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Fashion in American Popular Culture

"How do you circumcise a redneck? Kick his sister in the mouth." This is a joke that one of my students was telling another student in the hallway outside of my classroom. Having been raised in a community that is known more for its ability to raise up sawmill and factory workers than bankers and the other captains of capitalist industry, I found that joke to be offensive, especially coming from an upper-middle class nineteen-year-old who drives a better car than I do.

It disgusts me when I see people make fun of the poor. I am not disgusted because of some altruistic kinship I have with the downtrodden of American society, but because of my being intrinsically connected to those same people. Although my wife and I have managed to break the manacles of abject poverty, sometimes I am still ashamed that my bills far exceed the 789 dollar Social Security check that my grandmother raised me on. Sometimes I feel like a class traitor—especially when I hear redneck jokes from upper-middle class students and don't say anything about it.

In the winter of 2000, I bought tickets to the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" and got to hear Jeff Foxworthy tell redneck jokes up close and personal in Will Rogers Coliseum. I also got to hear Larry the Cable Guy explain that Al Gore lost the election because a handful of rednecks in Dade County, Florida, didn't know how to operate a voting machine. I suppose if those same machines were designed to look like video poker or cigarette machines then our political landscape would be looking a whole lot different right now. I enjoyed the show because I was a redneck, and it gave me the nostalgic feeling of being on my grandma's back porch cracking jokes with my uncle and cousins. At the same time, I was offended because an obviously (and ostentatiously) upper-middle class couple was sitting in front of me laughing louder than I was.

When I started college, I quickly became familiar with the term multiculturalism. In fact, I had to write a paper on it when I was enrolled in English Comp II. I understand that in this day and age, American society is far too civilized to use terms like "wop, mick, Jap, or spic" because those racially charged terms are hurtful, and society should promote cultural diversity. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, that same multicultural society had become extremely sensitized to pejorative terms like "diaper head" and "camel jockey," fearing that Arab-Americans would become the new "racial other" on which society could dump all of its racial hatred. Oddly enough, my most vivid memory of 9-11 comes from my driving to my home at UTA housing after I got off from work: It was two a.m., and there was a UTA police officer walking around my apartment complex. Curious as to why the police officer was stalking the parking lot, I asked him what had happened. The officer explained that there were a lot of international students in my building and the administration was concerned that some of the "rednecks" might want to avenge the terrorist attacks, so they assigned him to parking lot duty just to make sure that no one got hurt.

Looking back, I can now see that there are other examples of how the "redneck" is marginalized in twenty-first century America, but it took some homespun wisdom from one of my fellow rednecks to send me down the path to a cultural understanding—a redneck epiphany. Over the winter break, my wife and I went to visit my family in southeast Missouri. I hadn't been home in nearly five years and had the romantic vision of a nostalgic return to the happy days of my young adulthood only to discover that I was much like Richard Hoggart’s Scholarship Boy. (One of my friends asked me if it was possible to run a cable to the moon and "ski lift" the necessary equipment to build a colony.) My last hope for those thrilling days of yesteryear came with the Saturday night ritual of going to the local roadhouse and drinking beer with my best friend from high school. Joey and I talked about our glory days and caught up on all of the things that we had been doing. He was very impressed with my being in a Ph.D. program and then said, "Well, thank God you didn't turn out to be a liberal."

I was fascinated by his comment - and insulted. I had always thought of myself as being a liberal person. I always voted for the Democrats in Presidential elections and almost always voted for the Libertarians for everything else. I was a real "live and let live" kinda guy. "What do you mean liberal," I asked?

"Well," he said, "that's usually what happens when people go off to college and get smart - they turn into liberals. They start talking about tolerance and how we're all just a bunch of dumb rednecks for thinkin' the things we think and doin' the things we do. All they talk about is tolerance. I don't really understand this tolerance thing. If you're supposed to tolerate everybody, then why can't they tolerate me? Is the only time intolerance is all right is when you are being intolerant of the intolerators? Isn't hating the haters still hate?"

