and its many security institutions dedicated to their continued oppression, and justifiable wariness of an existential and scarcely concealed threat from white underclass mobs held on retainers by the ruling class for certain occasions. All this particular group would require in the way of prompting is for some charismatic stooge to come along and bring them up to speed with respect to the domestic enemies within. Presently, there's little need for the ruling class to introduce what might eventually result in widespread disruptions to the existing fabric, and to commerce specifically. We should never discount the fact however, that ultimately there is a great deal of comparative profit to be realized in destruction once the usual sources of wealth, the backs of the working class, begin drying up. There's always the risk of manufactured strife and civil war in economically depressed areas. They're already starting out with the main ingredients in that regard, which are hatred and ignorance.

Gaian

I was hoping to find a note of optimism regarding "those non-white constituencies" in Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, but was unsuccessful. Not without a large dash of wishful thinking. But it's one helluva nice piece of narrative history, with a Studs Terkel element running throughout, about Black migration from the south, 1915 to the 1970s, when the push of fear had eased up somewhat.

Gaian

October 06, 2011

Now the World is a Sadder, Sillier Place

This tribute to Joe Bageant originally appeared last May in La Cuadra, a print magazine published in Guatemala. The magazine recently posted the following to the web, and here it is.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

By Michael Tallon
Editor-in-Chief, La Cuadra Magazine

Joe Bageant is dead, Joe Bageant is dead. Now hang down your head, Joe Bageant is dead.

It is with a heavy heart that we share that news. Cancer got him in the end. Regular readers will recognize his name as Joe was a steady contributor to La Cuadra over the years. Your editors had been fans of his for a long time, but when we first started this project we never imagined we’d actually land his great talents for our magazine. Then, one evening back in 2008, as we were necking beers with our good friend Earl The Retired Bank Robber, Joe’s name came up. I’d just stumbled upon Joe’s website and discovered a trove of essays I’d not seen before. When I asked Earl if he’d ever read Joe’s stuff, he grinned and said, “Been friends with that old bastard for years. You want me to call him up and see if he’d do something for the rag?”

A spit take and a “Hells, yeah!” was the immediate response.

The very next day I received an email from Joe saying “any friend of Earl’s is a friend of mine,” and that he’d be more than happy to contribute. Further, he hoped that maybe he and Earl could arrange to be in Antigua at the same time someday so we could all get drunk. In that email, Joe noted that his schedule was very busy in the coming months, but concluded, “. . . when I return, I’ll come down to Antigua and do anything you want. Or nothing in particular if you want. Nothing is as important to me as engaging good people in this life. In art and labor, Joe.”

...It wasn’t just his own skills at wordslingery that made him such a hero to those of us at La Cuadra. Joe had empathy out the ass for anyone who was getting the short end of the stick, and he noted, time and again, those were almost invariably the same people: poor folk; his folk.

Joe grew up a redneck and remained one his entire life. Bageant was a Second-Amendment-defending, whiskey-drinking farmer’s son of Virginia. But intellectually and spiritually, he’d transcended the provincialism, the racism, the anti-intellectualism and the clan (if not The Klan) mentality of his shuttered volk. There’s a fetishism in our culture for white folk who “remember their roots,” or black folk who “keep it real.” Joe did both of those things, but unlike so many others, he was not limited by the horizons of his formation. He grew up hard, hungry and poor, spent the Vietnam years in the Navy, came home and moved out to the West Coast to be a hippie, took heroic doses of hallucinogens, partied with rock stars and wrote about holy men. He tended bar on an Indian reservation, edited a journal of military history, lived in Belize, Colorado, Idaho, Mexico and Oregon before deciding, in his words, “to settle some scores with the bigoted, murderous redneck town I grew up in. I love ’em but they need a good ass kicking.” And so he moved back home.

Joe spent much of his life kicking the collective asses of the bigots, the prideful, the pompous, the blindly patriotic and the cruel. And in that life he also brought balm and his big love to the weaker-thans and the world-forgotten. He was an honorable man.

