the subtleties of class

I was listening today to a really great episode of the WTF podcast today, and the host was telling a comedic story. He was describing the arrival of his car service at JFK (and we had been warned he was upset with the car, the driver, and the service, but we don’t yet know how), and he says, “I don’t want to be racist, but the guy was one of those…”, and then didn’t finish the sentence. After a beat, he added: “That’s about you. Whatever just happened inside your head, that’s the way in which you’re racist.” (or words to that effect.)

In my experience, discussions of popular culture work like this joke: they tend to reveal a whole array of racist, sexist and classist opinions that one wouldn’t normally allow others to know they hold. Two examples:

A friend of mine on facebook posts a link to the documentary “American Juggalo” which captures the subculture of fans around the hardcore band Insane Clown Posse. (I’m pretty sure I’ve linked to it on here, before.) I have never known this friend of mine (incidentally, also an ex-boyfriend, so I know him pretty well) to say or do anything discriminatory or prejudiced (I say this only to tag him as “likeable” and “just like me”). Here’s the conversation:

Ex-Boyfriend: so after watching this video, I want to know what the difference is between this and burning man? Other than locale obviously. We have drugs, annoying music, body paint..

His friend #1: I think the guys at Burning Man have more sense than to try and gang rape Tila Tequilla….I would not touch that with another mans dick on a ten foot pole…..

EBF:so we have locale, burners don’t gang rape midget vietnamese fame whores and juggalos do… any other differences?

F#1: Aren’t most the folks at burning man hippie types? Funky hippie types….and these Juggalos just….retarded teens? Actually, they give retards a bad name….

EBF: maybe. or maybe both go to remote locales for drugs, nudity, random excess and the only difference is the choice of association

F#1: Chew could be most correct in the assessment..

EBF: seems to me that nearly every burning man story ive heard starts with, “I was on acid and…” but when I mention that there is a lot of drugged out behavior, they scoff at it and tell me I don’t understand. After watching the clip, it seems the juggalos are at least honest about what they are doing there.

F#1: I’ve met some folks that have been to burning man….I would hang with em….I would be too scared to hang with a Juggalo…they seem to have no scruples. And seem a lot more narcissistic. And just scarier in general.. I feel like I would get some kind of terminal disease just being in a ten foot radius of one….

EBF: is it the meth that scares you? just give them a toaster to take apart and they will spend the next 3 days trying to put it back together.

F#1: Not so much…looks like Jugalettes have more testosterone than a body builder, and the Juggalos have less common sense than a pound of manure. And they congregate in large numbers. Never underestimate idiots in large numbers.

F#2: Ok that was the best 20 min of video I’ve ever seen on Facebook. That dude said “I cook good grub. Chicken fried steak and all that.. Ima get a skinny bitch and make her fat so we can lose weight together and bond.”. Priceless.

EBF: Meth. It’s a helluva drug

The exchange is just chock full of hateful things–sexist and classist mostly, especially once you realize the answer to the original question is class background. Insane Clown Posse fans are known to be primarily white and working class, while Burning Man attendees from upper-middle class backgrounds, some of whom are millionaires themselves. (Or, that is the perception of the sociologists I”ve read who have written on these topics, which I simply don’t have the patience to find and link to, so trust me. Also, we’re talking averages, not individuals.)

Here’s the second example, also from facebook and from the profile of a friend I know to be loving, tolerant, and an active advocate for the rights of the less advantaged:

So, that’s Carl Sagan on the left, and “Snookie” (from the MTV show Jersey Shore) on the right. This conversation played out a little differently (and I’ll identify myself in the exchange):

Friend-of-my-friend #1: Sigh. “I hate Jersey Shore” has become the phrase that admits people into the super elite Pseudo-Intellectuals Club. In the 70s it was “I hate disco.” Give it 20 years and your kids will be taking a hundred level course on the cultural significance of Snooki.

My friend: I hope it takes more than that even to be pseudo-intellectual. ; ) i’d take that course right now, btw.

FOMF #1: Lol. Not directed at you, naturally. As Snooki is basically my bread and butter, I posted that comment to everyone who posted this meme. It’s funny and I agree that everyone should know Sagan. I’ve just been forced to adopt a staunch pro-Snooki position 🙂

Jenn “No fun at parties” Lena: I teach about Jersey Shore right now, and at an Ivy League institution. And the “I hate disco” thing is now seen as a working-class white reactionary movement against gay men–discriminatory at its core. What’s wrong with the world is probably not a problem having to do with television, Carl Sagan, or anything else the LOLZ cats meme can fit into 50 characters.

FOMF #2: I believe snooki was adopted from chile. when asked how she fills out forms regarding her race, she said she checks “other” and manually fills in “tan” – this is one of the most genius post-racial statements I’ve ever heard. snooki is the new homi bhabha. I love her.

FOMF #3 and one of my friends: if i didn’t recognize either of them, that probably makes me both lacking intellectually and pop culturally. damn. i’m dumb.

So, we can see the conversation immediately disputes the depiction of “intellect” that is implicit in the image’s text. The author quickly backs away from the challenge, despite my friend’s essential agreement with the position that thinking critically (“in a hundred level [college] course”] about contemporary culture has value. Then I jump in and do my dance, and am quickly followed by the (correct) assertion Snookie (Nicole Polizzi) was adopted from Chile as a child and claims she puts “tan” in the “other” box on race forms. This is described as “post racial” which is apparently understood by all, as the final commenter (a friend from college) criticizes her own ignorance of both figures, establishing no complaint with their comparison, nor the need to see both as figures of importance.

I don’t have a big reveal here–the point is the process–nor do I think we should be using facebook only for serious, informed critique, and never to make jokes at others’ expense….but I do think it’s worth thinking about how seemingly mundane conversations about popular culture reveal deep seated beliefs about society.



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2 responses to “the subtleties of class

  1. JB

    I though the “big reveal” was @ FOMF#2: Snooki IS the new Homi Bhabha!

  2. Jenn Lena

    @JB: On second thought, you’re probably right.

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