I didn't really know how to answer him. I thought about it for awhile and about all of the Jeff Foxworthy jokes and about the September 11th memory, and a whole host of other things bombarded my psyche. In a Marxist sense, I suppose I could blame it on my material surroundings, the empty shoe factory, the abandoned lead mines, the sawmill, the material means of production, but somehow I no longer saw all of the incidents that involved the pejorative term "redneck" as being disjointed happenings, they suddenly became a clear and cohesive chain of events that led to an undeniable reality that I wish I could choose to ignore. I left Missouri five years ago to make my mark on the world. I turned my back on my hillbilly upbringing and tried to culture myself so that I could, as my grandma says, "be somebody." I was too blind to see that I already was "somebody" and that all of the institutions and social circles that I sought membership in thought that my kinfolk and community were less human than themselves.

I went to Missouri hoping to relive my nostalgic past and was disappointed to find that Heraclitus was right. You can't step in the same river twice.

I left Missouri and drove back to Texas mad, mad that I had busted my ass for the last five years just to suddenly discover that I was society's "other." I had spent my entire life feeling somewhat privileged and, at times, somewhat guilty, that I was white. But whenever times got tough, I could always sit back and say, "It could be worse, you could be a minority." Because I had that mentality, it was extremely disconcerting to wake up and find that me and mine are just a bunch of racial others. It was much worse than being "pigmentally challenged." We were not racial others because of some superficial characteristic of skin color. Our lot in life was much worse. We were poor and uneducated. We were rednecks.

Like Dorothy Allison writes in Trash, I, too, believe that me and mine are the "men who drank and couldn't keep a job; women, invariably pregnant before marriage, who quickly became worn, fat, and old from working too many hours, and children with runny noses, watery eyes, and the wrong attitudes.” Now, like Barbara Eirenreich, I feel that "sitting at a desk all day [is] not only a privilege but a duty: something I [owe] to all of the people in my life, living and dead, who [have] so much more to say than anyone ever [gets] to hear." So let’s begin.

Racial Identity
"Recently," writes Matt Wray, "a great deal of critical writing has centered around the notion of whiteness and white racial identity." In Queering the Color Line, Siobahn Somerville writes, "The challenge is to recognize the instability of multiple categories of difference simultaneously rather than to assume the fixity of one to establish the complexity of the other." It is within this challenge that, according to Wray, "many works on whiteness call for recognition of the ways in which whiteness serves as a sort of invisible norm." Wray also cites the work of minority intellectuals like Toni Morrison and bell hooks writing that they "have called for whites to reevaluate themselves and their identities" because they, like Dr. Charley Flint, an African-American woman, and Lowell Thompson, an African-American male, who are both members of The Center for the Study of White American Culture, believe that whiteness, posited as the norm, is "an oppressive ideological construct that promotes and maintains social inequalities, causing great material and psychological harm to both people of color and whites."

For Louis Kushnick, "racism developed as a dominant ideology which is supportive of the capitalist world system. It legitimized the conquest, enslavement, and super-exploitation of people." In addition to the effects that racism has on ethnic minorities, Kushnick writes, "the ideological effects of racism have confused the metropolitan white working class as to the basis of its privileges." For Kushnick (and others), racism is an ideology that prevents the working class from becoming conscious of the common experience that they share and enables the capitalist class to exploit them. By propagating the myth of "white privilege," the bourgeois class duped the white working class into believing that they had non-monetary privileges in society that make them better than the ethnic minorities.

It is through the articulation of these non-monetary benefits that the Jim Crow laws in the American South were put into place. For example, Siobahn Somerville introduces Queering the Color Line by summarizing the experience of Homer Plessy, the plaintiff in the landmark civil rights case, Plessy v. Ferguson. In addition to Plessy v. Ferguson being the precursor to more than a generation of institutionalized segregation under Jim Crow, it also enabled the status quo to shift the masses’ attention from socioeconomic factors to those that simply involve the color of skin through the creation of a false dichotomy of black and white. Looking back over the history of America during this landmark decision, we would not easily draw the parallel between the Jim Crow laws and the status quo's attempt to mainstream Populism into the political hegemony. Thomas K. Gross pointed out that, "according to Keith W. Medley in his book We, as Freeman, some faulted the legislation for failing to exclude 'low white people of the worst possible stamp, and the Chinese, both more obnoxious than most colored[s].'" However, if the laws of the land were that overt in their discrimination against poor whites, then Populism would not have been so easily assimilated. The Jim Crow laws gave poor whites a pseudo-Marxist false consciousness of being better off than African-Americans and other minority groups and being next to last is not as bad as, to use a hickism from Whitetrashistan, Missouri, "sucking hind tit."

