Things are gonna get Festive – Take Two

August 30, 2010

Laziness. It’s an interesting thing, laziness, don’t you think? And headaches. They’re interesting, too.

Actually no. They’re not interesting. They’re just lazy and headachey.

So that last par of my previous post needs to be updated slightly.

Sunday: Joe Bageant (most of).

I clearly don’t do enough of this stuff because that afternoon, for the first time ever, I struck the Annoying Question Asker. Apparently there’s a lot of it about. The questions at Saturday’s session with Law, Hartnett and Miller were fine. Good even. One of them might even have been terrific, although that’s probably pushing it. But Sunday’s Annoying Question Asker was not fine or good or terrific. He was just Annoying. And he just had to be the first Annoying Question Asker to get his hands on the microphone, didn’t he.

I left before he’d finished asking his question, along with half a dozen other non-Annoying Question Askers. I just couldn’t stand it for a minute longer. And he’d gone on for well over a minute by the time I left. Which is, I think you’ll agree, a rather long question. Especially when what he’s been doing isn’t asking a question but telling the person being asked the question what the person being asked the question already knows.

Which is disappointing because Joe Bageant (what I saw of him) was great. Relaxed, affable, funny, insightful, enlightening, informative. Much of what he had to say was revisiting what was in his latest book, and some of it may have been revisiting what was in his first book. Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir – published this month by Scribe in Melbourne – is the story of the Bageant family’s dispossession of its livelihood, its forced re-allocation of labour from subsistence farming to paid employment, its relocation from the countryside to the city. And, ultimately, its impoverishment. All at the hands of a series of governments that knew who their masters were and knew what had to be done to serve them.

Rainbow Pie combines memoir with social commentary. Bageant describes himself as a gonzo journalist, in the tradition of Hunter S. Thompson. In his session he said his books are now used in sociology courses in universities and his approach has been christened redneck liberation sociology, which he says he did not set out to write but which sounds purty durn cool to me.

A few interesting subjects got an airing before the Annoying Question Asker struck.  Among them was the question of racism and its relationship to the concept of redneck. In Australia we think the two go hand in hand. Bageant discusses this in Rainbow Pie and on Sunday, briefly, discussed how racism is manipulated by political and economic elites, but also how many rednecks aren’t actually racists. Most members of America’s “underclass” would have black Americans in their extended families at the very least, Bageant says – including his own. His niece, I think he said, is married to a black American – a born-again fundamentalist black American.

The subject of pentecostal Christianity was not a large part of Rainbow Pie. While I was reading it this didn’t strike me as odd but in hindsight it should’ve, and in his discussion this afternoon Bageant mentioned pentecostalism a few times. Given that his first book is called Deer Hunting with Jesus, there’s a pretty good chance the subject is more widely covered there.

Two other points he raised really hit home with me. The first is education. Some of Bageant’s extended family, and if he’s right the majority of America’s redneck underclass, are functionally illiterate. Make a kid literate, give her an education and there’s at least half a chance, even if her dad’s a redneck, that just maybe she can do something with her life. For some reason very early in my life I became aware that rich kids went to private schools and everyone else went to state schools. And it was a given that if you went to a private school you got a better education and you got into the better course at the better university and you ended up living in Toorak rather than Preston. This, to my 12-year-old mind, sucked balls. Things, arguably, are slightly more complex than that. But at least in Australia, for most people, a state school makes them literate. Or does it? Maybe I’m just lucky. Maybe Australia does have its own functionally illiterate underclass, but if it does I doubt it makes up the percentage of the Australian population than in the States.

The other thing Bageant said that resonated was that he’s not against capitalism. I wonder what some of the Annoying Question Askers made of that. What he’s against, he said, was the kind of insane hyper-capitalism that we’ve seen destroy America’s economy. Actually that’s Joe’s argument, he seems convinced the US is royally fucked. I’m not so sure. And it wasn’t insane hyper-capitalism that wrecked his family’s life five decades ago. Or maybe it was. It certainly wasn’t the kind of heavily regulated economy that is the only way capitalism can function in a decent, democratic society, I’d have thought.

Despite Annoying Question Asker this was a good session, for the most part well moderated by Jeff Sparrow. Sparrow’s first question was quite good, I thought, but Bageant ignored it to give an overview – a good overview, admittedly – of his books and his message. The only thing that, well, appalled me about the way Sparrow ran things was allowing almost half an hour for questions. That’s why I only saw about 40 minutes of the session, because the first question was… well, we’ve been there. Giving the punters control of half a session like that is a recipe for disaster, I’d have thought. I’d be interested to know how the rest of it went.

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