by LF (10/97)
Both of my grandfathers were deep miners in the coalfields of southeastern Ohio.
My grandfather Levinski was down in a shaft when he was electrocuted by a new piece of equipment in 1941. His wife got a few thousand dollars in a lump sum from the coal company, and used that to buy the house she still lives in. She was "lucky" in that the then-recent Social Security program gave her $63 a month -- $37 for her, and thirteen bucks each for her two daughters -- and lived off that before going to work at the lunchroom at St. Casimir's, the local Catholic church and school.
My grandfather Penman was mangled by a conveyor belt leading to a tipple, a machine used to load small railroad-style coal cars with the high-sulfur lumps, and had to have a silver rod surgically implanted in his upper right arm (the only reason the limb was not torn off entirely was due to his brother Russ managing to shut down the contraption in time). This forced him from heavy work into a truck at night as a security guard watching over the company's property. But he managed to send his boys to college, which saved my lame ass from a fate I can only barely begin to imagine.
Before escaping, my old man spent some time strip-mining, a different process. He worked behind an auger, shepherding chunks dug out of "high wall," precarious overhangs created when the giant screw chugged into hillsides. The thought of that really eats into the fun that I've had at his expense over the years.
By now you may be asking yourself just what in the hell all this has to do with the price of tea in China. Well, I've just finished reading Jim Goad's Redneck Manifesto, and it brought back memories that I'd half forgotten. The book is about folks who've been shit on for uncounted generations, but aren't cut any slack because (under all that grit) they're more or less Caucasoid. Thus they are accused by the butt-ignorant members of the intelligentsia and their acolytes of having at least the potential of basking in "White Privilege," regardless of the astoundingly obvious evidence to the contrary.
Let me offer one caveat up front. I assume that most regular visitors to this site are fairly libertarian in outlook. Goad is not. For example, free-marketers will probably get frustrated with the chapter "Workin' Hard" for its relentless class-struggle emphasis. (I still enjoyed it due to the amount of space that the author devotes to coal miners, for obvious reasons.) End of warning.
The essays "What's So Bad About Hatemongers" and "The Enslavement of All White Liberals" were my personal favorites. I grew up near Oberlin College, and then lived for two years a few miles from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and always wondered about kids who plopped Question Authority bumper stickers on their cars, but were absolutely terrified of anyone who actually did. Goad's take on the "alternative press" is particularly instructive.
"Me and the Blacks" spends some time on the various non-white "nationalist" movements. Truly pleasing was the jab at folks who start sentences with "As a black man, I . . .", which reminded me of this guy I used to work with who milked his color until the teat tore off in his hand. This was funnier than hell seeing as how the little lump was at best a quadroon, one or two shades on the Sherwin-Williams paint-chip sample chart away from being able to pass as Sicilian. After about six months of his crap, no one of any hue would voluntarily talk to him.
The book is fairly encyclopedic, covering various flavors of white working-class entertainment, drug use (the bit on crank deserves wide distribution), fringe religion, and more. THE main point, which Goad returns to constantly (as it served as the primary irritant which produced the volume), is the way that the mainstream media continuously sledgehammers away at all of these manifestations of the redneck lifestyle with a level of outright hatred that rivals any grimy mimeographed racist tract featuring hook-nosed Jews cackling over pilfered piles of cash or watermelon-gnawin' Sambos. The big difference, of course, is that these days poor whites can still be slammed openly and relentlessly without repercussions.
After completing the book my antennae went up, on the hunt for media hillbilly-bashing. Try it -- it doesn't take long to get results. A typical example that hit many of Goad's bases was last night's episode of Michael Hayes, David Caruso's latest attempt to revive his flagging career, an "adult drama" about a hard-as-nails U.S. Attorney with a heart of gold. It was pretty sad, wallowing in the cartoon-crusader hijinks that made the final years of Lou Grant so sickening.
Check out the plot: Right-wing radio personality's rhetoric convinces gun-toting nutball to kill family-man ATF agent. If that's too subtle for ya, Caruso's character made a big stink about not burning down the First Amendment in order to get at the evil Liddy/Limbaugh caricature. That promised to make the case much harder to prosecute until, who'da thunk it, it was revealed that the loony was NOT just a devoted listener and sometimes caller -- he actually got his marching orders directly during a face-to-face meeting with the talk-show guy. Both were convicted, with the shooter (who gave a Bazooka Joe Comix rendition of a "Republic of Texas"-style rant) receiving a ride on the hypodermic highway.
Now who do you suppose the writers trotted out to deliver this handy plot twist? Why, the crazoid's white-trash girlfriend. We knew that she's a redneck because when one of the intrepid junior prosecutors meets her:
Once again, too subtle? The show takes place in New York City, but the broad was obviously supposed to be from some hellish backwards-ass place like Frogdick, Kentucky. For example, when an attorney made a big show of turning off a tape recorder during an interview, she blurted, "Whut's thet fuhr?," like she studied diction under Granny Clampett. And then she revealed that her boyfriend drove a pickup truck (not an SUV). Still not enough? One of Caruso's assistants then ran a shuck on the numbskull in order to get her to spill the full beans. After the trial, Tylene confronted the legal eagle in a bar after the trial, and made a load of gosh-darned sorrowful noises. In order to prevent the mouth-breathers out in TV-land from thinking that that was their cue to start taking pity on her, she pulled out a Glock and took a shot at the lawyer. Get it? She was BAD!
I've never suffered a second of White Guilt. That takes inherited money. But I've not shown a lot of initiative when confronted by slurs directed against my own kind. Shit, when I ordered the damn book, the aging hipster behind the counter was intrigued by the title, and asked me what it was about. I hadn't heard much of anything at that point, and guessed that it was a celebration of white-trash culture. "Well," the dork sniffed, "as if that's something worth celebrating." I said something mildly rude in response. Now I want to go back and slam the pencil-neck's head into a turnbuckle.