"Support was given," by the status quo in overturning the Jim Crow laws, writes Kushnick, "in order to direct the black struggle away from class questions and alliances with the left and toward its incorporation into the existing class system." In simple terms, the status quo never really went away, they just switched sides. Instead of promoting white privilege, they began a campaign of multicultural understanding where whiteness became a fixed non-racial and non-cultural norm against which every other ethnic and cultural experience was posited. In doing so, Kushnick writes that although "the white male working class has been at the top of these hierarchies, its position is hardly a satisfactory one" because "wage increases and full employment are no longer secure" and "jobs for their children, particularly their sons, are disappearing." In addition to these primary benefits, secondary benefits are also being diminished because "educational opportunities for working-class youngsters at every age level are being constricted, and existing social services are being reduced." As the granting of privileges diminishes, the legitimacy of the system becomes endangered, and the system begins to rely on scapegoating to maintain order.

Wray writes, "Far too often, admission into the multicultural order depends upon one's ability to claim social victimization.” According to Marx, cultural forms emerge in specific historical situations, serve particular socio-economic interests, and carry out important social functions. Seen in terms of the myth of whiteness, multiculturalism is merely an ideology employed by the "ideological state apparatus" of the American education system that shifts the focus of racism from being one of exclusion to one of inclusion. However, this paradigm shift fails to consider that racism is an ideological social construct to cover up class distinctions. Just as there is the myth of whiteness, there is also a myth of racism. Both whiteness and racism are, at best, distractions to keep the material reality of class-consciousness subliminated. Doug Kellner argues, "Ideology is a critical term for Marxian analysis that describes how dominant ideas of a given class promote the interest of that class and help to cover over oppression, injustices, and negative aspects of a given society." By defining equality in terms of opportunity rather than in terms of condition, capitalist America can provide the working class with the illusion of equality while it continues to exploit them. Nearly every business, educational institution, and government entity has an equal opportunity clause that reads something like this: "We do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or [pick a euphemism for handicapped]," constantly reminding its citizens that America is the land of equal opportunity.

Allan Berube knows this inequality all too well. He writes, "Other whites who looked down on us because of where we lived could call my whiteness into question. Ashamed, I kept these and other social injuries to myself, channeling them into desires to learn about how to act and look more white, and to find other ways to move up and out of this life that more and more felt like a trap I had to escape." Annalee Newitz writes, "When middle-class whites encounter lower-class whites, we find that often their class differences are represented as the difference between civilized folks and primitive ones. Lower class whites get racialized, and demeaned, because they fit into the primitive/civilized binary as primitives."

Many theorists in Cultural Studies throw the word “race” around, but few people define what they mean by this nebulous term. Webster's defines the word as being "a family, tribe, people or nation belonging to the same stock" and "a class or kind of people unified by community of interests, habits or characteristics." Webster's also defines race as "obsolete: inherited temperament or disposition.” Siobahn Somerville writes that, for her, "the term 'race' refers to a historical, ideological process rather than to fixed transhistorical or biological characteristics: one's racial identity is contingent on one's cultural and historical location." Somerville also writes that Turgee's legal argument for Homer Plessy in Plessy v. Ferguson "reveal[ed] the existence of a cultural desperation regarding rights in language and the control of language over the social construction of identity." If society allows ideology to control the language and define race exclusively in terms of whiteness and non-whiteness, then it enables the capitalist class to create the illusion of a classless society by redirecting the masses’ attention away from their material conditions. However, if race is defined more liberally, then society can include economic, geographic, and a whole host of other characteristics into the equation that might provide a more holistic view of "a family, tribe, people or nation belonging to the same stock" and "a class or kind of people unified by community of interests, habits or characteristics." Using this more liberal application, we can easily argue that white trash and rednecks have racial identity because racial identity is not simply aligned with skin color.

Comedian, George Carlin, demonstrates how American's "pigeon holing" of identity can get muddy when he asks, "If a white man of English descent living in South Africa immigrates to the United States, is he an African American?" We might also argue that anyone born in the United States who renounces his citizenship and becomes French might be seen as a native American to the average Parisian. Although the labels given to the various ethnic groups in America are just that, labels, and somewhat nebulous in their definitions, the label, white trash, is even more nebulous and abstract. Because, as Paul Fussell writes, "you can outrage people today simply by mentioning social class," the economic disparities between the classes is never mentioned in the paper or on the evening news. Because class is "America's forbidden subject," it is more difficult to define white trash than any other ethnic group.

