Join 3,368 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

The Percentages
October 16, 2011 11:52 AM   Subscribe

The Percentages: A Biography of Class. An autobiographical essay about growing up in the working class (as the author defines it) and then meeting the middle class (again, as the author defines it). This is so far outside my experience that I can't even summarize it properly, but it's worth reading.
posted by d. z. wang (123 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Class Week" is Metafilter's Shark Week.
posted by GuyZero at 12:09 PM on October 16, 2011 [18 favorites]


I had a friend in Japan who grew up in Cincinnati, the youngest of nine kids. His parents didn't own a car, and he was the first of his siblings to graduate from college. He said he was so happy to have "escaped".
posted by KokuRyu at 12:22 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well worth the read, thanks for sharing.
posted by localhuman at 12:35 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have such complicated feelings about this essay. I want to like it, but I can't, quite. Every couple months, it seems, a well-educated person with working class or rural roots writes a blog post or article that boils down to, "I experience my working class roots by feeling a little awkward in hipster bars in Brooklyn. Trucker hats are exploitative!" I would like them to knock that off, because if you are so deeply working class or whatever, you can man up and say, "You know, my dad loves PBR. It's all he ever drank when I was a kid." You don't have to stay, but maybe you could stand up for those of us who live somewhere out here in America. And I would also like them to acknowledge, a little more honestly, that they moved to New York City because they weren't so thrilled with rural Ohio.

On the other hand, I think the essay is really about this:

Because of my father. Because of what happens when a child is abandoned by his entire family; what happens when a brilliant boy (and he was; he was intimidatingly smart, verbal, without having been educated past the age of fifteen) leaves school and settles in to a life of lawn-mowing and manual labor; what happens when a man waits until he gets married to become a child again and have a woman whose job is to take care of him, just him, no obligation on his end; what happens when that man learns to associate the presence of other children in his house with the idea that he’s not needed, that he’s going to be given away. What happens, when a man carries the weight of that much unfairness, when a man carries that much rage. My mother and my father waited a long time to have children, relatively speaking, but when they had them, that’s when he started drinking. And that’s when he started to beat her up.

And that is certainly wrapped up in class, but it isn't just about class. I've read and enjoyed Doyle's writing for years, and I think that is the most honest and unflinching paragraph I have ever read from her, and I applaud her for writing it. If she has to work on this class stuff to get to that much truth about her own life and the people she loved the most, about masculinity and parents and children, then I'll take it. I just wish she wasn't trying to write around it in the rest of the essay.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:43 PM on October 16, 2011 [17 favorites]


I meant, you can say those things while you are in the bar. Obviously, she is saying those things in this blog post to a large audience. I'm just a little bit over the sentiment that boils down to, "I moved to New York City from Rural Wherever and I was so shocked to find out that people in New York City looked down on people from Rural Wherever! I was so shocked I just sat in the hipster bar in sad silence!" New York City as the refuge/Oz for rejects from less-sophisticated parts of the country, who arrive at Port Authority and promptly refuse to travel outside the five boroughs lest they accidentally eat at a chain restaurant, is a basic part of the narrative of New York City in American pop culture. It bugs me that people act like they just discovered this.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:50 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Every couple months, it seems, a well-educated person with working class or rural roots writes a blog post or article that boils down to, "I experience my working class roots by feeling a little awkward in hipster bars in Brooklyn. Trucker hats are exploitative!"

Yeah, there are definitely bits in there when you feel like, "Did you not know? How did you not know?" But then it is so easy to forget what it is like to be young, what it is like, not knowing, and what it is like to spend so much time putting names to things you've always known, how it can cement things into place that had seemed mutable, undefined, strange and open: To realize suddenly, this is what I am and it is always going to be part of me.
posted by Diablevert at 12:53 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's pretty easy to forget how isolated the classes are from each other sometimes, and honestly, do you remember the stupid things you thought and didn't know when you where younger? Everyone who moved to NYC from a more working class background, do you remember What You Didn't Know?

I developed some nasty affectations that I've managed to hammer down into more charming, manageable chunks. It helps that these affectations have become inexplicably popular over the years
posted by The Whelk at 12:57 PM on October 16, 2011


I was so shocked I just sat in the hipster bar in sad silence!

I kind of get this, though, especially if one is in a new place. Especially if one is young. I don't think it takes you out of the "real working class" club if you have a mix of confusion and shame and fear about how you don't fit in (even though you really want to, kind of, you think) and that keeps you silent sometimes. Zero percent of my friends in high school whose parents were doctors or professors ever remotely hinted that I was Less Than because my mom was a secretary, but to acquaintances I would say that she worked at Harvard Medical School (which was true), and nothing more.
posted by rtha at 1:04 PM on October 16, 2011


I dunno, though, the more I think about it, the end of her essay makes clear to me a lot of what I don't like about this discourse of privilege. It's not that I think that she's wrong. I think she's right: To say, we are the 99% is to blur and and blend many true distinctions. But I don't think you can build a movement for change always remembering that we are all very different and have many perfectly legitimate reasons to despise each other.

One can say, of course, that recognizing that another group has privileges I don't have is not the same as giving oneself license is to despise that group. But I think it end up being rather like hate the sin but not the sinner --- a difficult trick for all but the most generous of human natures. To want to cling to that sense of distinction is understandable. But I don't know that it's helpful and effective.
posted by Diablevert at 1:09 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


This article really resonated for me; I pretty much went through the same experience at 18 when I moved from a small town in North Dakota (and was seen as poor even for the area) to a private art college in Detroit full of well-off students. Granted, my experience was about a decade earlier than hers, in the late 90's....but reading her words dredges up the feelings and the confusion I felt at that age that I haven't thought about for years.
posted by Windigo at 1:25 PM on October 16, 2011


Trucker hats are exploitative?

It's not like a person wearing a "trucker hat" is either a trucker or someone ironically making fun of truckers, is it? Where I grew up, long before I had ever heard of this recent "hipster" phenomenon, trucker hats were everywhere. In fact I didn't even realize there was a thing known specifically as a "trucker hat" until relatively recently, and I wouldn't have distinguished between mesh and non-mesh "baseball caps", as we called them.

As for "... with the John Deere logo", John Deere gives you a free cap when you purchase something like a riding mower from them. I know this because I have one, having purchased a riding mower from them. Is it exploitative of me to wear it?
posted by Flunkie at 1:26 PM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think one of the strangest things about being working class is something she articulates very well: when you grow up there are all of these words that you don't have, and you don't even realize you don't have until you move into a different social circle. And then because your new peers have all of these words that you don't, they occasionally drop things into conversation as if it's so obvious that it's barely worth mentioning, but it's such a new way to define your experience--and generally it's not a very nice way--that it's really hard to do anything other than sit there and dumbly process it.

The first time that happened to me, I was in high school, because my parents found a way to send me to a fancy prep school. And my Junior year, I was talking with a friend about a guy I had a crush on, and I said something in the conversation--jokingly--about being really nervous around him, and how that was ridiculous because it wasn't like I thought he was a serial killer or like I was worried he was from the wrong side of the tracks.

And my friend laughed and said, not trying to be mean, just being factual, "That's because you're from the wrong side of the tracks." And apparently it was hopelessly naive of me to have gotten to age 17 and not have realized that yet, but there we were. For all of the complaining I'd done about my hometown, I'd never considered framing it like that before.
posted by colfax at 1:34 PM on October 16, 2011 [22 favorites]


It's pretty easy to forget how isolated the classes are from each other sometimes, and honestly, do you remember the stupid things you thought and didn't know when you where younger?

The first time I made a friend from the working class I was 19, to be honest I'm not sure I even knew anyone my own age whose parents weren't professionals or business owners until my late teens or so.
posted by atrazine at 1:42 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not like a person wearing a "trucker hat" is either a trucker or someone ironically making fun of truckers, is it?

Yes. Yes, they are.

The trucker hat phenomenon is similar to the hipster phenomenon, in that it's a deliberate façade of authenticity. "Inauthentically authentic."

"Look at me! You know that I can afford a more expensive hat than this plastic freebie. Isn't it strange that I would wear something like this? Isn't it strange that we -- the fashionable -- would wear something normally associated with people of a lower class? Isn't that cool?"

PBR doesn't taste good. It's not even cheap anymore, and it's not hard to find. But that's not the point.

Imagine if the author were black, and was deriding a bunch of white kids affecting over-the-top manner and fashions of "wiggers." Imagine that the author thought this was racist. Would you say the author was off-base, or no? It's the same thing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:45 PM on October 16, 2011 [12 favorites]


I have to begin to break that 99 percent apart...

To me, this attitude (which I have seen repeated in other places, not just here) is one of the most dangerous threats to the burgeoning 99% movement. No wonder the authorities can tolerate protest - it will be undermined from within.

