Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Deer Hunting with Jesus-A Parrothead Book Review


By the late and great Joe Bageant.




Several years ago while reading the inscrutable and always cantankerous Fred Reed’s column I was introduced to a curious aberration of the American South, Mr. Joe Bageant who passed away a few months ago. I call him an aberration only in the sense that after reading his columns I realize I had found a kindred soul in this self-described “Redneck Socialist.” In a land where Jesus, guns, and NASCAR all qualify as religions in one sense or another it was mind blowing to finally discover I was not completely alone or crazy in my own liberal political viewpoint without rejecting the good parts of my southern upbringing.

Mr. Bageant was no friend to corporations or their high-paid sycophants who regularly broadcast propaganda over a particular cable “news channel” and numerous talk radio shows, but neither was he a stereotypical warm and fuzzy liberal/progressive out to eat tofu all day while puzzling over their horoscope. He stayed connected to his roots and kept a strong affection for the place he was raised and the customs he learned from his kinfolk. Yes, that meant he hunted, fished, and did other things that often send pretentious and sanctimonious left-wingers into seizures. Some liberals will turn up their noses at that last remark figuring they could never taint themselves by associating with bigoted and idiotic, nose-picking, republican voting fools not just in the south but across the country but they do that to their own detriment.

This is where Bageant’s book “Deer Hunting with Jesus” comes into play. After living in other parts of the world for many years, he and his wife returned to his hometown of Winchester, Virginia to find it greatly changed. Like much of small town America, he found the residents of Winchester becoming part of a new permanent underclass unable to break out of a cycle of growing poverty and ignorance.

Yes, the blame for this situation at least partly rests on the shoulders of those clinging to their guns, god, and glorious ignorance. However, the liberal establishment should also earn some culpability for their willful abandonment of a whole segment of the American people. I offer this review of “Deer Hunting with Jesus” not as some attempt to absolve poor ignorant whites from blame but as a strategic assessment as to why they vote against their own best interests and how liberals might be able to crack that voting bloc forcing the republican party to move more to the center.

Liberals have a hard time accepting it and many will even go to great lengths to deny it but they have one huge Achilles heel, their view of poor white people is hopelessly flawed and self-defeating. This is a godsend for conservative media and their corporate puppet masters, while liberals rightfully champion every oppressed group and cause through inattention or outright contempt poor whites are often cast aside leaving them out in the cold.

Why does this matter in the greater scheme of things? Because of the 33 million Americans living at the poverty line or below Bageant’s book states 19 million of them are poor whites. I checked into this figure and after digging around enough census data to make me dizzy I found the figure to be 15.3 million as of 2001. Since his book was written in 2007, I have to believe his figure is more accurate. Bageant also mentions those who consider themselves “middle class” but who finance their lifestyle with credit cards as working semi-poor so that number could be far larger.

Conservative media and their owners make full use of this population who vote far more than other groups. This gives the likes of Fox Noise and its allies a huge advantage in every election cycle. Poor and semi-poor whites are not completely stupid, they see their economic positions declining with the gap between them and the rich growing wider. Conservative media conveniently comes floating in taking this insecurity and with ever-increasing fearmongering neatly uses it to secure a permanent, large, and very dependable voting bloc.

It is so very easy for some liberal urban dwelling intellectual to look down their noses at folks who actually go out to hunt for their food. Never mind that as recently as the 1960’s here in the poor rural south and many poorer parts of the north that was how some families put meat on the table. That they hunt now is viewed by these same intellectuals as a barbaric redneck practice even though they would regard it a natural part of the culture of people native to the African bush or the Aboriginals of Australia. This maybe too simple for many to understand but for many Americans hunting is just as much a part of their culture as it is for other native peoples around the world. And as you might expect other native peoples to react, criticizing a person's culture will normally result in a very bad reaction, especially when what they do does not affect you. If you're wondering, yes I have hunted Bambi in the past and we still chow down on the forest prince when venison is served.

Even worse for some calling themselves intellectual and out to liberate the dumb masses is how some people dare to cling to a spiritual side of life and believe in God. Many liberals will find this hard to believe but most Christians have no desire to overthrow the United States Constitution and establish a theocracy. The vast majority are actually quite decent folks who want nothing more than to be left alone and in many cases do their best to help someone in need.

Yes, Joe Bageant does mention the subset of radical Christians that make the Taliban look like a peaceful civic society. Bageant also mentions that this subset has grown darker and ominous in recent years using terms that would make H.P. Lovecraft cringe in fear.