In defining white trash and rednecks, I will first attempt to define whiteness. Because I argue that class contributes to inequality just as much, if not more, as race or gender, you can probably guess that whiteness will not be defined solely in terms of ethnicity or skin color. "For anthropologists," writes Dolores laGuardia, "the concept of race has no scientific standing. All human beings are members of the same species. In that sense, all human beings are 'created equal.'" For laGuardia, race is a social construct. In America, we all have some idea of the authentic American. Although many academics who have taken up the multicultural torch have done groundbreaking work in shifting society's focus from Christopher Columbus to the native people that were exploited, from the Puritans at Plymouth Rock to the natives that suffered at the hands of those same God fearing Puritans, or from the Mississippi Colonel to the slaves whose labor sustained his ostentatious lifestyle, there will always be the spectre of the status quo's idea of the authentic American. Anna Quindlen writes that this authentic American is "white and Christian (but not Catholic), ethnic origins lost in the myth of an amorphous past, not visible in accent, appearance or allegiance.” However, as I have been arguing, “white,” in this context, actually refers to the capitalist class.

To define white trash and rednecks, now, is to distinguish between classes of whites. Wikipedia explains that the epithet “white trash” was first used in the 1830's and, then, the term was “poor, white trash.” Once the idea of “poor” became intrinsic to the definition, it was simply not spoken anymore. The term “white trash” belongs in a category with terms that focus on behavioral characteristics rather than racial ones.

The Oxford English Dictionary Online illustrates that even slaves used the term “white trash”: "The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as poor white trash." The slaves, no doubt, must have acquired the term from the wealthy plantation owners, i.e. the capitalist class. Here, I am reminded of Flannery O’Conner’s Revelation when she writes, "Sometimes Mrs. Turpin occupied herself at night naming the classes of people. On the bottom of the heap were most colored people then next to them—not above, just away from—were white-trash."

Perhaps the best way to define “white trash” is simply to define the word “trash.” The Oxford English Dictionary Online defines “trash” as being "that which is broken, snapped, or lopped off anything in preparing it for use; broken or torn pieces, as twigs, splinters, cuttings from a hedge, small wood from a copse, straw, rags; refuse." People who are white trash are, indeed, broken, cut off.

The redneck is most easily described as white trash with an attitude. Jim Goad says, "A redneck, as I define it, is someone both conscious of and comfortable with his designated role of cultural jerk. While hillbillies and white trash may act like idiots because they can't help it, a redneck does it to spite you. In the same way that stubborn mules are often able to make their owners look like asses, the redneck has the troublesome capacity to make ironic sport of the greater public's repulsion/fascination with him." In many ways, the redneck is very similar to Jose Limon's pelado. Limon argues, "The Mexican pelado belongs to a most vile category of social fauna; a form of human rubbish. Life from every quarter has been hostile to him and his reaction has been black resentment. He is an explosive being with whom relationship is dangerous, for the slightest friction causes him to blow up." According to Charlie Daniels, "what most folks call a redneck, ain't nothin' but a workin' man." And Wikipedia defines “redneck” as being either a pejorative term or one of pride (depending on who is using it).

Typically, when the term redneck is used by anyone but a poor white, it is used in a pejorative manner. For example, if a member of the capital class (whiteness) owns a factory in South Carolina where a group of poor whites work, they are "good country people" or "hard working men and women," but if those "hard working men and women" were to go on strike, then his business would be disrupted by a bunch of rednecks. For the most part, "hard working men and women" become white trash and rednecks whenever they have agency and exhibit resistance against the status quo.