The mistake is exchanging a concept of class that derives from your position in the economy -- you are working class if you exchange your labor for money; you are part of the capitalist class if you extract profits by owning the means of production -- for a culturalized concept of class that sets the working class against itself, dividing it into beer-drinking NASCAR fans and latte-drinking NPR listeners. We know who benefits from such ideas.

Sexism, homophobia, racism, cultural classism, religious fundamentalism - these are all false divisions designed to obscure the fundamental antagonism in society between those who work and those who own. Our exploitation in the capitalist system is repressed and prejudice against those with whom we share a common interest returns as the symptom, so we end up blaming each other for these problems instead of seeing their roots in the economic system.

The 99% movement is not forgetting about other forms of oppression, it is addressing them in their true form. As Walter Benjamin put it, every fascism is an index of a failed (anti-capitalist) revolution. Erasing these divisions is precisely what we need to do.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:47 PM on October 16, 2011 [75 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, again, where I grew up, so-called trucker hats were everywhere. Kids wore trucker cats all through my youth. When I moved to college, young adults wore them there too. Maybe all of those other people wearing them, over the span of decades, associated them with truckers and were somehow trying to be a "deliberate façade of authenticity", but if so, I never, ever noticed. Over the span of decades. For many, many people.

They were just a neutral clothing item. They were not some sort of statement about how much cooler than the lower class we were; I frankly didn't even associate them with the lower class at all. We wore them just as much, and non-ironically; that you associate them with the lower class is your thing, not everyone's.
posted by Flunkie at 1:50 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


""I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half."
posted by The Whelk at 1:50 PM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Kids wore trucker cats all through my youth.

"Now that is hardcore."

"Nah, man, old news. I was down in Red Hook the other day, dude was rockin' a trucker lynx."
posted by gompa at 1:53 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


In all seriousness, though, I think these are important conversations to have. If wondering as to the nature of class solidarity between the working poor in the Rust Belt and the freelance culturati hanging out in Brooklyn with degrees from elite schools is more than this nascent movement can handle, then it wasn't much of a movement.

I think there is solidarity - maybe the proper neo-marxian phrase would be something like means of finance instead of production - but you've got to be able to talk it through. It has to be comprehensible to everyone. If the 99% hold together only insofar as they accept on faith their joint membership, the talking points that break the thing to bits will be handed to the unconvinced by the loyal minions of the 1% toiling at Fox News and the New York Times and the rest.
posted by gompa at 2:02 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


They were just a neutral clothing item.

To you they're a neutral clothing item. To a kid that went to Sarah Lawrence and now works in "new media" and lives in Williamsburg, they're a symbol.

Again, why did white kids in Greenwich, Connecticut memorize the lyrics of N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton? Because it was symbolic of something "authentic" that lay outside of their day-to-day experience.

Throw some ironic detachment into the mix and SHAZAM you have a hipster.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:03 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Everyone who moved to NYC from a more working class background, do you remember What You Didn't Know?

Apparently the things I like to eat are incredibly tacky.

I didn't realize that people seriously ate organic/free range/whatever food or cared about humane animal husbandry.

I didn't realize that pop (excuse me, soda) is also considered low-class by a lot of people!
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:04 PM on October 16, 2011


I know at least one person with a solidarity motherfucker tattoo
posted by The Whelk at 2:05 PM on October 16, 2011


This seems like a rehash of the insanely terrible "hipsters are co-opting some aspect of my culture, and I hate them" argument with a little bit of class bait built in to generate more debate. Fundamentally, there's the idea that the city people somehow fail to understand the culture they're referring to, but who says that's true?

What jumped out at me:

I didn’t have a way to say why it made me uncomfortable when people picked on George W. Bush for his accent or his language, or called him a “hick,” when they seemed to suggest that the main problem with this racist, sexist, homophobic, extremely wealthy white man was that he was not sufficiently sophisticated or urban

But what made George Bush a "hick" was his stupidity, racism, sexism, and homophobia, not his accent. Nobody would claim he wasn't rich or educated enough, or that he came from the wrong family. Nobody calls Bill Clinton or Lyndon Johnson a hick, despite the same markers.

These are the same values that every generation that climbs the ladder looks down on, just like a second- or third-generation immigrant is ashamed of his family for acting like they did in the old country. Meanwhile on the Internet they call out 'hipsters' or 'city people' for poking fun at their culture. and accuse them of not being '99%' enough -- not like their sainted ancestors rushing to move out of the neighborhood while it was "getting bad."
posted by zvs at 2:06 PM on October 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


Imagine if the author were black, and was deriding a bunch of white kids affecting over-the-top manner and fashions of "wiggers." Imagine that the author thought this was racist. Would you say the author was off-base, or no? It's the same thing.

No, I would say the author of that hypothetical piece is classist. You know the people you call "wiggers" aren't being ironic, right?
posted by zvs at 2:08 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


They were just a neutral clothing item. They were not some sort of statement about how much cooler than the lower class we were; I frankly didn't even associate them with the lower class at all. We wore them just as much, and non-ironically; that you associate them with the lower class is your thing, not everyone's.

Well, that depends: do you consider truckers to be lower class? If no, then no.

"trucker hats as fashion item" was a thing that began in hipster circles around 2000-2002. It was an early manifestation of the whole Hearst mountain man thing which is still popular, though the hats themselves have faded. As a fad, they passed out of avant garde fashion around the time Ashton Kutcher started wearing one, which was before he married Demi.

But anyway, the trucker hats fad was merely the early '00s version of the artsy set's eternal embrace of the "authentic" apparel of some other subculture in order to sartorially distinguish themselves from the toffs of their time. In 19th century New York, it was central European/gypsy culture ---- thus "bohemians." in the 20s there was a fashion for Breton fisherman's gear --- berets and sweaters and espadrilles, I can't point you to the Dorothy Parker sketch making fun of this. The 60s had Nehru jackets and peasant skirts. You can find examples from any era.
posted by Diablevert at 2:11 PM on October 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


"Beardy" not Hearst. Stupid phone.
posted by Diablevert at 2:12 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


i can't help but wonder what it's like the other way around - for someone from an affluent upbringing in nyc to find themselves in a rust belt town - where, i might add, PBR is cheap
posted by pyramid termite at 2:13 PM on October 16, 2011


it means they're doing dollar shots and PBR and then I don't remember how I got home.
posted by The Whelk at 2:13 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can someone define a trucker hat for me? I googled them and they look like baseball caps to me? I think I a missing some context.
posted by bq at 2:14 PM on October 16, 2011


IMO, this is a great piece of writing which adresses this thing confounding mefites and hipsters alike: how can it be that white working class Americans hate liberals and vote against their own interests? I'm not suggesting this is all of the answer, but I know from experience it is part of the answer.
posted by mumimor at 2:16 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, if you agree that to me they are a neutral clothing item, then perhaps you shouldn't have answered my question "It's not like a person wearing a "trucker hat" is either a trucker or someone ironically making fun of truckers, is it?" with "Yes. Yes, they are."
posted by Flunkie at 2:16 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


PBR doesn't taste good

That's horseshit. It's as good an American lager as you can get without spending ten bucks a sixpack. Me and my beer-snob friends drink it by preference- although if you're in Texas, Pearl and Lonestar are pretty much the exact same thing as each other, and as PBR.

posted by hap_hazard at 2:16 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


They're just mesh ballcaps with foam frontpieces.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:17 PM on October 16, 2011


It's not even cheap anymore

To piggyback on hap_hazard's comment, it is too. I live in NYC and while I am a slovenly hipster, I love PBR above all other beers, because it's delicious and because a 24-pack is about $12 here in Queens. Usually $3 a bottle at bars, which is the same price as every other cheap beer.

posted by zvs at 2:18 PM on October 16, 2011


There was a lot of unpacking done in this essay and yet I have so many things I want to say about it that if I tried to untangle it all I would be here for hours and I'd be late to work.

Suffice it to say: Yes, yes, yes.

And I might suggest to those who are incredulous as to why the author might have been confused or upset by some of her experiences upon moving to New York may be lacking (or possibly may have forgotten) a sense of perspective.

Class-blindness is a luxury afforded only to those who are privileged enough not to be affected by class. That group is smaller and smaller these days, but many of those who are just now finding themselves affected (which includes most of those who started the 99 Percent movement, though it is showing signs that it may begin to grow more diverse) haven't really woken up to the way in which oppression has riven deep divides between people who should really be fighting together for a common cause.

One thing I've really noticed over the years is that, while I fucking love this community, there are a lot of people on MetaFilter who aren't really aware of this and who aren't aware that they're not aware. There are a lot of people here who think that their safe, middle-class situation (and if you're like me and you're living in a shoebox and struggling to pay rent because you're trying to make it on you're own but you know your parents will bail you out if you really start to sink, then you're still middle class, still safe, and still privileged) is the norm, and that being poor or working class basically means just not having as much nice stuff.

