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Shit, shower and shop

3 November 2009

Joe Bageant, a self-confessed redneck intellectual, lives in what some describe as the “unreal Mexico”  — the gringo ghetto (or, if one prefers, “colony”) of Lago Ajijic.  His 2007 book Deer Hunting With Jesus is a report on the “class system that dare not speak its name” from below… the white working class of his own native Appalachia.

Fellow hillbilly (and — though he might argue you needed shootin’ for saying so — intellectual) turned Mexpat, Fred Reed, wrote in his review of Deer Hunting for the  “paleo-libertarian” (i.e., batshit crazy right wingers) political website

Bageant is a redneck, and his book is about rednecks, who are a huge, sprawling class of people found everywhere but mostly invisible. They aren’t what people think they are… They actually have lives, and problems, and stories.

Those redneck, lives and problems and stories are “typically American” … a strange culture when viewed from Jalisco:

Every afternoon when I knock off from writing, after I suck down a Modelo beer and take an hour nap, I step out onto the 400-year-old cobbled street, with its hap-scatter string of vendors lining both sides. All sorts of vendors — vegetable vendors, vendors of tacos, chicharrones, chenille bedspreads and plucked chickens, cigarros, soft drinks, sopa and suet. Merchants whose business address consists of a card table in front of their casita.

These vendors are not poor people or peasants. They own homes, drive cars, watch cable television, send their children to college and do most of the things North Americans do. But their jobs are their livelihoods, not their lives, and every transaction is permeated with the ebb and flow of daily neighborhood and family life. “Is Maria going to graduate after all? Si! But by just by the hair in her nose! Who is going to sell fireworks for the Feast of Saint Andrew?” (Saint Andrew is the patron saint of Ajijic.)

Behind the plastered brick walls along the street mechanics fix cars, dentists pull teeth and teachers cheer preschoolers onward in a chirping Spanish rendition of Eensy Weensy Spider. The entire street is busily, but not hectically, engaged in making a living, most of the people doing so within 50 feet of where they will sleep tonight. But before they sleep they will sit out on the street, or perhaps the tiny neighborhood plaza, gossiping with the same neighbors who’ve been their customers all day. The same families into which their children will marry and whose sick elders they will burn candles for in the ancient stone church…

It may be my bias, or my imagination, or my distaste for toil, but from here America looks like one big workhouse, “under God, indivisible, with time off to shit, shower and shop.” A country whose citizens have been reduced to “human assets” of a vast and relentless economic machine, moving human parts oiled by commodities and kept in motion by the edict, “produce or die.” Where employment and a job dominates all other aspects of life, and the loss of which spells the loss of everything.

Yeah, yeah, I know, them ain’t jobs — in America we don’t have jobs, we have careers. I’ve read the national script, and am quite aware that all those human assets writing computer code and advertising copy, or staring at screen monitors in the “human services” industry are “performing meaningful and important work in a positive workplace environment.” Performing? Is this brain surgery? Or a stage act? If we are performing, then for whom? Exactly who is watching?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. David Adler permalink
    4 November 2009 3:07 pm

    Two things.
    First who’s italics are these?
    “Performing? Is this brain surgery? Or a stage act? If we are performing, then for whom? Exactly who is watching?”
    Second, Joe Bagaent seems to be comparing apples and oranges.
    Mexico also has its share of those” human assets writing computer code and advertising copy, or staring at screen monitors in the “human services” industry”.
    And the US certainly has its share of contented happy folks, shop keepers and such.
    What about the 25,000,000 living in grinding poverty and going to bed hungry every night with no chance of ever owning their own homes, driving their own cars, or watching cable television, or sending their children to college or doing any of the things North Americans do.
    Bagaent paints the romanticized picture of the street vendors in Ajijic that only a naive recent arrival would.
    Great blog Richard!!!

    • 4 November 2009 3:25 pm

      The italics are Bagaent’s.

      Of course, he is painting with broad strokes: there are Mexicans doing “corporate work” and U.S. workers who work to live, not live to work… but in the main, if you ask someone in the U.S. to describe themselves, they’ll tell you about their job (er, “career”) where Mexicans (and most sane people on this planet) will talk about theirfamilial and communal relationships.

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