As the legitimacy of the capitalist system becomes endangered, that same system must rely on a scapegoat in order to continue its ideology. One of the most obvious ways that scapegoating has manifested itself is through the "welfare to work" programs of the 1990's. According to the "moral majority," the new right, these "welfare chiselers" are the reason that middle class America must pay such high taxes. One of the basic tenants of a free market economy is that, if left alone, it will generate prosperity for all. Although capital America says that laissez faire should be the law of the land, it doesn't hesitate to prevail upon the government to help bail out industry when disaster strikes. No one knows how much money the government gave big business in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan or even September 11th, because those statistics are rarely reported and scarcely cited by the media or the politicians. By contrast, nearly every media mogul or politician could provide some figure for the cost of social programs for those less fortunate members of American society. Why do we question our government helping the poorest of its citizens and rarely even pause when it shells out millions to American airlines or Chrysler? Isn't corporate welfare still a handout? While America has "put an end to welfare as we know it," it has done nothing to end the cycle of poverty. It has only turned the unemployed poor into the working poor. As Miriam Shulman says, "We throw out anecdotal evidence, mixed with a few facts and figures, and then we all retreat to our preconceived ideas without any empathetic consideration of the other side."

The Oxford English Dictionary Online notes that the word scapegoat originated in the Mosaic ritual of the Day of Atonement. One of two goats was chosen by lot to be sent alive into the wilderness, the sins of the people having been symbolically laid upon it, while the other was appointed to be sacrificed. It further defines scapegoat as "one who is blamed or punished for the sins of others," and the example given is, oddly enough, from an 1824 newspaper, "Country-boys are patient, too, and bear their fate as scape-goats, (for all sins whatsoever are laid as matters of course to their door), with amazing resignation."

Cultural critic Jim Goad explains that the redneck and white trash stereotypes fit all of the traditional scapegoat requirements: rednecks and white trash have biological differences (buck toothed, inbred, and stupid); geographic and regional differences (rural areas and trailer parks); economic differences (sick, lazy, and dirty); cultural differences (loud, superstitious, and excessive); and moral differences (racist, violent, and alcoholic).

Donna Haraway states, "Both science and popular culture are intricately woven of fact and fiction," and "fiction can be imagined as a derivative, fabricated version of the world and experience, as a kind of perverse double for the facts or as an escape through fantasy into a better world than 'that which actually happened.'" The work of Latour and Woolgar, writes Haraway, was primarily "interested in science as a fresh form of power in the social-material world" and explains that "scientific practice is literary practice, writing, based on jockeying for the power to stabilize definitions and standards.” We would be hard pressed to find a better example of how scientific practice jockeyed for power than in the science of eugenics in the nineteenth century. Siobahn Somerville quotes Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, who defined the term “eugenics” in his Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development (1883) as the cultivation of the race and the science of improving stock, which takes cognizance of all influences that tend in however remote a degree to give to the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable that they otherwise would have had.

Although Somerville's discourse on eugenics focuses on the biological othering of African Americans, gays, and lesbians, those same principles were also applied to rednecks and white trash. Matt Wray tells us, “Current stereotypes of white trash can be traced to a series of studies produced around the turn of the century by the U.S. Eugenics Records Office wherein the researchers sought to demonstrate scientifically, that large numbers of rural poor whites were ‘genetic defectives.’" Typically, researchers conducted their studies by locating relatives who were either incarcerated or institutionalized and then tracing their genealogies back to a "defective" source (often, but not always, a person of mixed blood).

Somerville argues, “The new field of eugenics worked hand in hand with growing anti-miscegenation sentiment and policy, provoked not only by attempts for political representation among African Americans but also by the large influx of large populations of immigrants.” Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., likewise states, "The Anglos often disliked the newcomers, disdained their uncouth presence, feared their alien religions and folkways.” W.E.B. Dubois testified that when he grew up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in the 1870's, “the racial angle was more clearly defined against the Irish than against me.'" The double-edged sword of capitalism is that it has no conscience - if left unchecked, it will do anything to make money. Schlesinger comments on this when he writes, "However prejudiced white Anglo-Saxons were in practice, they were ashamed to endorse nativism in principle. Equally important, an expanding economy in an underpopulated country required a steady influx of new hands. Immigration alleviated the labor shortage and economic need overpowered moral and aesthetic repugnance."