Being working class in this country means being afraid. It means living in fear that you are going to be run out of your home because you can't make rent. I means being afraid that if you get sick and can't make it to work for a week then your world as you know it will crumble. It means staying in a shitty, abusive relationship because if you run away then you have nowhere to go and you're worried that you'll end up sleeping in an alley. It means having no safety net, nowhere to fall back to, no stable ground under your feet. It means feeling like you're adrift on the sea in a storm and you're clinging to your life to keep yourself afloat but you know that tomorrow, next week, next month, you and everyone you care about might be scattered to the winds and sink beneath the water.

I don't know how cogent this is. I have a feeling that I'm going to be unpacking it for a few days now. This is a perspective that I myself have only been waking up to recently, and so much in this essay resonates with me that I really don't know what to do with it all right now. I am coming at this from the opposite direction that the author of the essay has, and it's been a pretty fucking rude awakening.

I love you guys with all my heart. This community is one of the finest, online or off, that I have ever been a part of. It's also, by and large (though with many exceptions) a fairly privileged group of people, and that tends to show in ways that are really fairly unpleasant to people who don't share your assumptions.
posted by Scientist at 2:21 PM on October 16, 2011 [93 favorites]


Again, why did white kids in Greenwich, Connecticut memorize the lyrics of N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton? Because it was symbolic of something "authentic" that lay outside of their day-to-day experience.

Not, of course, because it was an epic LP filled with great music and they enjoyed listening to it.

I mean, I don't identify with the "authentic" life experiences of Wolfgang Mozart or Frank Zappa or Snoop Dogg or Junior Wells, but you'll find all high up my playlist.
posted by three blind mice at 2:21 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nobody calls Bill Clinton or Lyndon Johnson a hick, despite the same markers.

I don't know about Johnson, but they certainly did say it about Bill Clinton.
posted by atrazine at 2:30 PM on October 16, 2011


It's a baseball cap made of cheap plastic and nylon, with a solid foam front where the logo is and plastic netting on the back. Official team logo baseball caps are usually made of cloth.
posted by Diablevert at 2:32 PM on October 16, 2011


Further to Scientist's comment, I'd direct people to Jack London's essay "The Abyss".
posted by eviemath at 2:33 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


John Deere gives you a free cap when you purchase something like a riding mower from them. I know this because I have one, having purchased a riding mower from them. Is it exploitative of me to wear it?

It might be, if you're living in a place where there's a basically 0% chance that you'll ever use or encounter a John Deere product; in that case it's pretty clearly an affectation and it's hard not to assume it's being meant ironically, which can be offensive. I don't know how many JD dealers there are in Brooklyn but I'd bet it's not that many, and that there are a lot of JD hats floating around that weren't acquired in the purchase of lawn or farm equipment.

That said, it doesn't need to be ironic to be eyebrow-raisingly false. A few years ago when I went back to the town where I grew up (a rural but not 'country' part of New England*), I discovered that there was a very obnoxious faux-midwestern thing that had come into style basically overnight. There were people I'd gone to highschool with standing around in bars wearing cowboy boots and Stetsons, when I'm pretty confident the closest they'd ever been to a horse was a riot cop during a bad night outside of Fenway up in Boston. In that case, there wasn't anything ironic about the choice — it was a completely unironic aping of something from the media, which I think is sort of tied up in a search of 'white culture' that felt more genuine than what they actually grew up in (cf. Juggalos) — but it still rang pretty hollow.

In either case I think the behavior is springing from the same impulse, to try and fit into a particular group of people, using clothing as an in/out-group signifier ... but I find the ironic hipster culture-aping a bit more meanspirited than the misguided but well-meaning emulation of my highschool buddies. But I'm open to the idea that I may be somewhat biased, I suppose.

* Just as illustration, the sort of place where people have both "dress" and "casual" duck boots.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:34 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Scientist:
Being working class in this country means being afraid. It means living in fear that you are going to be run out of your home because you can't make rent. I means being afraid that if you get sick and can't make it to work for a week then your world as you know it will crumble. It means staying in a shitty, abusive relationship because if you run away then you have nowhere to go and you're worried that you'll end up sleeping in an alley. It means having no safety net, nowhere to fall back to, no stable ground under your feet. It means feeling like you're adrift on the sea in a storm and you're clinging to your life to keep yourself afloat but you know that tomorrow, next week, next month, you and everyone you care about might be scattered to the winds and sink beneath the water.
I grew up about as middle class as you can get, and I have had the incredible good fortune of never truly knowing what it's like to be poor.

For me, John Scalzi's Being Poor was revelatory.
posted by kristi at 2:35 PM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


AlsoMike, I would like to say that while I fundamentally agree with what you have to say about how the division between workers and capitalists (the 99% and the 1%) and not between "culturalized concepts of class", I think that these culturally-created classes are nonetheless real in divisive effects that they have within our society. Furthermore, I would suggest that it is the responsibility of all of us but especially of those of us who have been, through privilege, able to ignore the destructive effects of these divisions, to address these divides if we are going to be able to effectively unite and challenge those in power.

Lastly I would like to say that the first step to addressing and overcoming these divisions is to acknowledge them.
posted by Scientist at 2:47 PM on October 16, 2011


(Also, I'm getting a lot of good reading material out of this thread. Holy cow!)
posted by Scientist at 2:48 PM on October 16, 2011


So yeah apparently trucker hats are not the hipster thing anymore, I guess, which is why some people don't recognize them as a hipster thing? I think the hipsters kind of like that fringed jacket Native American appropriation thing now? So maybe not as relevant to this conversation.

And I might suggest to those who are incredulous as to why the author might have been confused or upset by some of her experiences upon moving to New York may be lacking (or possibly may have forgotten) a sense of perspective.

Yeah, I mean- I certainly know what it's like to feel out of place among people who didn't grow up the way you did. But I also feel like...after a certain point you need to own your life and your history. You need to realize a lot of rich people are assholes, and if they met your mom, they would like her, so shut up with the Peg Bundy jokes. Eventually I think you need to get a little Roseanne Barr on their sorry asses (which, again, good for Doyle that she is doing this work in public, but I think that when you grow up to be a professional blogger in New York City (even in Queens!), you have to acknowledge that you aren't quite so steeped in working class pride as you might want to believe yourself to be).

Note: above ground pool is not my secret, but it clicked with me more than this essay did.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:54 PM on October 16, 2011


She wasn't "steeped in working class pride." She grew up thinking she was middle class.
posted by rtha at 3:02 PM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Excuse me Snarl Furillo, but are you seriously saying she should have stayed back there in Ohio, in order to be sufficiently authentic?
posted by mumimor at 3:03 PM on October 16, 2011


I think that part of what will be necessary to address cultural classism and poor-bashing, though, is an awakening on the part of professional workers to the fact that they are still workers being exploited (albeit in different ways, sometimes with golden chains as it were) by the current economic system.

(To add to the reading list: "Poor Bashing", by Jean Swanson. On the topic of the cultural displacement felt by people who grew up poor or working class but have gained some upward economic mobility: for non-fiction and in the academic context I'd recommend "This Fine Place So Far From Home" ed. C.L. Dews, and bell hooks' "Class Matters"; for fiction, Anzia Yezierska, some of Dorothy Allison's work. A related good read that I discovered this summer is "Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie" by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz - if you've read "What's the Matter with Kansas" and wanted a little more detail on how exactly the Dust Bowl areas went from populist/socialist hotbed to economically conservative - also touches on some of the dynamics of classism.)
posted by eviemath at 3:09 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


a culturalized concept of class that sets the working class against itself, dividing it into beer-drinking NASCAR fans and latte-drinking NPR listeners

Is it your impression that the author did this, or that she suddenly came to realize that others had been doing so, and that she found herself on the wrong side of the divide? They were all middle class, remember, until they were not.

Yes, this is a threat to the 99% movement. It should be. To the poor this must look like the ultimate fairweather-friend movement. We're all in this together... so long as I feel vulnerable. If your first step in reaching out for help from those who have always been hurting is to deny the meaningfully different economic strata you occupy, why in the world would the bottom percentiles ever believe that whatever reforms you settle for at the end of the day (if it ever came to that) would have anything to do with them?

On another post of the day, there's a great comment about the rich not having to experience worry (and how this permits them to also take profitable risks). But does anyone think worry, for those of us who do experience it, is parceled out equally? I have that many more options to fall back on. My worries center around having to fall back on them. That's a luxury to others, and it does separate us. You better believe the poor should be suspicious of what remedies we'll put up with, because we do experience different concerns, or similar concerns in vastly different proportions.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:14 PM on October 16, 2011 [9 favorites]


Excuse me Snarl Furillo, but are you seriously saying she should have stayed back there in Ohio, in order to be sufficiently authentic?

