Friday, December 7, 2012

Does Hollywood Help Divide the Working Class?

City Versus Country
I watched a movie last night called Breakdown. It was a 1997 film with a theme that was trotted out repeatedly throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties and still circulates today. The plot was a simple thriller about a couple's car breakdown and a wife who mysteriously disappears into the southwest desert cowboy country. The couple has Massachusetts license plates and a new truck. Even though they are deeply in debt and have all sorts of financial troubles, the "red-neck," cowboy types assume them to be rich, snotty, Yankees and display a deep-seated and furiously irrational hatred toward them.

This regional, cultural and trumped-up, different lifestyle hatred has been a staple of Hollywood and the mainstream media for decades now, pretty much since the debut of that pig-squealing masterwork called "Deliverance" where Atlanta city boys get their comeuppance from a bunch of inbred, hillbilly locals. The unspoken moral of both these films is to caution city folk to stay away from the struggling poor from rural areas unless you are willing to risk your life.

Merle Haggard's 1968 song, "Okie From Muskogee," takes up this same theme from the other side and even dives into some old fashioned homophobia and traditional family values. Find lyrics here.

The result continues as a long-standing "culture war" that has divided the working class and kept us from uniting around common interests and goals. There has always been a labor union movement that has, to some limited extent, transcended all this hype and, for a brief window in time, the Civil Rights struggle in the American South did so as well. But, for the most part, the extreme polarization of pseudo-classes, defined by region and lifestyle instead of financial status, has continued unabated until relatively recently.

It has only been the recent American uprisings of the 99% that have threatened this long standing tradition of divide and conquer. And that is why the repression of the movement that called itself Occupy was so immediate and brutal. Remission isn't necessarily death. The discontent and rage that boiled over once has not cooled. Perhaps it's just simmering until the right moment presents itself.