The Redneck Manifesto
You must have been sleeping if you missed all the talk about J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy, published mid-2016 to rave reviews, though the story itself is somewhat sad. As the name implies, the book deals with the loss of the Appalachian culture, values, and a small town "hillbilly's" memories of life as he knew it.
Jim Goad's Redneck Manifesto is, just like the title, utterly the opposite end of the spectrum, yet curiously, about the same subject. So imagine a lost love song with soaring strings and a flute as compared to Goth rock. And there you have it.
Goad is a hyper-masculine writer on speed. He writes long - but coherent - sentences full of challenge, anger, velocity and vicious humor. But for all that, he is astoundingly insightful and thoughtful.
While he "identifies" (I swore I would never use that verb in quite that sense!) as a Redneck, his actual roots were originally in small town New England. His definition of "Redneck" has more to do with class than locale; and while he does acknowledge that most Rednecks are also southerners, his definition of a Redneck is based on life experience, tastes, attitudes and status. His theory: Rednecks are pretty close to the bottom of the pile, at least as far as The Elites are concerned.
Goad is feisty. Perhaps "feisty" doesn't go far enough: combative might do his personality more justice. He was in jail. He's worked for porn magazines. He's written several books, and managed literary websites. He likes women, alcohol, and fast living. And he has a chip on his shoulder the size of a (pun deliberate) Redwood about the place allocated to the Rednecks in the big scheme of things.
Rednecks, he explains, is a term assigned to people who once tilled the soil - worked in the sun - and their exposed fair skin, often the neck, turned red. Eventually, it became a pejorative for anyone who was poorly educated, simple socially, and who worked with his hands.
But simply making fun of "hillbillies," as in "The Beverly Hillbillies," or "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," by laughing at "the cee-ment pond," or a fascination with bare chests and race cars is one thing; heaping scorn, ridicule and blame on a group of people simply for being who they are is another.
The Big Secret Problem in America, according to Goad's manifesto isn't racism. It isn't illegal immigration, taxes, or the 1%.
It's classism. And the victims are the rural poor, the trailer trash, the men and women who lack education and jobs, who are fair game for mockery and "slurs," and for whom there is little defense.
Many of them are the descendants of the poorest of the poor from Scotland and Ireland, who were evicted from their highland homes, and who made their way to a youthful America, where they scampered up into the hills of Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas and Georgia. They hunted and fished, farmed, and most notoriously, brewed corn liquor, or "moonshine." But they might also have been poor New England farmers or laborers, fishermen, factory or mine workers. What they had, and have, are two common defining characteristics: they're poor, and they're white.
Because, at least to a certain degree, Goad's thesis is that, needing to find someone to blame for the ills of slavery and subsequent Jim Crow, to have an enemy for modern elitism, to have a board for the darts of discontent, we've chosen the poor white. Say the "n-word," and you'll be shunned from polite society, possibly forever. Say "cracker," and everyone knows you're simply jocularly referring to the imbeciles who still attend church and vote "that way." Parade around with a "vee-jay" disguise on at a protest and you're brave and funny; carry a hunting rifle in a rack on your pickup and you're admitting to the world that you can't count to 10 and haven't washed in six months. Sing and dance mostly naked and grabbing your woman-or-man parts and it's hip, sexy and edgy. Live in a trailer out in the woods and you're probably married to your sister.
Did any of that offend you? Good. The foregoing is written in Goad's, er, goading style - to give you a sense of what you'd be in for if you read this book. And you really should, no matter what your ethnicity or political persuasions. It's provoking, certainly. It's meant to be. And Goad is no saint or sweetheart - by his own admission (or perhaps embellishment), he's left more women at the side of the road than jobs he's held, and that's more than somewhat. He's rude, vulgar, angry, and his writing is self-indulgently manic, though I will admit to being a little jealous of his ability to string words together in reckless rants that rage on and on and on and yet - astoundingly - make sense.
Goad manages to combine scholarly research and gutter language; wisdom and insight with crass perversity; and honest admission that "fair" and "equal" never were nor are ever likely to be realized with a messianic zeal for righting the wrongs of an unfair and unequal social order.
The payoff of the book is simple: the lower classes, the browns and the whites and the yellows and the reds, are not natural enemies. It's the classes that are at war - one bred of manipulation. And there's nothing inherently better or worse about you because you live in an inner city project, a barrio, or a cabin in the deep woods - or for that matter, a Manhattan penthouse or Malibu beach house. Agree or disagree with him, you won't put the book down with indifference.