No! Definitely not! BUT one thing I did notice about the essay is that she doesn't seem to actually KNOW many working class people anymore. The people who stand for the working class in her mind- her dad and her Aunt Mimi- have either died or been cut out of her life. (Unless she is more in touch with her high school friends than she indicates in the essay, but I get the impression from the "as far as I know" about going to college that she isn't.).

I think the big revelation in the piece, for her, is learning how much money her mom made- she's always thought of her mom as middle class, and even kind of rich, but somehow that doesn't get as much attention as I hoped it would. The whole essay, to me, reads as her apologizing to her dad for choosing and embracing her mom's values. I definitely see why she would do that, but I don't think she did it for class reasons, and maybe that is why the essay rings a little false to me. I think the truest parts are about her conflicted relationship with her parents, which is at least like 36% about class, but also about violence and gender roles, and I don't think you can separate the three, I guess.

But also, yeah, I am a little frustrated by class literature written by people who are upwardly mobile but still want to hang on to their "authentic" roots. Some of us still live out here where the bars serve beer in pop-top cans, and we think about class, too. But I don't hear/see/read those stories as much, and that's a wider frustration for me. It's not just Doyle's piece.


She wasn't "steeped in working class pride." She grew up thinking she was middle class.


rtha, that's an excellent point.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:17 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


She wasn't "steeped in working class pride." She grew up thinking she was middle class.

And that's why she had no language for what she was experiencing. The problem is the American denial of class, which is very easy to see when you spend any time in the U.K. The working class there knows that they're working class and they don't feel ashamed of it because they're supposed to be and stay working class: they're not working class because they're losers who didn't work hard enough to get rich.

They were born that way, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Obviously, that presents issues of its own: but at least it doesn't provoke self hate the way our self-delusions about class do.

In America, we're all supposed to be rich and the working class and poor are bad people who don't try hard enough or are too lazy to get rich. So, you either pretend you are middle class or just haven't gotten rich yet (which is why the rich have to pay no taxes, so that when you get rich, you don't have to pay) or you feel like crap about yourself. And, it also gets confounded further by race and our issues there.

I think we're beginning to realize that this is nonsense, that we don't have the social mobility we're supposed to have to compensate for our lack of safety net and that maybe it's not such a great idea to think that being cruel to the poor will make them work harder and get out of poverty.

We're going to have to give up the part of the American dream that says that anyone can make it with hard work: it's simply not true, luck and support are also required. And believing otherwise simply creates cruelty and further inequity.
posted by Maias at 3:23 PM on October 16, 2011 [34 favorites]


Thank you for that, Scientist. "Being working class in this country means being afraid." This. A thousand times. I still battle with anxiety at picking up the phone because, as a kid, the people who called all the time were bill collectors.

I have a really good friend who grew up among the 1% and is solidly on his way to being a member himself (one of the reasons I stay out of the 99% movement conversations). The things we reveal about our childhoods just show how unfathomably different our experiences are to each other, and it informs a lot about what kind of people we are now. Everything from the way we look at purchases (risky to spend a lot of money, so I better buy the cheapest! vs. get the best quality possible so it'll last 10 years!) to the food we eat (not being picky because you grew up on cheap staples! vs. a real love for proper cuisine and expensive wine!). A lot of my choices in life are fraught with anxiety and stress over money and debt, even though I'm comfortably middle class now, all because I simply grew up with that relationship with money.

ALL THAT SAID... I really liked this piece and not the least because I finally understand this whole PBR-hipster thing. I'm going to sound super naive but I never heard of PBR outside of the "it's crappy beer that hipsters drink" and I've never met anyone who drank it, so, really, my impression was that it was one of those fancy organic gluten-free domestic free-range beers. Thank god I've been disabused of this notion before I make a terribly embarrassing mistake that my friends will never let me live down.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 3:37 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Class Week" is Metafilter's Shark Week.
posted by GuyZero at 3:09 PM


Yeah, well Metafilter could certainly use a lesson or two about class, seeing as we take race, gender, and sexuality so very seriously here (and properly so). I have lately noticed that our "Offensive" flag only mentions "racism" and "sexism" as reasons a posting might be considered offensive.

I've been weighing a MeTa on the subject, largely in response to this deeply offensive AskMe question and its execrable answers, which left me spitting mad for the last few days, except I don't feel like dealing with the inevitable shitstorm that would follow, and the usual accusations of caring too much about something other people think is just funny.

But just substitute "ghetto" or "black" for "red state" Americans and tell me that would not have been deleted with all due extreme prejudice, so to speak. Pure, unadulterated class bigotry. Ha ha ha fat and poor people shopping at malls!

Apparently, it's fine to hate on the poor around here if you can find a way to make obesity and insufficiently cosmopolitan styles of consumption humorous.
posted by spitbull at 4:03 PM on October 16, 2011 [22 favorites]


There is nothing more genuinely hateful than a thread on Metafilter about the subjects of class or food (subjects that are already deeply intertwined).
posted by chrisgregory at 4:11 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist: It's very interesting to me that many working class people are surprised that the middle class has these prejudices. Doesn't this demonstrate that the working class perceive the truth of what the fundamental antagonisms in society are? In naively seeing themselves in solidarity with the middle class, they see the truth. It is the middle class with their sophisticated bullshit about cultural differences who are deceived, believing that somehow they are not basically in the same position as the working class and will be spared when push comes to shove.

So actually, the greatest threat to class solidarity is precisely the cultural classism that Doyle insists on. It ends up with something like "We, the middle class, are naturally latte-drinking college graduates so we demand a return to our specific lifeworld. The authentic culture of the working class is in the trailer parks accepting meager handouts and drinking beer, so that should also be restored..." That is avoided by getting rid of these empty cultural differences and replacing it with an abstract category like the 99% that includes everyone based on their position in the economy. I personally prefer the old-fashioned Marxist division between labor and capital, but OK, close enough.

The question of whether the demands of the 99% will be reduced to restoring middle class privileges is a good one, but it is better addressed by asking who best symbolizes a class unified by and defined by oppression and exploitation. Isn't it those who suffer the worst? It's a mark of the timidity of identity politics that Sady Doyle only asks whether the truly poor and oppressed are having their voices included, when they should be elevated into the very symbol of class struggle.

The reason she doesn't see herself represented in the crowd is because she, as a working class person, is the universal symbol. That fucker in the John Deere cap is rallying under her banner, with the slogan "Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me." - whether he knows it or not. But her engagement with identity politics prevents her from recognizing herself and asserting herself as the particular embodiment of the universality of class struggle, without which her predictions will come true.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:30 PM on October 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


"Being working class in this country means being afraid."

This. So many times. You never forget things like

- coming home and finding all your stuff on the curb because you've been evicted
- your parents having their one car repossessed by a loan shark after your father is fired and you live in a place that has no sidewalks or public transportation
- your mother unplugging the phone because she is getting calls every hour from a collections agency because she couldn't pay her hospital bill from when she tripped and broke her ankle
- having your power shut off because someone didn't pay the bill
- loosing a tooth because your parents haven't bothered to take you to the dentist and say they can't afford to
- waiting in line for hours to interview for food stamps
- your dad beats your mother, but she says not to tell anyone because she doesn't have a job and can't get one and we depend on daddy for money
- going to free medical clinics in terrifying parts of the city and waiting for hours to see a doctor for a simple thing like a UTI
- crying because your Medicare claim got denied and you don't know how you will pay the bill

These are things I and other members of my extended family experienced. My parents very consciously entered the middle class, but no matter how high we climb we feel in limbo (I remember my mom explaining to me in high school, when we were well off, why I wasn't getting invited to things like "cotillion," because I was a redneck nobody from a nobody family). You never quite shake the paranoid fear that it's all going to crumble and the collections agencies will be after you again and you won't be able to afford basic medical care again.

Unfortunately, a lot of poor people in the US are afraid of or untrusting of the government. Perhaps part of it is that the few social programs we have require that people get treated like absolute garbage in order to enroll in them (think your worst DMV experience times a hundred). I think this fear and paranoia are why my relatives continue to vote for Republicans. I get frustrated a lot by them because it just feels like they've given up on things altogether, but fear will do that to you. That's why they keep going on and on about "death panels," because they think the government is scary. Experiences like those listed above inculcate people with an immense sense of hopelessness.

I do think some of the young glitterati of Brooklyn are getting a taste of that fear. Now that "real" jobs for hipsters are scarce, many are learning how scary it is to freelance without health insurance and knowing that your ability to pay rent is not very secure.
posted by melissam at 4:56 PM on October 16, 2011 [30 favorites]


Unfortunately, a lot of poor people in the US are afraid of or untrusting of the government. Perhaps part of it is that the few social programs we have require that people get treated like absolute garbage in order to enroll in them (think your worst DMV experience times a hundred).