In addition to the biological othering of white trash and rednecks, there is evidence that they are geographically othered as well. William Byrd II’s Histories of the Dividing Lines Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina is one example of the geographic and regional marginalization of white trash and the redneck. John Miller observes in Surveying Race: Establishing Boundaries of Colonial American Whiteness that “Byrd's scathing descriptions of the white settlers he encounters on his Mid-Atlantic surveying mission tend to be uniformly read by critics as scorn by the proud Virginia author for his North Carolinian neighbors.” Miller goes on to propose that there “is a larger racial project occurring in The Histories, one that involves more than just the Native American figures, and offers a more thorough explanation for Byrd's disdain for his fellow Caucasian colonists. The aristocratic author and political leader of Virginia is racializing whiteness, creating a white Other in order to affirm his own elite social position and justify his claims to vast new territories in America.”

For example, Byrd writes: “The only business here is raising of hogs, which is managed with the least trouble, and affords the diet they are most fond of. The truth of it is, the inhabitants of North Carolina devour so much swine's flesh, that it fills them full of gross humours. Thus, whenever a severe cold happens to constitutions thus vitiated, it has all the symptoms of syphilis, with this aggravation, that no preparation of mercury will touch it. This calamity is so common and familiar here, that it ceases to be a scandal. Thus, considering the foul and pernicious effects of eating swine's flesh in a hot country, it was wisely forbidden and made an abomination to the Jews, who lived much in the same latitude with Carolina.”

After demonstrating how the dietary practices of these proto-white trash/rednecks make them inferior to aristocratic Virginians like himself, the noble Colonel Byrd moves on to the clothes that these poor redneck savages wear: “There is but little wool in that province, though cotton grows very kindly, and, so far south, is seldom nipped by the frost. The good women mix this with their wool for their outer garments…Flax likewise thrives there extremely, being perhaps as fine as any in the world, and I question not might, with a little care, be brought to rival that of Egypt; and yet the men are here so intolerably lazy, they seldom take the trouble to propagate it.”

Byrd then goes on to describe the terrain of North Carolina: “It had one beauty, however, that delighted the eye, though at the expense of all the other senses: the moisture of the soil preserves a continual verdure, and makes every plant an evergreen but at the same time the foul damps ascend without ceasing, corrupt the air, and render it unfit for respiration. Not even a turkey buzzard will venture to fly over it, no more than the Italian vultures will over the filthy lake Avernus, or the birds in the Holy Land, over the Salt sea, where Sodom and Gomorrah formerly stood.”

And here is Byrd’s depiction of white trash morality: “What little devotion there may happen to be is much more private than their vices. The people seem easy without a minister, as long as they are exempted from paying him. Sometimes the Society for Propagating the Gospel has had the charity to send over missionaries to this country; but unfortunately the priest has been too lewd for the people, or, which oftener happens, they too lewd for the priest. For these reasons these reverend gentlemen have always left their flocks as arrant heathen as they found them. Thus much however may be said for the inhabitants of Edenton, that not a soul has the least taint of hypocrisy or superstition, acting very frankly and above-board in all their excesses.”

Byrd also demonstrates how these ruthless savages would rather live and die in their own filthy uncivilized terrain than to join Byrd’s civilized society (the Great State of Virginia): “The line cut William Spight's plantation in two, leaving little more than his dwelling house and orchard in Virginia. Sundry other plantations were split in the same unlucky manner, which made the owners accountable to both governments. Wherever we passed we constantly found the borderers laid it to heart if their land was taken into Virginia: they chose much rather to belong to Carolina, where they pay no tribute, either to God or to Cæsar. Another reason was, that the government there is so loose, and the laws are so feebly executed, that, like those in the neighbourhood of Sidon formerly, every one does just what seems good in his own eyes.”

Miller writes, “Not only does Byrd's book describe the marking of the border between the Virginia and North Carolina colonies, it also depicts the defining of boundaries in white America along economic, political, and social lines.” The geographical distinction of William Byrd’s dividing line really doesn’t work anymore. After all, even the most rural areas of America have a McDonald’s and a Wal-mart. However, if we look beyond the mere geographical constraints of Byrd’s book, we could argue that Byrd considers the state of North Carolina to be a state of mind as well as a state of the Union. As Miller states, “By establishing this prototype for 'white trash,' Byrd emerges in comparison as the true savior and leader of the young colonies.”

The economic differences between white trash, rednecks, and the status quo are typically dismissed. The capitalist class uses a "blame the victim" philosophy for writing these people off. In order for the capitalist class to have workers to exploit, it must keep those same workers in economic uncertainty and does so by limiting the resources available to them and preventing them from rising above their class. “One class gets the sugar and the other class gets the shit,” writes Paul Fussell. “It is not enough to succeed,” Gore Vidal might add, “others must fail.”

