Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Demise of Working Class Culture

It was intended to finish the second part of the 'Ancients and Moderns' entry, but drafts aren't up to even my chaotic and dilettante standards for publishing as yet.Luckily I got diverted the other day on a new tangent while surfing the web....

Gabor Steingart had an excerpt from his book written at Der Spiegel Online - 'White Trash, Fast Food' nearly a year ago narrating the once proud German working-class slide into Jerry Springerdom in the 21st Century. In the Wilhelmian era, the working-class lived in hovels, were often hungry, but they had unity within the SPD;the 'proletarian' knew who was their friend, and who was their enemy. Special party schools existed not just for political indoctrination into socialism, but various self-education in numerous fields were open to them and they readily took advantage . What was interesting was that the working-class in the 19th Century gravitated to the German Classics and didn't pay much attention to the modernist avante-garde; plays of Schiller and Goethe etc., were commonly put on at Socialist Clubs. The proletarian could hold their own with the buegerlich on cultural literacy. Now the working class in Germany and the West in general has never had it better with living standards, but many spend their time watching TV, drinking, munching fatty food. If they have political views at all, they resort to protest vote of the extreme Left or Right parties and they often switch from election to election....

In America there has been a similar transformation with the industrial worker, the HardHat. Most of the Caucasian working class no longer votes at all; those with political views often merely ape what Rush Limbaugh and O'Reilly says -otherwise politics is generally a no-no to talk about on the job. Sex, comments on Larry the Cable Guy's allegedly humorous antedotes; the latest Sports score and plans after they win the Lottery are often the focal point of conversation besides subjects related to 'work' itself. Though occasional remarks about "rich punks" can be heard, there is no element of Class Warfare involved; often the Blue Collar Joe just wants the toys that the rich boss has and yearns to be a rich punk himself. As for 'educational endeavours', the best way to get oneself ostracized and ridiculed by fellow employees is to show up on the job site with a book(once, a fellow co-worker actually got angry at me for committing this unwritten infraction). Newspapers are kosher as long as one just reads the Sports section - Front pages are for geeks: a nuclear bomb may detonate somewhere on the globe, but what matters is that Barry Bonds got caught again shooting up steroids, for discussion in the breakroom.

The American working class was more aware of world events in the days when there were strong Labor Unions, perhaps. Others point to the nihilism of our general culture in the past decades, the great leap forward in CEO pay/income discrepancy; the more numerous Bread n'Circuses available to tune out the brain to for the Jerry Springerization of the white working class. Class Warfare didn't take the hue here as it did in Bismarck's Germany , but at one time the industrial worker had points of reference besides general pop culture and quenching their own desires , and there was no pride in being a total general dumb ass as it is today.

This is not clarion call for the working class to become socialists to recapture their own sense of sub-culture - just at one time it did have value, gave them a better sense of purpose other than making a buck. It is doubtful that it can be recovered. Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, World Federated Wrestling and NASCAR has got their souls in an iron-tight bag. ( however,some get uppity and parvenu and take up Golf; not a few has confessed to me that they even spend a Sunday afternoon watching Golf on television). A few think that they have their own souls intact the old-fashioned way of fundamentalist protestantism and distribute Jack Chick publications throughout the plant, construction site, etc. But that's okay since since it is not a book and in cartoon format...

Further insights along this line can be read in Charles Bukowski's short stories(who was both White Trash and literary) and Jim Goad's excellent The Redneck Manifesto that takes the reader on a humorous sociological trip regarding the Caucasian American underclass....

2 comments:

Howard J. Harrison said...

This article gets me thinking. I think that you are right, though my (now somewhat out-of-date) experience with books and union labor is not as disturbing as yours. The American working man has always been a moderately thoughtful type, especially when the occasion merited it. If this is indeed changing, it is bad news. I hope that it is not.

andrea said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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