Quoted for truth
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 5:04 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I discovered that there was a very obnoxious faux-midwestern thing that had come into style basically overnight. There were people I'd gone to highschool with standing around in bars wearing cowboy boots and Stetsons,

Um, that would be either "western" or "southwestern.". "Midwestern" would be whatever was in style last year in California or NYC. At least that's what this Midwesterner observes.
posted by webhund at 5:09 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, I'm kinda glad the Trucker Hat derail has kinda petered out, but I just have to add a personal anecdote. My family in NW Oklahoma worked in construction supply and contracting, and there were Trucker-Style hats with "Robertson Supply" or "JD Graham Construction" were a part of my life. Everyone of my friends had a family member who un-ironically wore a 'John Deere' or 'Purina Mills Feed Co' hat, and being self conscious pre-teens, even in the grunge period, we were mortified of being so un-cool as our hick parents.

Then, someone, influenced by Weezer or "The Lonesome, Crowded West" and we realized that we loved irony, and could make fun of our parents by ironically wearing their old crap. In early High School (like 98-99) my friends started bringing their parents trucker hats and early 80s/late 70s classic rock shirts or our Bush "Sixteen Stone" t-shirts to school and it was deliciously rebellious. Then, somehow, LA and Van Dutch and Kutcher caught on a couple years later.

Lemme emphasize this. It was an ironic trend in my Oklahoma high school before it was an ironic trend in California.

Okay, okay, I know its either probably a coincidence or some kid from my school saw it in a Vice magazine or saw Brandon Boyd from Incubus do it first, and since we all had easy access to trucker hats it just caught on quickly so it only seems like Oklahoma started it, but I refuse to believe it. Oklahoma still plays AC/DC and Pearl Jam on the "Modern Rock" radio stations so if it makes me feel better to believe we started at least one trend, then by god I'm going to believe it.

By the way, wearing something ironically to make fun of your family is better than wearing it ironically to make fun or poor people, right?
posted by midmarch snowman at 5:15 PM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Ok, for George W. Bush, I saw cultural markers coming from him that to me represented a REAL kind of snobbery. For many east-coast immigrants from the Ellis Island era, higher education was the path to a profession, and though one's children might be excluded from certain clubby WASPY bastions, they could reasonably aspire to be educated, and become a doctor, writer, lawyer, etc. My uncle was a "Quiz Kid", he became a doctor.

And here was George W. Bush, the recipient of a Yale education he didn't deserve (I scored higher S.A.T.s when I was 13 years old in 8th grade than he did as a high school senior--yet didn't get in to the Ivy League), sneering at that fancy education stuff and thinking that in spite of such great wealth his family had a summer compound, in spite of a father President and grandfather Senator, by talking dumb he was one of the common folk... Wow, any deeper condescension is harder to imagine.

It wasn't just that he talked dumb--he was dumb, the content of what he said was dumb, his test scores and class grades were, from someone with such access to education, those of a dummy. He wasn't curious. He didn't appreciate complexity. He was dumb because he never had to be smart. He never had to understand people different from him because he was never powerless.

I think it'd be awesome if we saw a Rick Perry type candidate, someone not so highly educated and with cultural trappings closer to those who drink PBR unironically than NPR-latte set--if we saw this type of person admit humbly that he (or she) wished he could have been better educated and thought there was great value in book learning, understanding other cultures and history, in nuance and the finer points of philosophical debate. But it seems the "red state" culture is so hypersensitive of being looked down on that it can't value what people in blue states do.
posted by Schmucko at 5:24 PM on October 16, 2011 [17 favorites]


But what made George Bush a "hick" was his stupidity, racism, sexism, and homophobia, not his accent. Nobody would claim he wasn't rich or educated enough, or that he came from the wrong family. Nobody calls Bill Clinton or Lyndon Johnson a hick, despite the same markers.

So you're equating being from a rural community with being stupid, racist, sexist, and homophobic? Comments like this highlight how deeply divided the country really is.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:34 PM on October 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


This is a valid experience, and no you can't just tell these people "you're being rude, PBR is a valid beverage!" One essential component of class membership is that the other people in the class accept you as one of their ranks and if you're trying to get benefits, and by this I mean jobs that don't treat you somewhere between idiot children and lazy assholes, and being treated like a human.
posted by Phalene at 6:11 PM on October 16, 2011


So you're equating being from a rural community with being stupid, racist, sexist, and homophobic? Comments like this highlight how deeply divided the country really is.

No, I'm not. I grew up in a very rural place and don't think people there are much different from anywhere else.

I was referring to the actual people in the actual story being racist, and to noted actual human being George Bush being homophobic. Class isn't just urban/rural, it is also determined by (and a determiner of) behavior. The author in fact touches on this, and on the pervasive racism in her community, in the article.
posted by zvs at 6:28 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Also, George Bush is not in any sense from a rural community. I don't know where you got that.)
posted by zvs at 6:31 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bush bought a "ranch" just before running for president; he sold immediately after leaving office and m
posted by spitbull at 6:34 PM on October 16, 2011


Sorry. ...
And moved to a gated community in Dallas.

As Molly Ivins memorably put it, he was all hat and no cattle.
posted by spitbull at 6:35 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


The biggest epiphany I have ever had about class was this:

I'm 18, maybe 19, and my cousin has just gotten a job at a local bookstore. It's just a temporary thing for her as she's just looking to kill time before her university course starts. But her pay's not great. Hypothetically, would someone be able to survive on that salary alone? We calculate how much parking costs at the mall the bookstore is in, petrol, rent, food, expenses ... and we come up short every time. Yet evidently it's possible, because she has colleagues who do it. How do they make it work?

And my dad turns around and tells me, "They don't drink coffee at Starbucks. That's how."

Oh. Oh.

I'm not proud of how it took me so long to realise that. In my defence I had a fairly sheltered childhood, I went to a private school and all my friends were firmly middle or upper-middle class ... and yet I had spent several years by that point mucking around on internet forums, talking to loads of people from wildly different backgrounds. I should have thought of it, but I didn't.

It's very easy to assume everyone is just like you.
posted by Xany at 6:36 PM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Isn't it possible that hipsters in trucker caps are paying homage, by wearing said caps, to something authentic and unironic and, in a way, exotic --- and that wearing the John Deere hat has nothing to do with irony, but rather, with this kind of homage?
posted by jayder at 6:39 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I see you drinking a PBR (which is good cheap beer compared to Natty Ice/Beast/Keystone etc.) and wearing clothes that go with a certain occupation (cowboy, cop, biker, welder) I'm going to assume that you are one of those things. Cool deal.

If you are doing those things ironically, and are actually an accountant I will have no idea unless you explain it to me. As soon as you start explaining that you are ironically imitating someone I grew up with I will punch you. It won't be ironically.

You want to do something do it. Doing shit ironically is what got us into this fucking mess in the first place. "Of course I don't really believe in all that leave it to Beaver stuff, but I'll still vote for people who promise to bring it back." Basically, if you have to explain that what you are doing is irony then die. Just die.

You can say things ironically, but it is categorically impossible to do things ironically and everyone time people try they are guaranteed to be being an asshole to someone.
posted by Peztopiary at 6:44 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


jayder it depends. If they just like trucker hats then they'll say that. Maybe launch into a riff about how awesome truckers are. So in that case you are totally right it's an homage. As soon as it turns out they're wearing it ironically, that is to say reversing the intent of the trucker hat, well what's the reverse of an homage? Basically I just wish people would like each other more. Nascar is awful, that doesn't mean the people who enjoy it are and that doesn't mean I've got a need or a right to denigrate them based on it.
posted by Peztopiary at 6:52 PM on October 16, 2011


"solidarity is not sameness"

That kind of sums it up. I really enjoyed this piece - thought-provoking and powerful.
posted by naoko at 6:55 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I grew up on military bases. We never had to stress about which class we belonged to. The military puts your father's rank right on the name placard on the house. And officer and enlisted housing were separate and not at all equal neighborhoods. I knew exactly where I stood, and it wasn't in officers housing. I thought the officers kids were rich, and that I was middle class. It wasn't until junior high that I even attended school with civilians and met real rich kids.

And it wasn't until I was a college educated adult working 3 jobs to support my family that I realized I was not middle class growing up. The officers kids were middle class.
posted by COD at 6:56 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you are doing those things ironically, and are actually an accountant I will have no idea unless you explain it to me. As soon as you start explaining that you are ironically imitating someone I grew up with I will punch you. It won't be ironically.

