So, I received some e-mails telling me that if I wrote something about the working class and cultural symbols, it didn’t get through. Too much academic jargon, too damn impenetrable. Now, who the hell wants to read that. I feel y’all, I really do. I figure then, I need to write in a way that my buddies round here in H-Town understand it. Although, I got to say, I don’t think it was over the top, and deep down, kiss my ass. But, that would just make me an egotistical prick, which I tend to want to avoid, being as my politics are collective in nature.
Therefore, let me break it down and have some fun while doing it. When is the last time you saw a movie about the working class getting together, forming a union and fighting back in this class war? O, you haven’t. Well, no shit. Why would a corporatized, privately-owned media ever make a bunch of movies about social class and competing class interests. That is like suicide for them.
Actually, let’s take a historical example, one I borrow from Chomsky. Go back in time, and remember (I sure as hell don’t, wasn’t even a sperm in my dad’s testicle yet) On the Waterfront and Salt of the Earth. This is the McCarthy era, the purging of the communists from all facets of American life. Marlon Brando’s flick represented the evil union boss and the little guy fighting that entity. The low-budget Salt of the Earth was about a group of the little guys getting together and fighting back against a corporation for their rights. The former got an Oscar, and the latter was met with only disdain. Once again, no shit.
When I say all we got nowadays is our class represented as assholes on COPS or Maury, I mean it. Think about it. You are poor, can’t afford cable and all you got is the local television stations. PBS during the day is for the kids and the old, so don’t expect to be entertained there. So, you flip through the local channels and all you get is baby daddy this, infidelity that and a big fucking circus. This isn’t Rabelais’s carnival with jokes against the elites (personally, I never read Rabelais, just Bakhtin’s interpretation of it). We, as a social class, are the damn joke. And that’s what the poor get to watch. Hence, an immense self-hatred inculcated within us and looking down on ourselves as unworthy.
Then, if you are still in front of the screen at night, you can wander off into shows with either middle-class white people and their one black friend (cause, you know, diversity), get rich quick shows for fame-seekers (American Idol, The Voice, etc.), and crap about being an entrepreneur or how awesome work is (Shark Tank, Dirty Jobs, etc.). All of it to make you believe that work is great and your life should be about it. As we say, you don’t grind, you don’t eat. So, you better be on that grind, bleeding the block 24/7, 365. And love it; really be enamored with that shit, because you won’t get the chance to ask moral and ethical questions about it. That will get your ass fired real quick. So, this is the idolatry part, the false idol of work as an end in itself, rather than a means to produce a better society.
And if you ain’t idolizing work, you are idolizing the rich and famous. That’s another route posed to us. Housewives of this or that, lifestyles of the rich and ignit and a whole damn channel to show you what it’s like when you got enough to pay people to do everything for you. Magazine upon magazine devoted to making you want to buy, buy, buy. Sometimes I can’t even tell when the fucking commercial ends and the show begins. This is what it equals too. A self-negation of who we are, because we learn to hate ourselves, idolize our entrapment and then want to escape both in order to become an exploiter, to be the dude on top ordering all the peons around.
Even worse, when an “average family” (for television producers this is a white, middle-class family) is on television, their lives are the most banal pieces of shit ever. How many episodes can you really make about who is banging who, why grandpa smells, and relationship spats? Apparently, millions! There is no class here, no questions of economics or politics. Shit, even culture is banished, unless you can sell it. And if you can sell it, it probably has that new age, motivational vibe. Because, you need to be really positive, your life has nothing life-like about it. There is no pain, no suffering, except when sensationalized or sterilized.
Or, take the rooting for the bad guy. You don’t got Robin Hood on the television fighting for the people, robbing the rich. No, instead you got criminals who act just like CEOs. Cause, a drug cartel operates the same as a corporation. Top-down, one guy with power and corrupt as hell. All my friends love this shit. We all wanted to be Don Corleone. We celebrate empire, in every way shape or form. The drug mule escape to the top of the racket, another self-negating fantasy. Who gives a shit if the reality is hell on these streets with guns blazing.
So, ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a representation on the television that actually was something you could truly connect with? Personally, never. I can laugh or I don’t have to, because the box will laugh for me. Joe Bageant would call it the American hologram. The Marxists would say false-consciousness. I call it what it is, bullshit. A bullshit way, to escape the bullshit life. Now, let me get back to watching Maury, I hear they are going to have a woman who is on her 15th guy who may be the father. Cue the circus…
*I still would like readers to send in cultural representations of the working class they find to make us look bad ass and on our feet fighting back or personal stories. Whichever, works for you.
Andrew Smolski is an anarchist sociologist based in Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org