Ever since the RNC, which was based around sneering at effete liberals for having the gall to sneer at down home rednecks,* there’s been a lot of talk about elitism and sneering. I engaged, in my way. And I’m going to engage again, even I agree with Paul Krugman that it’s mostly a distraction. Who sneers at who more? Should liberals appreciate “redneck pride” as a reclamation in the same way that feminists reclaimed the word “bitch” or gay people reclaimed the word “queer”? Is “redneck” a classist term that should be avoided or just a cultural descriptor like “mullethead” that should only hurt the feelings of the very thin-skinned?
When I was growing up, “redneck” was a classist term, but I think an onslaught of redefinition from the Republican noise machine (plus the redneck comedy stuff) has changed that in a lot of ways. Republicans want a populism that has no mention of economic classes, so that millionaires can sneer at people living paycheck to paycheck, but who happen to like foreign films. The Palin family, for instance, is far from working class, but they have a carefully cultivated redneck lifestyle, in the new use of the term. I saw the term “redneck” slowly move from being something you called white people who worked outside, probably rough-necking or some job like that, to something that denoted a certain rural rough-around-the-edges-ness when I was in high school. Back then, I wouldn’t have said my family was redneck in any way. By the new definition of the term, though, we totally were. We had five cars, four of which were trucks, and two of which had distinctive jalopy aspects. And we had this many cars because we could park them on the dirt shoulders that surrounded our house, and because we had a big tin barn/shed. My stepdad was a religious hunter. My dogs would follow me to school and run around crazy in the hallways. I made out with boys on a trampoline in my backyard. The only radio station in town only played country western music, and the only non-country western bar was on the railroad tracks and had a bonfire out front, and you could buy beer by the quart there while listening to locals play cover songs by Santana and Skynard. A javelina got in my backyard once and chased my dog around and my dog was only saved because my stepdad shot the javelina. Needless to say, we had a lot of guns around. If there was a blood-curdling ignorant racist comment to be made, I heard some asshole make it back home.
Now I’m a big city liberal who knows the difference between a hipster and a scenester. So, I’m eligible for insults flung by both sides of the red/blue cultural divide. I often joke that I’m 50% redneck, though in truth, it’s about 30-40%. Cataloging it by the cultural markers that are flung around in these here culture wars is fun:
|Redneck Amanda||Latte Liberal Amanda|
|Drinks cheap beer unironically||Drinks skim lattes at coffeehouses|
|Says, “Fixing to” and “Y’all”||Says “overrated” and “underrated”|
|Comfortable around guns||Comfortable at indie rock shows|
|Owns cowboy boots||Owns Kenneth Cole patent leather high heels|
|Relaxes by doing yard work, finds meditation baffling||Relaxes at hipster bars, finds hunting baffling|
|Likes country western music||Likes indie and punk rock|
|Knows how to two-step||Never has to anymore|
|Has eaten meat that’s been hunted, lots of it||Vegetarian|
|Car: pick-up (Just sold it, though)||Bikes and uses bus|
You could really go on like this all day. I’ve let dogs sleep in bed with me and I prefer the old-fashioned match to air freshener in the bathroom. But I also have no problem with subtitles and know the difference between wines. If you want to harangue me, you have a million openings, and loved ones in my life from both sides of the divide avail themselves of that opportunity.
Which is why I find a lot of this cultural grudge match baffling. I’m just not offended at someone sneering at me for being moved by “Cowboy Take Me Away”, nor am I really offended if a family member mocks me for not eating gravy. People try to offend me for drinking Miller Lite, and I can’t care. And yet we’re supposed to believe that there’s all this sneering that should direct the fate of a nation.
Granted, the silly season culture war stuff is actually hiding much more serious disputes—over the rights of women, over race, over secularism, etc.—but what I fail to understand is how much of the nation has become convinced that your taste in coffee drinks and beer should have much bearing on your politics. The Republican argument is, after all, “You love country western and cheap beer, and urban liberals sneer at you, so vote for this war and various other injustices.”
What kills me about this is that urban liberals sneer at me, to my face, a lot more about cheap beer and country western music than the intended audience ever gets, at least to their face. And I’m fine. Maybe if people sneered at each other over taste issues a little bit more face to face, we could all get thicker skins and learn to laugh about it. Taste disputes sound a lot scarier than they are when channeled through third parties telling you about them. If everyone could give each other shit and then have the beverage of their choice afterwards, then maybe we could move on and talk about the real issues.
*The evidence for the right wing populist theory that urbanites sneer at rednecks more than vice versa is paltry, to say the least.