Oh man no one tell him about leather bars.
posted by The Whelk at 7:10 PM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Vid: Pulp - Common People
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:30 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ashton Kutcher was from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. John Deere is based in the quad cities, two of which are in Iowa. I always figured he was wearing the hats as a way of staying in touch with his 'roots' or something. I don't think he was being ironic, or at least being doubly ironic where you loop back to doing the thing you would have done anyway but with an ironic detachment.
Durn Bronzefist: It's very interesting to me that many working class people are surprised that the middle class has these prejudices. Doesn't this demonstrate that the working class perceive the truth of what the fundamental antagonisms in society are?
One of the things that really surprised me following politics in general is that people hate the poor a lot of people anyway. I had always thought that people always just felt bad about the poor and that poverty was a social problem people wanted to fix. So it was kind of surprising to realize that there are people who loath the poor and feel like they deserve it. They don't say it that way, but that's what they mean.

And of course the fact that the poor don't think they're poor makes it easy for republicans to get the poor hating other poor people, and reaping their votes.
Unfortunately, a lot of poor people in the US are afraid of or untrusting of the government. Perhaps part of it is that the few social programs we have require that people get treated like absolute garbage in order to enroll in them (think your worst DMV experience times a hundred). I
Which, of course, is all thanks to the republicans who want to make those programs as difficult as possible to access. Because, of course, they hate the poor.

---

Also it's probably true that "the 99%" really mostly represents the middle class, college educated kids, but the policies they advocate (from what I can tell) would really benefit the poor and middle class.
posted by delmoi at 7:48 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm enormously perplexed by the conflation of 'working class' with 'working poor'. One of these things is not like the other.

I grew up a child of the working poor. I would have killed to be working class. That would have been champagne and freakin' caviar. That would have been security.
posted by gsh at 8:09 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


This lady, like so many others, is mad at the wrong people.
posted by Robin Kestrel at 8:13 PM on October 16, 2011


Wow. She is a hell of a writer.

Now I've just sampled the comments here and I'm getting a large dose of people missing the point. Read it with empathy you MFrs. This isn't an article about irony!

She has had some strong positive role models in her life and yet the circumstances of her upbringing are still stigmatic and she confesses to being steered by these anxieities at times.

Imagine the life of those without the lifelines she was presented with, continuing to live without hope and what resentments they might harbour to people doing only marginally better than themselves. That is what she is drawing attention to. You can't have 99% when 30% of that 90% are considered worthless.
posted by vicx at 8:14 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


kristi: "...I grew up about as middle class as you can get, and I have had the incredible good fortune of never truly knowing what it's like to be poor.

For me, John Scalzi's Being Poor was revelatory.
"

In a similar vein - I always choke up when I hear The Coup's "Underdogs"
posted by symbioid at 9:07 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The first time I made a friend from the working class I was 19, to be honest I'm not sure I even knew anyone my own age whose parents weren't professionals or business owners until my late teens or so.

I'm actively frightened of the working class.

I don't want to be. My family isn't rich, even though I grew up in a rich area, and I don't make any money. But I have this fear that if I hang out with a 'tradie' (the diminutive name they give tradesmen/manual laborsors) I'll get mocked or worse. So I stay in my hipster bubble, though the 'working class' probably make quadrapule what I make.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:56 PM on October 16, 2011


But man this essay kills me.

For me, John Scalzi's Being Poor was revelatory."

In a similar vein - I always choke up when I hear The Coup's "Underdogs yt "



Common People.

This lady, like so many others, is mad at the wrong people.

Sady always seems to be angry at the right people
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:03 PM on October 16, 2011


I can't see she's "mad" at anyone. She's describing stuff she deals with in her life. It's not meant to make you feel guilty.
posted by mumimor at 11:38 PM on October 16, 2011


Sady Doyle is always angry, and for good reason
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:45 PM on October 16, 2011


The Whelk I don't think people at leather bars are being ironic. Just because they are dressed in a way that they wouldn't ordinarily be doesn't mean they're making fun of leather daddies, bears, and bikers. It doesn't matter what you are, it matters why you are doing it, is I guess what I am trying to say. If you're doing it because it's fun then that's sweet. If you have to explain how you aren't doing it for fun you're doing it ironically then that's hurtful. Does that make sense or is it crazy talk?

Also I'm significantly less likely to punch people in bars with no warning than these posts read I swear.
posted by Peztopiary at 1:44 AM on October 17, 2011


Moralising about working-class people for a middle-class audience amounts to little more than class tourism.
posted by chrisgregory at 1:55 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's said over here (Britain) that Americans don't get irony. Irony is one of life's little delights and to be savoured. It turns pain and exasperation into something you can smile at.

But "doing something ironically"? Wearing clothes that are markers of someone else's likes not because you yourself like them but because there's no possible way you can like them. Alanis Morisette has a better understanding of irony than that. It's not called "doing something ironically". There are many things it would be called over here but they all amount to the same thing. Probably the one I'd use is "being a smug jerk."

Do people seriously do things "ironically"? As distinct from having a guilty pleasure? Or just enjoying doing it. And why?
posted by Francis at 3:08 AM on October 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


it is categorically impossible to do things ironically

If that were true, then this guy's life wouldn't make any sense.
posted by martinrebas at 4:16 AM on October 17, 2011


Metafilter: little more than class tourism
posted by waxbanks at 6:29 AM on October 17, 2011


Working class =/= lower class.
White collar workers and the middle class are still working class. It's about your relationship to production, not a relative term fixed loosely to economic income.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:47 AM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nobody calls Bill Clinton or Lyndon Johnson a hick, despite the same markers.

Yeah, let me add to the snerking about that, 'cos it's not so. I didn't move back to Texas because of the standard NYC/tristate assumption that all Texans are conservative nutjobs (exception: Molly Ivins) and stupid hicks, but it was certainly a factor that figured into my getting tired of that part of the world. I'm glad upper-middle-class folks in NYC are recognizing that they're in the 99% but from my own suspicion of them, I can only imagine what someone has significant class differences to them feels like.

(While we're on the subject of Molly Ivins, it was very interesting to read this essay in the middle of reading the biography of Ivins from a couple of years ago. I had forgotten she was a graduate of the same academically-rigorous and exclusive high school that I am, and had certainly not known the details of her moneyed background beyond that: her upbringing in Houston's wealthiest and most exclusive neighborhood and going on to Smith after high school. It was odd to realize that when I lived on the east coast, I adopted a lot of her coping mechanisms for dealing with the sorts of class and culture assumptions you get being a Texan living on the east coast. I can't tell you what it's like to see Brooklyn hipsters condescend to your class origins ironically or whatever, but I know what it's like to be condescended to because your origins make you somehow suspect, both from living on the east coast and from living in England as a teen.)
posted by immlass at 8:16 AM on October 17, 2011


Do people seriously do things "ironically"? As distinct from having a guilty pleasure? Or just enjoying doing it. And why?
'Doing something ironically' refers to a specific posture of pathologically self-conscious, self-regarding cultural performance. It signifies membership in one tribe (the ironizers, which by the way if you don't already know, differences in irony-centrality between generations are some of the deepest/windiest chasms to cross, damn) while working to scrape off some of the other signifiers attached to the tribe that originated the symbol.

Hipsters wore mesh caps because they felt anxious about having experienced financial security without even the faintest hint of responsibility or deep community connection, and it's easier to say Fuck It to all that and act the part of salt-of-the-earth type - not least when there's secret envy of the working class there, because the working class have something essential to do, i.e. work (to survive).

Hipsters are hipsters precisely because they have no other purpose; 'style' becomes their purpose.

No one who does anything substantive with her or his life gives a shit about 'ironic' clothing.
posted by waxbanks at 8:28 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do people seriously do things "ironically"? As distinct from having a guilty pleasure? Or just enjoying doing it. And why?

No, it's a made-up thing that people get accused of when somebody thinks they aren't acting in a sufficiently "authentic" way.

No one is drinking PBR to be ironic. It's just something people say who hate hipsters.
posted by enn at 8:53 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wearing clothes that are markers of someone else's likes not because you yourself like them but because there's no possible way you can like them.

Eh, I'd agree with Wax, it's a bit more complicated than that. The reason this or any other avant garde seizes on this stuff is party because they like it, they like something about it, though they know they are not of it. So they ape it, in order to suggest to the world that, unlike the other members of their class who value the superficial display of wealth and dress to show it, they care about deeper things, about authenticity and creative expression. My bank account says I'm a Rockafeller, but my outfit says I'm Woody Guthrie. the irony part come in because you and me know you're not Woody. And so you include the wink --- the blue denim shirt with the embroidered name over the pocket; but not your name (in 1996). The cheap nylon cap instead of the $60 kangol --- but with John Deer logo, when there isn't a dealership in 200 miles (in 2002). PBR instead of Bud Light -- because you're a poor starving artist so you want cheap beer, but you're not a frat boy. Once the pose becomes pervasive, of course, and the d-bags catch on, the trend moves. It's a way of saying you may have been president of the Footlights but when it comes to University Challenge you root for Scumbag College, to put it in early 1980s, UK-centric terms.
posted by Diablevert at 8:54 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


For me, John Scalzi's Being Poor was revelatory.
posted by kristi at 2:35 PM on October 16 [7 favorites +] [!]