The most tragic and depressing part of this book was the story Bageant related about the business relationship between a huge manufacturing factory in his hometown and the inhuman but huge national retailer where “Always Low Prices” are proudly proclaimed on the outside of every building. This manufacturing plant for years provided good pay and benefits to its employees until the retail company came in and said that the manufacturer was going to have to greatly lower the price for the product or they would take their business to companies who made the same type products outside the United States.

The decent enough manufacturing company was forced to slash pay and benefits for its employees just to keep some business. While the retailer may portray itself on the national media as a happy place looking after its customers in my opinion it is actually slowly killing them.

Long story short Bageant ‘s basic point is, and speaking from my own vast experience, your average redneck while dumber than dirt is for the most part a honorable individual caught up in massive forces changing the world he or she do not comprehend. At the same time, they feel abandoned and looked down upon by the groups who claim to defend the poor. This leaves them open to slick propaganda and political candidates who promise to return America to its glory when Ozzie and Harriet and other aspects of 1950’s lifestyle were the epitome of the American dream.

That is why conservative leaders know a real education beyond the basics of wiring, carpentry, and advanced lawn care procedures have a liberalizing effect on the population. It is also why they go to such great lengths to demonize anyone with enough education to know the moisture falling down on them is not rain but the rich pissing on the unwashed masses. The point I will conclude with is that Mr. Bageant writes that if liberals had not looked down upon the growing blue-collar angst as unenlightened “Archie Bunkerism” and instead offered up some gutsy, comprehensive, and practical solutions we might have blunted much of the damage this conservative era we live in has caused.

This is a fantastic and very enlightening book with far more detailed information about poor white folks than I can mention. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to know why largely decent people can believe idiotic things.

19 comments:

Mike Williams said...

Every time I read one of your essays I find more we have in common. I have Joe Bageant's blog still on my favorites tab, Though I miss his caustic wit and insight. I haven't read Deer Hunting with Jesus. yes you are correct in saying the liberal establishment doesn't understand this low income voting bloc. Mostly descended from folks who worked the land they have avoided large cities. for the rural life which includes the fishing, hunting, and even now Nascar has become a generational thing. There is also a lot of family interconnections people who have owned the land for generations, selling off occasionally to developers. Well I'm off track. The wrong to approach these people is to insult their intelligence. They tend to see life a bit more simply and their religion is a large part of their moral code. As a state we teeter on the edge. Two democratic governor's in a row, but Obama's election in 2008 scared many. maybe too much too soon, but they rebouded strongly Republican in the mid terms. Which brought the spoiled rich Kid Eric Cantor, a person who has nothing in common with these low income whites into a position that directly opposes what the folks you speak of believe.

Windsmoke. said...

"The rich pissing on the unwashed masses" well said, this situation happens in every country around the world. No matter which political party is in power they are all the same because they'll promise you eveything just to get into power then backflip at a moments notice because it didn't suit there hidden agenda in the first place. Nothing wrong with folks doing a bit of hunting or fishing at least you're out in the real world and not locked away in the suburbs getting sick from obesity or heart disease :-).

Randal Graves said...

Oh hell, a lot of the liberals I know are, if not overt, then certainly quietly disdainful of poor crackers. Bag on crackers, or anyone, for being a dumbass, not for what's in their bank account.

Remember folks, it's the rich fuckers vs. everyone else.

Beach Bum said...

Mike: Thanks buddy! I'm afraid I may have pissed a few people off with this post. A number of fellow liberals have thin skins and will almost certainly not take this review well. But everything I read in Joe's book I have personally witnessed in my lifetime.

Windsmoke: The people behind the curtains really controlling the money and power of nations have little concern with us little folks. I honestly believe we are ants to them and what is terrifying to me is the idea that one day they could come to the conclusion they might treat us the same way we do ants in our trash cans.

Randal: It's divide and conquer and as long as many poor whites continue to wallow in ignorance and propaganda the rich fuckers will hold power.

Mr. Charleston said...

My entire extended family fits the description of dumb-ass rednecks, but they are all good, decent people. Let's not forget that for generations we've all been brainwashed in the schools and from the pulpits that Americanism, good, Communism, bad. Wrap any pig in a flag and put a cross on it and the trusting masses will follow it to the grave.

Suzan said...

You should also read "Rainbow Pie," Beach.

Joe and I will love you for it.

S

Sherry said...

This low income voting block is not necessarily dumb. The flaming 'libruls' tend to pick on the lowest common denominator and then tar the rest of us with the same brush. My great granny went from being a cook in a logging camp in the Adirondacks to being a bouncer in a city bar. Hellloooo???? You don't get any more rednecked than that.

