"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Friday, April 06, 2007

Morning in America

Or in Central Western Oregon at least. Gorgeous day brewing. Sun's not yet up and over the horizon but dogwoods, tulips, and a bit of warmth in the soil (or the gravel) between here and the dumpster in the alley. I'm hoping for a mild summer.


Talking with a friend last night, I began to think, to re-think really, about what it means to come to the academy from a decidedly working class background--how this narrative influences our aesthetics, our priorities, our life plans as it were. I know for some folks (and only because it's been aired publicly before) this path is borne of ambition (or perhaps ambition grows from glimpsing the options that the path makes available) to do "better" than one's predecessors, that is to say, one's family. If so and so's parents work at Walmart, so and so may be driven by a desire to be different, or to make a difference. (Which are, of course, very different things.)

Where do ambition and "taste" intersect? Let's say for example that I chose a different path than my parents (deli manager, fish wrangler). Unlike them I went to college then grad school, and will probably (despite my attempts to avoid it) will end up in academia in one way or another. Does my slight upward mobility require me to revise my aesthetic inclinations? Must I eschew the trappings of my upbringing? Can I still read People magazine and watch American Idol? Can I drink malt liquor and jug wine? Must I be embarrassed about listening to metal?

It's been my experience in academia that those folks who crow the loudest about inequality about injustice, those who claim to speak for the oppressed, the huddled masses, the poor people, the colored people, the socio-economically disadvantaged, also tend to be those who drive fancy cars, dine at 4-star eateries, have their laundry dry-cleaned, are totally out of touch with the folks they claim to represent, totally out of touch with the reality of these lives as lived.

In another vein--does being a poet help anybody? If you don't watch television (rubbish!) and only listen to politically correct yet irreverent and hip music, if you hate injustice and occasionally march in a protest, if you are proud to be doing more than your parents (look, ma, I got a degree!), if you feel as if you've worked hard to achieve your education, your job, your whatever, are you any better than the guy who works a 9 to 5 blue collar job to provide for his family?

I know I'm conflating a lot of things here, but I'm just bothered by this notion (and maybe it's one I've created or imagined) that being an academic, or being a poet, or being a poet-academic confers some sort of _status_ that the rest of the world can't or won't understand or deserve. Coupled with this is the notion that American culture (popular and otherwise) is corrupt--that those of us who know better (who took out 100,000 in student loans to feel a bit better about ourselves) have an obligation to turn up our noses at what our less-educated brethren find compelling or just distracting.

Those who have been groomed for this lifestyle (mom and dad are profs, for example) seem much more forgiving of the "baser" tendencies of others. Perhaps this is because they are not so invested in the "achievement" that is an advanced degree--for them, this is what's expected. I suppose it's normal for the newly upwardly mobile to reject or flee from their pasts. I never managed to do this. I like gangster movies. I like television. I like rap and metal and yes, even country music. I eat junk food. I do not believe that I am going to change the world. I don't believe I am one of the best and brightest. I am not deluded. The world is stronger than I am. I am fine with this.


Ginger Heatter said...

Call me a class-traitor then, because I can't romanticize the oppressive tendencies out of my working class roots. Oh, the other classes have their oppressions too, but guess what? I don't worry about them much, because I don't have to deal with them up close. And the same is true, I imagine, where the children of academics are concerned.

A professor's no better than an auto mechanic, to be sure. But pop culture isn't grassroots anymore. It's designed to empty your pockets and mine as efficiently as possible. If that means throwing bologna at a woman's bare ass for sexist laughs, then so be it.

No, poetry isn't going to change the world or make anyone a good person. Some poets are/were notorious jackasses. On the other hand, I do believe my reading has made me a more compassionate person than I might otherwise be, so I don't know. I know I laughed rathered than bristled at my family's racist jokes around the dinner table before I got an education, and I know they think I'm an uppity bitch for asking them not to say those things in front of me anymore.

I guess I just don't like the idea feeling inauthentic because some of the things I love are things I made my own rather than natural outgrowths of my upbringing. Anyway, I ramble.

Tony said...

Whoa! Who's romanticizing oppressive tendencies?

One can be compassionate, intelligent, educated, socially aware without being a snob or an elitist.

Perhaps, though I am just as snobby as those I deem snobs because I can't them. So be it. And perhaps I'm just an uncouth slob who really doesn't belong here. Maybe I should go back to the furniture mill, or re-enlist in the military.

And do you think my love of poetry has anything to do with my upbringing? I guess I'm just trying to say (among other things) that one need not reject one's past or look at "where you come from" with disdain just because one has taken a different path or widened one's interests beyond what was available or acceptable in one's hometown.

Ginger Heatter said...

Of course you shouldn't re-enlist! We like you in one piece. ;-)

A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz said...

Dude. This is a great f*cking post.

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