This is how I grew up. Reading that list made me cry, and reminded me of how I'm at a kind of crossroads now. I'm at that age, and I want to start having children in the near future. I want to provide for them the things i never had-enough food to choose what you wanted to eat that day, rather than just eating whatever was in stock to make the hunger go away; or enough food so if you were the one who spilled the macaroni and cheese, you didn't have to go hungry.
But what about toys? Clothes? I want to teach them the value of people and even craftsmanship and handiwork. Nowadays when I want to own something, I want to make it, not to buy it. I want to teach my children how items and junk don't mean shit, how eventually it just sits in a pile with other broken stuff, rotting away the earth. How do I do that without also putting them into this kind of need that I grew up in?
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:10 AM on October 17, 2011


I'm still not seeing why people think hipsters wear those trucker caps ironically.

Fashion seems to begin with someone in the vanguard doing something because it's different and interesting, and then is followed by a bunch of people not in the vanguard following the lead of the person in the vanguard and adopting that same style because it has been signalled as "cool" by the person/persons on the vanguard who did it.

Lots of fashionable items are adopted because they're interesting/different/unique. I can imagine that in Williamsburg Brooklyn a cap that says Rex's Machine Works might be embraced because it's interesting and different ... and if that's the case, it is not ironic or condescending to the real, working-class people who wear that cap because they do business with Rex's Machine Works. And if you're one of the "authentic people" who wear a Rex's Machine Works cap and you're offended by an urbanite wearing it because it's interesting and different and want to punch them or whatever, then you're thin-skinned and hypersensitive.

I see stylish people wearing American Indian-themed apparel all the time because it's interesting, not because they are slyly ridiculing American Indians. Why suppose that it's any different with these bits of Americana such as trucker caps?

Lots of people wear things just because they're interesting. There's nothing ironic in that. And one shouldn't need a license to wear something from outside their assigned cultural milieu.
posted by jayder at 9:10 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is really excellent. Thanks for linking.
posted by odinsdream at 9:47 AM on October 17, 2011


I'm still not seeing why people think hipsters wear those trucker caps ironically.
I'm still not understanding why you think that's the most important thing to discuss about this essay.
posted by craichead at 10:07 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm still not understanding why you think that's the most important thing to discuss about this essay.

Because her entire argument is that she can't bear to march alongside hipsters who she feels are mocking her class by wearing trucker hats (and other symbols of the white working class) ironically. The fact that they aren't actually doing what she is accusing them of doing is pretty germane. She doesn't have any argument left after you get rid of the appeal-to-authenticity bullshit.

There are a lot of reasons to be suspicious of the 99% concept and to be concerned about the real differences in class and levels of privilege which it papers over. The fact that some people drink domestic beer who are not driven to do so by dire economic necessity is not one of those reasons.
posted by enn at 10:34 AM on October 17, 2011


She went to a bar called Trailer, which was decorated like the house she grew up in, and her friends referred to the decor as "white trash chic." Is the phrase "white trash" just a respectful avant garde homage, too?
posted by craichead at 10:56 AM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


No, it's an obnoxious phrase, but she's being completely disingenuous in pretending that her friends' use of it is somehow particular to New York, hipsterdom, or some urban elite in general. It's a term used across class and geographic boundaries in the US.
posted by enn at 11:36 AM on October 17, 2011


And the fact that friends call the bar's decor "white trash chic" is not necessarily indicative of what most people like about that bar. It's entirely plausible that people could like that bar's decor because it is refreshingly unpretentious, a blast from the past, feels like a trip into middle America, is fun to look at, etc. There are lots of ways to enjoy things (decor, fashion) that do not involve ridicule and condescension. A throwaway comment (white trash chic) by one person does not mean people actually go there to ridicule the poor. People could patronize that bar with the mindset of "my existence in NYC which revolves around the latest news in Gawker and attending gallery openings, and other bullshit like that, seems so vacant that it's fun to step out of that into this bar which gives a feel of a laid back unpretentious life." Not making fun of it, so much as thinking it's cool.
posted by jayder at 12:49 PM on October 17, 2011


You know, I don't think that hipsters were really the point of that piece. She just happened to end up among hipsters, rather than some other upper-middle-class subculture, so that's the particular story about realizing her place in the class hierarchy. If she'd ended up among suburban yuppies, she'd have a slightly different but still pretty similar story. But I've got to say that you all are not doing anything to improve my impression of hipsters.
posted by craichead at 12:54 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The song you want by Jarvis Cocker is this one. (note: NSF for those who can't deal with the way the Brits use the c-word, but trust me, it's worth getting over that). What astonishes me is that this was written *before* the crash.
posted by Maias at 12:56 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


My existence in NYC which revolves around the latest news in Gawker and attending gallery openings, and other bullshit like that, seems so vacant that it's fun to step out of that into this bar which gives a feel of a laid back unpretentious life.

I don't think that is a compliment or a celebration, though, is the thing. I don't want people to go on vacation in my life. It's my life, it's where I live. It's not Disneyland. People who go on vacation to somewhere laid back and unpretentious often don't want to live there.

There are real advantages to being upper middle class, or even just middle class. It's gross to want to come hang out with/emulate working class people because we/they are so laid back and unpretentious without giving up any of your privileges or taking on any working class struggles. We need more solidarity and less homage.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:29 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Stagger Lee: "Working class =/= lower class.
White collar workers and the middle class are still working class. It's about your relationship to production, not a relative term fixed loosely to economic income.
"

The "middle class" is the greatest myth perpetrated upon the vast majority of Americans. "Upper middle... Lower middle..." Hey, we're ALL middle class. (but if we say "working class" well - that's just them blue collar laborers who work shitty dirty jobs, and they're all kinds of... rednecks... ewwwwwwwwwwww"

And then they get the blue collar laborers who make a good wage to, you know... "Hey, we worked our way up and now we're 'middle class'"
posted by symbioid at 2:31 PM on October 17, 2011


I don't think that many of you can distinguish between genuine empathy and the crude simulation of compassion employed by narcissistic personalities to garner further attention to themselves.

I grew up in an industrial town to working-class parents. I found employment in a field which is dominated by the middle-classes, but I have never identified myself with the middle-class. I thoroughly dislike the middle-class, on the whole, and Metafilter does much to reinforce this prejudice.

To me the middle-classes are, essentially, status-obsessed self-serving hypocrites who alternately resent and despise the poor because, in a sense, they *made* the poor. The poor exist solely to make life more comfortable for those above, and there's some deep-down awareness of this. To some there is titillation and horror in imagining life amongst the Morlocks, as it were. To me it reeks of the pornographic and the voyeuristic, and I derive no pleasure from it.

Working class people are, on the whole, quite capable of communicating directly with the middle-classes, although many of them avoid doing so, finding the experience unpleasant. They do not need Sady Doyle to speak for them. But again, I suspect the piece was an effort to establish credibility and moral authority rather than being an expression of genuine compassion.
posted by chrisgregory at 2:32 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I find it strange how you prefer the "working class" over the "middle class" when they're pretty much the same thing, economically speaking. And then you somehow conflate "working class" with "the poor".
posted by GuyZero at 2:39 PM on October 17, 2011


(People could patronize that bar with the mindset of "my existence in NYC which revolves around the latest news in Gawker and attending gallery openings, and other bullshit like that, seems so vacant that it's fun to step out of that into this bar which gives a feel of a laid back unpretentious life." Not making fun of it, so much as thinking it's cool.

They could. But they still don't wanna be poor. Look man, I have argued in this thread that this ironic reappropriation bullshit has somewhat more complex motivations than "hah-hah, lookit the poor people." But that doesn't mean it that that edge of contempt is never present. Sometimes it is. The bar was called Trailer. And not say, Welcome to the Johnson's. (which is in fact a real bar with the same theme. Or was, anyway. Don't know if it's still around.) Trailer is a lot closer to Marie Antionette and her milkpail than the latter. One might argue that it's merely more obvious. But the ambiguity about how earnestly one is meant to take any such poseing is part of the kick. But it's the same shit the hepcats have been pulling St. Oscar ascended, cursing the wallpaper all the way.
posted by Diablevert at 2:41 PM on October 17, 2011


@GuyZero I used poor in the sense of a direction, like up or down. If you think that working-class and middle-class are pretty much the same thing then it's fairly obvious which of the two you sprang from. If I really wanted to explain myself to you, I'd send you off with a copy of Bourdieu's Distinction and a kick in the arse.
posted by chrisgregory at 2:55 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd send you off with a copy of Bourdieu's Distinction and a kick in the arse.