However, we didn't used to be low income. Unfortunately this guy named Bush came along and we got stuck with the outcome. *sigh*

Ranch Chimp said...

Howdy Bum ... Good read ... Nope, I didnt here of this book, or read many book's these dayz anywayz, but alot of truth to this posting too. I am just grateful that I am not liberal or conservative, or belong to any of the pop culture club's, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh :)

Thanx Guy ....

fourdinners said...

I'd never heard of him...I'm now glad you have put that right...cheers old bean!

Mike Williams said...

I will add that a lot of the liberals such as myself come from city or suburban backgrounds. Even now I live in the larger population center in Virginia. So maybe we do have some bias in our makeup. And many liberals are also secular humanist or lean that way, while a good many good folk rely on the Christian heritage to provide when the chips are down. And you have to give credit. Those churches that preach a moral/ethical code usually are the first one there in an emergency. Often liberals won't get their hands dirty but don't mind giving money.

Mike Williams said...

Okay Suzan they are now on my reading list.

Nance said...

Did you write this to me? You could have. I needed it like a cold slap. I sometimes imagine that I'm a Carolina's version of Simon and Garfunkle's "Only Living Boy In New York"...surrounded by the deer-hunting duped. Shame on me. Good for you and good for Joe.

I do know better than to feel isolated, too, because I grew up in our sister Carolina to the north. My father's family farmed, hunted, fished, worked in the Piedmont's textile mills and voted straight Democratic ticket. Roosevelt Democrats, as were most of those who knew they lived through the Depression by the grace of Franklin and a miracle. The story of how that all changed and why is the stuff of many other blog posts, but you and I know it, to our shame.

Now, the redemption of our beloved Carolinas rests with the kind of enlightenment Joe Bageant fostered. I'm ordering the book today. And my heart's changed by this post.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Anybody or anything that can move the Republican party (or at least a certain segment of it) a little close to sanity/the center will certainly be a major help. I also like the way that this guy breaks the molding. Stereotypes are purely sucky in my opinion.

Beach Bum said...

Mr. Charleston: I agree, my only real hope for the future of this country lies with the younger Facebook generation. It will be them who out organize the corporate puppet masters and aging baby boomers who are increasingly desperate to hold onto a lifestyle that cannot be maintained.

Suzan: I'll have to get that one as well.

Sherry: Several times liberals on Facebook have totally pissed me off. They are just as bad as conservatives about condemning anyone who does not march in lockstep with them.

Ranch: I'm liberal but I'm smart enough to know strict and mindless adherence to any ideology is suicide.

Mike: I have stopped associating with several liberal blogs and their writers because of their irrational disdain and outright intolerance about anyone who hold Christian beliefs. Yes, I know members of the American Taliban and if liberals knew what was good for them they would heavily arm themselves for protection.

Large scale domestic terrorism here in America will almost certainly come from the American Taliban as they see it turn more secular and accepting of alternate lifestyles.

Nance: It bugs the daylights out of me that the only reason the South votes "republican" is because of the Nixon strategy of scaring the whites over a racial boogieman out to rape and kill "good" Christian white folks.

On the other hand like I mentioned Liberals willfully abandoned poor white folks since they were able to garner the majority of support of minority groups. This divide and conquer and the hell with everyone else not in our tent is a grave sin that will come back to haunt this country at sometime.

Will: While I wrote this review and hope the republicans eventually move back to the center their persistent race baiting and fearmongering has painted them into a small corner. Demographics are hell and the African-American and Hispanic population are growing far faster than whites and aside for a few deranged exceptions and tokens the republicans have lost both of those groups for decades.

Cloudia said...

thanks!



Aloha from Honolulu

Comfort Spiral

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dmarks said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Beach Bum said...

Cloudia: You are always welcome.

Dmarks: I don't remember asking your opinion on shit. But just for shits a giggles Hitler was not a "socialist" he was a national socialist whose propaganda resembles quite closely what is broadcast on Fox Noise daily.

Save your time and write your comments on some moronic conservative blog, which will be easy since most of them are moronic, anything you write here will be deleted the second I find it.

dmarks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
axel said...

Hi BB
Joe Bageant was a patriot he told it as it should be told, not the conservative spin coming out of Right Wing media.
"Deer Hunting with Jesus" is a real eye opener for those like me who don't reside in the US, how the poor are manipulated to vote against their own interests with all the usual scare tactics of the Right God, Guns, & Abortion.
As others here have mentioned "Rainbow Pie A Redneck Memoir" is also a must read, I listened to Joe a couple of years ago when he was in Australia for a writers festival he just amazing.