The White Trash Aesthetic
Gael Sweeney writes, "We know White Trash Culture when we see it. Rather than defining a people or a class, although both are implicated, it is an aesthetic of the flashy, the inappropriate, the garish." The white trash aesthetic is the shock and awe of Porter Waggoner in sequined country and western shirts, a fat Elvis in diamond studded jumpsuits and a monster truck the size of a small office building.

Jose Limon writes, "The Mexican macho is a humorist who commits chingaderas, that is, unforeseen acts that produce confusion, horror, and destruction. He opens the world; in doing so, he rips and tears it, and this violence provokes a great sinister laugh. The humor of the macho is an act of revenge." The Mexican macho and the American redneck have that in common, they both "rip and tear" the world, only multiculturalism celebrates chingaderas and frowns upon the redneck saying, "Hey, watch this shit."

Goad acknowledges that "working Class amusement is always too much. It operates from an Overdose Aesthetic." Sweeney concurs, paraphrasing Bakhtin: “The carnivalesque inhabits the space that counters and subverts institutions of authority and repression, the dominant hegemonies of Church, State, and, in capitalist democracies, Industry. The pleasures of the carnival are subordinate pleasures: unruly and lower class, vulgar, undisciplined. During carnival, the working class are not working; they are out of their
place and out of line.”

For Sweeney, "Carnival is a place of laughter, bad taste, loud and irreverent music, parody, free speech, bodily functions, eating and feasting, a place where excess is glorified." It is through the white trash and redneck need for carnival that America gets dirt track stock car racing, honky tonk juke joints, the glitter of Las Vegas, the cult of Elvis and pornography. Goad comments on this traditional depiction: "A whole vein of human experience is dismissed as a joke, much as America's popular notions of black culture were relegated to lawn jockeys and Sambo caricatures a generation or two ago." Some would argue that the world would be a much better place without WWF Wrestling, NASCAR, and The Jerry Springer Show, obvious consequences of the white trash aesthetic, but these experiences are only those that are co-opted and commodified by the capitalist class.

Unfortunately, the co-opting of the white trash culture has done more to reinforce white trash stereotypes than it has to demonstrate that it is a culture worth exploring. As Somerville says, “They argued that blacks were an incipient species, holding that there had been no racial progress or intellectual development of blacks in recorded history, and that, by the tenants of natural selection, blacks remained biologically inferior.” Now, take out the word “blacks” and insert the word “redneck” or “white trash” and read the sentence again. Instead of it sounding like some antiquated scientific claim from the nineteenth century, it sounds more like the underlying message of The Jerry Springer Show. Unfortunately, The Jerry Springer Show is both a carnival for white trash and a commodification of its aesthetic that reinforces the stereotype. Springer's depiction of white trash is not surprising because the media has gone out of its way to reinforce the white trash stereotype. We only need to turn on the TV news to see that reporters go out of their way to find the dumbest people they can to interview whenever tragedy strikes a rural area.

Jim Goad writes, "The major media have never been concentrated in places where cotton grows. The redneck ethos, by and large, has been propagated by those with absentee ownership in rednecks' cultural heritage." The fact that The Jerry Springer Show is filmed in Chicago only substantiates this claim. The television show Cops provides another example of how the redneck is depicted in the media. Filmmaker Michael Moore talks about the television show in his film Bowling for Columbine, pointing out that minorities are constantly being chased through the streets, slammed down on the ground, and arrested on national television, but fails to see that when the producers of the show aren't busy reinforcing society's stereotypes about minorities, they are showing a redneck being arrested for domestic violence in a trailer park. In contrast to the media depiction of poor whites committing crimes on Cops, Barbara Eirenreich comments on the lack of positive messages about the poor working class in popular culture: “When I watch TV over my dinner at night, I see a world in which almost everyone makes $15 per hour or more, and I'm not just thinking of the anchor folk. The sitcoms and dramas are about fashion designers or school teachers or lawyers, so it's easy for a fast food worker or nurse's aid to conclude that she is an anomaly - the only one, or almost the only one, who hasn't been invited to the party.”