I did say "economically speaking".
posted by GuyZero at 2:59 PM on October 17, 2011


@GuyZero In that case you already knew the answer.
posted by chrisgregory at 3:01 PM on October 17, 2011


Wait, what the fuck did I write there? Sorry, my editor has the day off. To correct myself, what i really meant was the relative to "the poor" I find it odd that you made a distinction between the "working" and "middle" classes.

Even I should not be so stupid to flat out question your preferences. I should double-check my comments. Sorry about that.
posted by GuyZero at 3:04 PM on October 17, 2011


For generations Americans have had opportunities to rise above and climb the ladder through hard work and education. In less than a generation, in less than ten years, that American dream has been all but demolished. Suddenly college degrees aren't worth a squirt of piss. It was done on purpose too, through manufactured wars, corporate control of the government, outsourcing, reduction in force and a manufactured economic melt down.

So forget about trucker hats, PBR and funny t-shirts...there are only two classes here in the U.S. Those with great means and those whose ladder has been cut off. More importantly think of those of us with children or those who will eventually have children, who will have absolutely no prospects whatsoever. Their prospects, their futures, have been sold away...to the lowest bidders.

I'm down with Sady's sentiment, I love her essay, but she's missing the point, we're all missing the point if we're not down with the 99%.
posted by snsranch at 7:31 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I see stylish people wearing American Indian-themed apparel all the time because it's interesting, not because they are slyly ridiculing American Indians. Why suppose that it's any different with these bits of Americana such as trucker caps?

The question of conscious intentionality to disrespect vs. unconscious propagation of structurally disciminatory ideas and practices is not as simple as that. Class and ethnicity are not the same thing. Class and culture do not line up in lockstep. Class is a bundle of subjective and objective qualities, a constantly shifting relationship to a constantly evolving mode of production and its other structural classes, an interpretive stance, and an identity politics as much as it is government cheese or $9000 handbags or anything else one buys or displays to signal one's class affiliations. Class is always in motion. Class is how you say it, not just what you say. You can call someone a redneck as a sign of brotherhood or as a vicious insult, just like any ethnic term ("Indian" is an example). Terms and symbols can be appropriated, commodified, re-appropriated, de-commodified, used sincerely or with as many layers of intended or interpreted irony as the human mind can manage to process. History is layered deeply into any of these meanings. Education is a source of both status and insight, both critical awakening and the reinforcement of class biases. A society that professes equality and opportunity in its founding documents can still have slavery and debtors prisons and radically limited suffrage. One must understand the social, cultural, personal, historical, political, emotional/psychological *and* material dimensions of any person's social experience (or any community's, by extension) simultaneously to engage in a thoughtful analysis of what "class" means in that context or for that person.

"Class" has been both the most central dimension of social stratification (*and* mobility) and the most discursively obscured and suppressed in American history generally, and certainly during the era since WWII, the great postwar hegemonic compromise premised on a massive expansion of an industrial economy. Many of our symbols and concepts were formed in that era, and mapped onto older distinctions like urban/rural, intellectual vs. manual labor, cosmopolitan/parochial, the folk vs. the elite, north vs. south, and most especially onto distinctions of gender, race, ethnicity, and religion.

It just isn't a binary concept. Or a discretizable one. Class is a gradient phenomenon. One can inhabit more than one class identity or experience at different times in one's life (although class determines intergenerational life course in profound ways, most especially through the heritability of wealth, which we take for granted in the US as if it was a natural function, like private property itself). Classes can form strategic alliances and be divided among themselves through a range of well understood political and ideological techniques (or technologies, in an older sense), and here I am thinking primarily of Gramsci's analysis (which came up in a previous Occupy thread, rather unpleasantly), as well as theorists like Raymond Williams and E.P. Thompson, not to mention American scholars like Roediger and Lott, or more recently James Scott.

I could go on. But it's just so not reducible to gimme caps and beer brands. Really it isn't.
posted by spitbull at 1:00 PM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


@snsranch Hmm. I like your notion that there are only two classes now. There's nothing that quite gets the middle-classes upset like the threat of loss of privilege. See, for a very long time now, most middle-class people have devoted considerable time and effort to distinguish themselves from the working-class and the lumpenproletariat, all those people lower down on that ladder that you speak of. Well, except you may not realise this, but the ladder doesn't start at ground level, and it never did. Some people couldn't even get on it. And some of us, well, we could reach it if we wanted to, but maybe we were afraid of heights, or maybe we thought the whole fucking idea was horrible and wanted to set fire to the ladder and get rid of it entirely.

Now that there seems to be a gap in the ladder somewhere higher up, you claim, and you feel like your slipping down a bit, that doesn't mean we're going to be that happy to cushion your fall. Because you're the ones who've been up there, astride the human totem pole, and pooping on us. For quite some time now...I'm kind of reminded of that old comic of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and they're surrounded by Apaches, and the Lone Ranger says: 'Looks like we're in real trouble now, kemosabe'. And Tonto says: 'What do you mean we, paleface?'

It's all very nice to decide that you're part of the 99% now, and filled with all the joy de vivre that solidarity offers but, well, we don't really want you. Fuck off. We have our own, more serious problems to deal with.
posted by chrisgregory at 3:09 PM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think you have the power or the authority to make that decision for other people.
posted by bq at 3:57 PM on October 18, 2011


And some guy worried that his college degree no longer guarantees him a cushy job has that authority? Who gets to speak here? This is a forced amalgamation?
posted by chrisgregory at 4:04 PM on October 18, 2011


Well. Uhm. I'm Sady's mum. No I'm not, then I'd say Mom. But I'm Sady's mum in the sense that I'm one of thousands of boomers who believed class wasn't a big deal and we could marry the guy we loved and then it went terribly wrong.
Like Sady's mum, my way there had to do with disfunctional parents. I grew up poor (as in not having food every day), even though both my parents grew up upper middle class. I was brought up to be a upper-class snob, but I went to school with normal people who all had more regular meals than I. The working class guys were straight-forward and honest about things like food and clothes and rent. I loved that. If things have been different, I might still have become rich some day, but globalization etc... But I'm not at all here to complain. To the contrary - I believe in the dream, although I couldn't realize it. I'm proud my daughter is negotiating different class values, and I hope she grows up to be like like Sady. Critical, and knowledgable about both sides of the coin.
Like Sady's dad, my husband couldn't deal with my dreams and ambitions and went off the hinge.
My goodness, as I write this, I can see all the problematic contradictions. Obviously, I ought to erase my comment, but I'm thinking maybe you can see some of the issues here better than if I redacted it all and wrote a nice sensible post.
posted by mumimor at 4:19 PM on October 18, 2011


I'm accountable for myself, and I give others the same privilege.
posted by bq at 4:20 PM on October 18, 2011


@bq No, you were saying that I didn't have the right to speak. That's the opposite of what you've subsequently claimed. Are privilege and authority the same thing? can you tell the difference?
posted by chrisgregory at 4:23 PM on October 18, 2011


Since it's quite clear that I did not say you don't have the right to speak, I don't see further conversation being productive. I yield you the floor.
posted by bq at 4:28 PM on October 18, 2011


chrisgregory, you're wrong about that. Here in the U.S. the ladder really does start at the bottom. For a very quick and easy example, "new Americans" children who have just arrived in the U.S., if they qualify through some testing, can go to schools that guarantee college or uni acceptance. Then it is only a matter of funding which is usually taken care of by grants, tuition assistance or scholarships.

I'm very familiar with this and have personally written letters of recommendation. Therefore, I stand by my original comment. If you really want to take me to task, I think where I'm wrong is in not considering Native Americans. If I have time, I'll work on that one too.
posted by snsranch at 7:29 PM on October 18, 2011


It's entirely plausible that people could like that bar's decor because it is refreshingly unpretentious

Unpretentious, you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
That bar is all pretense. It doesn't have those interiors because it's actually a trailer and the furniture they could find happened to look like that, the interior is designed to give a particular impression. Like a stage.

Something is not unpretentious just because the illusion it is seeking to create is that it's inexpensive.
posted by atrazine at 3:34 AM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's entirely plausible that people could like that bar's decor because it is refreshingly unpretentious

I haven't been to that bar, but I'd bet the point of it is not unlike the "white trash parties" I've been invited to (but not attended)--I and most of my friends grew up middle class, but some people apparently enjoy dressing up as and mocking their economic "inferiors." It's repugnant the way "People of Wal-Mart" is repugnant, and it shows antipathy where empathy would be better used.
posted by psoas at 9:42 AM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


« Older Jamie Johnson, a heir to the Johnson & Johnson for...  |  Eastbound & Down v. Star Wars ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments