Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Shit Kicker Karma

Barry Crimmins is always good for a rough laugh -- sorta like Rip Taylor, except Barry throws lacerating barbs instead of colorful confetti -- but every now and then, he settles into essay mode, foregoing the gag in favor of reflection. Barry's latest is one of his best, and it instantly spoke to me, having experienced the redneck vibe at point blank range for much of my young life. With all the pious noise over Obama's "elitist" disdain for the unwashed and bitter, it's necessary to emphasize what polite society plays down: there really are violent, bitter, stupid white working (and non-working) people who are not only alienated from the political process, but hold delusional ideas about what's actually going on.

In short, Obama is right.

I've been around rednecks for as long as I can remember. Working on cars, shooting guns, drinking cheap beer, getting into fights, every stereotype you can name I've either witnessed or participated in. I lost my virginity to a farm girl who was incredibly dumb and incurious, but was very pretty, sexy, and knew how to fuck. I nearly had my face blown off by a drunk hillbilly friend who waved his shotgun around at a party, squeezing the trigger just as I turned my head away from both barrels, shattering a window, making my left ear ring for a couple of days. (This was in a real redneck part of town; amazingly, no one called the cops.)

I was both attracted to and repelled by this and related scenes. While I hated the ignorance, racism, fag-phobia, and casual violence (fights would break out over nothing, sometimes just to kill boredom), I liked the honesty, earthiness, and most importantly, the sexiness on regular display. There was little if any pretension. I didn't run into that until I moved to New York and began mixing with a more educated crowd. Urban bohemians, most of whom had college degrees, strained to be "real." To rednecks, it came naturally. Being uncomfortable in my own skin, that aspect appealed to me, and there was a period when these were the only people I socialized with. After trading a few punches with a bigger guy in his driveway, I was accepted by him and his friends, and didn't have to worry about getting my ass kicked by jocks, as these guys had my back.

After moving away and becoming more politicized, I'd return for visits and hang with some of the old crowd. Most remained exactly where they were when I left, and were put off by my reasons for living in the big city. They were solidly pro-Reagan, despite his assaults on working people, and they didn't want to hear that they were being lied to and used. Makes sense. If you have nothing save some hazy sense of patriotism, you sure as hell don't want to lose the only thing that feeds your identity. Politicians play on this need, catering to redneck biases under a phony "populist" banner while serving those who actually finance their careers. The negative reaction to Obama's rather tame comments shows just how strong this bullshit tactic is, though it appears that Obama will not be hurt by acknowledging reality. Still, I don't see a lot of white working people voting for Obama -- or for that matter, Hillary. John McCain is perfect for most of them, especially those who fly POW/MIA flags in their front yards or on their porches. The religion of militarism remains too intoxicating for many rednecks to resist. If they're not enlisted, they wear the camo-gear in solidarity. I see this every day. It's pretty fucking depressing.

While working as a cleaner, I continued my conversations with blue-collar whites, and the thing that always mystified me was their belief that by owning guns, they could stave off the government if necessary. This is a gun culture conceit that has no basis in reality. The very militarization that rednecks revere is an essential part of the American police apparatus. When someone would talk shit about blasting federal agents, I'd remind them of Waco. The Branch Davidians fought off an ATF assault, killing four agents and wounding 16. Once that happened, their death sentence was secured. There was simply no chance that a bunch of Christian fanatics were getting away with that, the Second and Fourth Amendments be damned. The Branch Davidians were gassed, burned alive, shot up, and bulldozed into the charred earth. So much for fightin' The Man.

A few of these guys would scoff at my Waco example, saying that they were better shots than the Branch Davidians. But most would fall silent and shake their heads, their fantasies about armed resistance reinforcing their powerlessness, which in turn made their fantasies even more necessary. Bitter? Hell, that's the least of it.