Racism Against White Trash
Although white trash and rednecks are typically accused of being racist against African Americans, it is the federal government, city slickers, and northern whites that the White Trash Nation is most opposed to. John Dollard writes, "There has been a long history of bitter and aggressive men going into the South from the northeast, and the newcomer is appropriately classified at once." Dollard quotes Thomas Page who writes, "No statement of any Southern white person, however pure in life, lofty in morals, high-minded in principle he might be, was accepted. His experience, his position, his character, counted for nothing. He was assumed to be so designing or so prejudiced that his council was valueless." The battle lines were clearly drawn.

Like other ethnic groups, white trash and rednecks have also been oppressed, but their oppression is a little more subtle than a water fountain marked Colored. When "separate but equal" ceased to be the law of the land, the rich found other ways to segregate themselves: First Class accommodations, country clubs, five star restaurants, and a host of other private spaces. America was the land of capitalism, so there was no crime in charging a hundred dollars per plate if people were willing to pay for it, and they would be willing to pay for it, if they didn't have to sit by any blacks, Hispanics, or, as Medley put it, "low white people of the worst possible stamp, and the Chinese, both more obnoxious than most colored." The wealthy whites even put their children into private schools. Richard Cohen reminds us that "'forced busing" to achieve racial balance in the schools had proved bitterly divisive and contributed to white flight from public education."

Louis Kushnick writes, "Until the working class creates its own consciousness and culture, it will continue to be unable to advance its own interests." The Emancipation Declaration of the White Trash Nation reads: We hold these truths to be self-evident: All of humankind is created equal but society does its best to change that from the moment of conception. Healthcare for the poor is disastrous, from the lack of prenatal care for those who have yet to be born to the lack of adequate geriatric care for those who are approaching death. Working class bodies are not the bodies of GQ and Mademoiselle. In fact, they are not bodies at all. They are raw materials used to manufacture goods and then thrown on the slagheap of industrial progress when they are no longer useful to society. Working class bodies are commodified, taken to the marketplace, sold, used up and then become trash, hence the term white trash. Poverty, unlike wealth, is not concentrated among white people and could serve as a starting point for healing the racial divisions in America.

All humankind is created equal, but humankind becomes unequal because of competition. As Doug Kellner points out, "In a competitive and capitalist society, human beings are primarily self-interested.” Peter Rothberg states, "Some observers trace the huge disparity of incomes in our society to a winner-takes-all philosophy. Managers at the top of the economic chain become billionaires while their temporaries work for minimum wage without health plans."

Douglas L. Wilson writes, "How could the man who wrote ‘all men are created equal’ own slaves?" A better question would be, "How can a country that says it is founded on an egalitarian philosophy that challenged the privileges of a hereditary aristocracy force so many of its citizens to bow and scrape to the pampered few?" As long as multiculturalism thrives, then public attention will always be shifted away from class onto race and gender, and the high-minded rhetoric of the Constitution will never be reconciled with the actual behavior of government and industry.

Delores laGuardia writes, "Nations look in the mirror of their history to understand who they are. However, what they see in the mirror of history is shaped by the agendas of those who do the writing. Because of multiculturalism, "much current writing takes into account the point of view of the conquered, the dispossessed, the enslaved" writes laGuardia, and yet, we could easily argue that white trash and rednecks have been conquered and dispossessed. Where is their history being written and who is writing it?

Jim Goad writes, "Multiculturalism is a country club that excludes white trash. It's refusal to view terms such as 'white trash' and 'redneck' as race-specific and class-specific lends itself to a mountain of contradictions." He further states that multicultural theories and theorists willingly understand “the economic imperatives behind urban street gangs but not rural moonshiners; it embraces Crips and Bloods but not the Hatfields and McCoys."

We can only hope that in the future, phenomena unique to the redneck experience are explored by academia and the media alike. White trash or rednecks (whichever pejorative term you prefer) seem to have fallen through the cracks of the multicultural sieve and have become an other that is too powerless and poverty stricken to do anything about it. Paul Fussell writes: "Karl Marx is the prophet of the proles [rednecks], even if most of them don't know it." When the day comes for my fellow proles to march in protest, I will happily sing, "I am redneck, hear me roar." Who knows? Maybe someday we will be judged by the content of our character not the color of our necks.

January 2005

From guest contributor William Matthew McCarter

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