Monday, July 23, 2007
American Cannibals

My boss is on vacation this week, so this is likely to be either the best (most productive) or worst (most boring) week at work ever. Not like I can really complain -- I don't get paid much, but I've worked a lot harder for less. I know I should be taking the opportunity to go pester people for voluntary work, but between you and me, I think my strategy for most of this week will be to keep my head down and hope people forget I'm here. Then I can get some studying done, and continue plotting my escape. Knowing that I've only got about eight more weeks in this office kind of saps my desire to curry favor with the bosses. They already like me, and all I really need from this place long-term is a decent reference. At this point, I'd probably have to screw up pretty badly to lose that.

I read a book last week -- for me, it was probably the most compelling political book I've read since Chris Hedges' War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. It's Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War by Joe Bageant. And it's true, the reason I wanted to read this one is because it's about me -- both me, the hillbilly-descended part-Cherokee Scots-Irish southern girl; and me, the over-educated, intellectually-enlightened liberal creative classist. It's sort of the opposite of this essay by Dan Savage, if by "opposite" we mean "basically the same idea, but from a more sympathetic perspective this time."

Essentially, it's a book about how the "heartland" is eating itself alive, how those of us who flee are abandoning it to its demise, and about how ultimately it -- along with the rest of our society -- is completely and utterly fucked. As in, no hope; as in, game over; as in, welcome to the end of the American Dream. The gist of it is that working-class culture has combined with religion, an economy based on consumption and debt, a lack of education, epidemic poor health, and political manipulation to create a class of Americans who can be counted upon to fight for their own oppression, and have succeeded to the point that most of them have no hope of ever getting out from under it. Furthermore, those who claim to want to help are actually fairly content with the situation as it is, at least as far as they manage to remain at a sensible remove from it. And I live on both sides of that line.

I love the south, I do. And yet I hate it, hate it, hate it, and cannot wait to get away from it, to turn my back on it forever. You can't save a society that doesn't want to be saved, and I don't want to spend my life having to cope with its failures. And that's why I'm running the fuck away to Portland.

Not that I expect perfection up there, either (although I've been slightly unnerved by how eerily close it seems to come sometimes, even to some of my more absurd fantasies. A recent lamentation on the impossibility of buying a single cupcake anywhere, followed within days by the realization that Portland has not one but two bakeries devoted to the cupcake arts, made me begin to wonder if I shouldn't start asking the gods for true love, rock stars for friends, and a unicorn petting zoo as well.) Already, one person of my acquaintance has told me that, in her experience, Portland is "a little too PC" -- which normally I would blow off, except that she's a commune-living feminist vegan transgendered lesbian. It does give one pause. Especially with my sense of humor.

But what the fuck else am I going to do? Stay in Mississippi? A place where every homegrown artform obsesses on how much it sucks to live there, is a place you should get away from if you even remotely have the wherewithal to do so. If there's one thing I've learned in the last year, it's that I can't save the south, or even one person in it. So let Mississippi save itself. I'll be editing film in the northwest if anyone needs me.

Which is, honestly, just another way of saying, you can have your shitholes. Somewhere in Portland there's a latte -- a really, really good latte -- with my name on it, and no amount of redneck anguish is going to get in the way of my enjoying it. And that's exactly the attitude that Joe Bageant is talking about.

Anyway, if you want to read some of Bageant's stuff without buying the book (though it's a very good book and you should definitely read it if it applies to you on any level), I've put a link in the blogroll -- his essays are brilliant, too -- check this one out, for example. And it is, I promise, actually a very heartfelt book full of genuine love for the people we come from and eternally run away from, and full of sorrow at their plight without the indulgence of outright despair. He's an unabashed southern socialist and a better person that me, brave enough to stay down here and document the atrocities while I make a break for more cultured climes to cluck from afar. Read it and pretend you have a grandfather who didn't vote for Pat Robertson.
12:37 PM ::
Amy :: permalink