And Joe was a good man, a generous man, a loving man, and we’re sorry that we never got to share that beer in person. There aren’t enough hombres like him knocking heads together on this planet, and with his passing the world is a sadder, sillier place. So, we’re raising our glass to you, Joe. And our toast is a promise to keep faith with the cause of the just, and to maintain a weather-eye out for unexpected sources of kindness, sincerity and love.

Sleep lightly and haunt the bastards.

Joe Bageant lives on. Joe Bageant lives on. Now strike up a song, Joe Bageant lives on.

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Photo of Joe Bageant with flag by Konijn Marshall

Gaian

[quote=George Victor]

The late Joe Bageant would invite the reader to "drop by my home in Winchester Virginia and get the tour... Dozens of foreign journalists do so each year." It was an "inconvenience" but "well worth the effort to watch their jaws drop in stupefaction. So step right up to the arcade of disposable minds and abandoned lives in the Ideological States of America, where we are always psyched and ready to fight for the beliefs we are told we hold. We always show up to fight on the wrong side, and end up killing one another, but we show up for the brawl, by God!

"Regardless of appearances, these people have normal IQs. They are born with the same number of brain cells and potential as anyone else. So why is it that when those with the most to lose to manage to rally for the fight, they always show up in the wrong camp?  As I am asked in early every interview, 'Why do they work so hard to screw themselves?'

"It is because the screwees have no language of their own in which to talk to themselves, or to discuss their condition with others of their own class. When they speak at all of these things, they speak in the language of their screwers, a language in which terms such as 'socialism', 'universal healthcaare', 'welfare society', 'citizen entitlement', 'social taxes', 'solidarity', 'fair go', and 'common weal' are deemed profanities. Without language and the education to use it in defining concepts, their intellectual life is a constellation of deeply internalized corporate state-media imagery - commercials for the American brand entertainingly presented in a theter of political and social kitsch.

"The people become bored at increasingly higher thresholds, as the media's depiction of life becomes more bizarre. ('Of course it's real, otherwise why would they call it a reality show/') And, like children, they delight in and expect a new and more mesmerizing spectacle daily, resulting in what can only be called an induced mass hallucination. Boundaries dissolve between plitics and personal fantasies: today they involve white slavery, voodoo, geriatric death panels, and whole political parties getting sex-change operations; tomorrow, it's swarthy terrorist cells in the cul de sacs of cupcake land, and flu vaccines bearing malevolent nano-chips into the public bloodstream.

"Entertaining and titillating as it is, life on Planet Tabloid is not as depressentg as real America is these days - and the America in which your son or daughter is doing a fourth rotation in Iraq because there are no jobs in the home of the brave. It's certainly better than contemplating America falling apart before your very eyes - not to mention the unnerving impression of inhabiting a spent empire locked in its inexorable orbit, and growing darker by the day."

[/quote]

The essays published posthumously in the now available Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball - I expect to have it after Easter - carry that spirit and style, and the discomfort suffered by some is seen in a review of this thread. I find it all very refreshing, as did another babbler:

"If I'd read Joe Bageant when he was published in 2007 I'd have considered him an amusing, angry guide to a peculiarly American pathology. Thanks to george victor's advocacy, I read him last summer and now see how my country has been slipping towards redneck status. In my opinion, DHWJ (Deer Hunting With Jesus, Bageant's first book) ought to be required reading for anybody organizing NDP campaigns, not in the sense of "you ought to read this", but in the sense of "Here's a short-answer quiz on that book you were told to read. Oh, and name in order the leading contenders in the Nascar chase this summer and the minor prophets in the Bible."

"If you can afford to burn one credit at the NYT, read this:(see link in an earlier posting): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/us/16ohio.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=gallipoli... It's a heartbreaking tale from Gallipolis, Ohio, 300 miles west of Winchester W Va, but in the exact same psychic territory,

"It's amazing how the slash-taxes, bust-the-unions agenda has gained traction in Ohio, even as its failures become blatant. I find Bageant one of the few reliable exegetists for the poor Republican voter's intentions, and I use the word advisedly: following the twists and turns of the anti-union forces gathering force in the US would cross the eyes of the subtlest Jesuit casuist. Seldom has naked greed been clothed in such fine-spun hypocrisy.

Haven't yet read Rainbow Pie, but I will, I will"