May 28, 2008

Dispatches from America's class war

The age of working class art is over

"Also, I never would have had the money to spend a couple of months in Europe backpacking and using my Eurorail pass like many kids from wealthier families. So while these tours involved playing a show every night and were definitely "work", they are the only way a working class redneck punk such as myself would have had a shot to see the world. And what I saw blew my freaking mind.

My band had done some tours in the states, in typical budget-rock circumstances. Sleeping on people's floors and such. We did the same thing in Europe, but what blew my mind was that the quality of the floors was vastly improved. The difference in the quality of life of the average "socialist" western European compared to the average working class American was not only obvious, but also contrary to everything I had been brainwashed to believe while growing up in the greatest country in the world. I know these sorts of observations are neither original nor surprising to most educated and rational folks, but coming from where I was I could hardly be classified as either. Also, being from Missouri, I guess ya really do have to "show me" before I'll believe it. Quite frankly, it took a few years of cognitive dissonance to even come to terms with the idea. But, I had seen it myself. Explaining it to others, well, forget about it. They don't want to hear it. Rural America doesn't really even believe that Europe exists, except as maybe where a rich cousin went on vacation."


"As for the small town world I left? If anything, things have gotten worse. The European Union has raised the fortunes of much of western Europe, while the decline in small town America has been even more pronounced. Of all the places I've traveled that reminded me of my home the most, I'd have to say it was -- Serbia! Hell, a small village there isn't that different in feel from a little one in Missouri or Arkansas, and they had a damn WAR there. But try to tell that to the average liberal, in Europe or the states, and they won't believe you.

I can sometimes get pretty irritated at my European friends. It gets old constantly hearing how dumb Bush is, even if you happen to agree. And I guess it's my inner redneck coming out, but my orneriness is sometimes aroused when I hear bitching about rich, fat, and stupid Americans. Most Europeans, though they would be loathe to admit it, have their consciousness shaped and molded by the media just as much as their US counterparts. From the constant portrayal in the media, they seem to have bought the line that all Americans are loaded. I've had a hard time understanding this, it's not like I think all Mexicans are rich just because the characters on Univision soaps have nice houses. But that's what seems to have sunk in over there. If they come over to the states for a holiday, they never make it to the rural backwaters where I grew up. They don't understand being one medical problem away from bankrupt. They don't understand the reality of no social safety net whatsoever. If you look at the list of the worlds wealthiest nations, the USA ranks above Switzerland. But only a dumb redneck who couldn't find Switzerland on a map (or a liberal, Euro or American, who's never been to Niangua, Missouri) could possibly believe that the average American was better off than the average Swiss citizen.

Unlike you, I have no plans on ever going back to a small town, my hometown or anywhere else. The rampant racism, bible-thumping, and ignorance are too much for me to handle. But just as the Europeans can rankle me, I can also see where the typical American liberal rubs common folks the wrong way. To illustrate I'll go back to music, which got me started on this rant in the first place. At any American university worth its corduroy blazers and suede elbow patches you will find an ethnomusicology department. You will find intense study devoted to Javanese Gamalen or the music of the Baka Pygmies. But you will have to look very hard to find anyone who considers American indigenous music worthy of academic study. Grad students can travel to a remote village anywhere in the world to study a musical style, but you will never find one venturing out to East Bumfuck in America to see what the "natives" here listen to. Though you wouldn't know it from looking at the academic world, America has a rich musical tradition of poor folks who created interesting music. Poor white folks have actually made cultural contributions to this country, really! But throw a rock at a university music school in the states and you'll hit a dozen people writing papers on Fela Kuti before you'll find somebody who even knows who Merle Travis is. The simple fact is that the music of poor white trash isn't sexy enough to merit study, just like the poverty of poor white trash isn't a cause for hand wringing in the liberal world. Rednecks can tell that none of these rich liberal types gives two shits about them, not even as a cultural curiosity, and they vote accordingly."


"Working class now means you only have time enough for working. Creativity? Forget it. We've got cable. Easier to consume than it is to create, especially when you get home from a twelve hour shift. Don't even get me started on music education in this country, it's as bad as art education. Take away the time to do something creative, the space to do it in, and the education to even know such things are possible, and you get what we've got now. What passes for American culture."


Liberality said...

Myself, I am very conflicted. I am bi-racial and the white part is poor white trash. But I am a liberal too. See, what a conflict. I think liberals had better start working on class consciousness and conflict. We are in the middle of a war alright and it's the uber rich against the middle and lower classes, regardless of race.

And hey, I thought you quit blogging so I hadn't been around in awhile. Glad to see your back.

Bob said...

When I was in Europe in the 60's, the locals couldn't believe that I lived in a house where snow wafted through the windows or where the (really) Kool-Aide froze solid on the bed stand at night (We couldn't afford milk) or that we burned lumps of coal in an old stove. Etc. This post really spoke to me. I understand it; except that I did go home and tried to liberalize my people a bit. And I have been somewhat successful; but the creeping poverty is returning.

cheyanne said...

Gawd, what an absolutely great blog post. I write about how back "in the day" Europeans, on vacation, would come this country and say to one another "You can tell a rich Ameican from a poor one, because a poor one washes he own Cadillac".This pretty much describes the pretty picture painting of our American faces to others in a nutshell.

Your ethnomusicology elitist university statement is well understood. Add hip-hop americana to this high minded low brow art form of music that includes as you say...poor folks making music and wella...never-mind the leisure time to create and fuck off and loaf as it used to be called back then. Loafing was not considered a high ideal where I come from. Might as well have been " a lady of leisure" as they descibed and try to guiltyify the people with the time to do such frivilous things as make music and art and dance and the list goes on....

This is just one of the many other great blog posts you've hit the nail on the head on. I've been looking for this type of post to re-confirm what I think I think and now I've found it.

Thanx for the wonderful eye-opening redneck vs. worldly view.
Mine has been limited to just the U.S., but you have travelled there.
All I can do is imagine leaving North America for another continent.

You have gone there returned and reported.....Good for you!