Being a student on a very tight budget, I am particularly fond of restaurants with cards that give you a free meal after a certain amount of purchases. My local Armadillo Willy’s is very good about this, and I treated myself to a free lunch there today. As I finished ordering, a song I knew was playing on the speakers. I like singing, so I was singing quietly along with it while heading to a table; while doing so I passed a somewhat surprised-looking older woman. I smiled politely at her and got a startled smile in return, and continued singing as I seated myself.
Later in my meal, just before she was about to leave, she leaned over and politely informed me that she’d really enjoyed my little bit of singing. She found it so nice that someone still knew the words to “Sweet Emotion” by the Stones! I laughed and thanked her, and she smiled and departed.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the version of Sweet Emotion we’d been listening to was sung by Aerosmith… ;)
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I also did some reading at lunch. As many who read my blog may know by now, I’m working on my dissertation proposal this semester. My proposed subject has at least partly to do with a possible way to change society for the better. One of my private joys in this process is searching for new and interesting books that are applicable to my topic, to see if I can include them in my research and use them to construct a more subtle and effective proposal for improving society.
While I know the categorizations are ideologically problematic, I’ve wondered for a long time why men as a broad category appear to feel such a desperate, pervasive need to dominate – to unfortunately frequently violently oppress — the broad category of women. This has formed a sort of background perplexity in my educational travels, as I tried to figure out what was going on – and how it might be socially resolved. In this process, I’ve recently stumbled across something rather fascinating — at least so far — and I’ll likely review it here later. The book is Michael Kimmel’s Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of An Era.
I find the vitriol of many of the very far right to be outright creepy and alarming. Their almost lockstep rage is mostly incomprehensible to me, especially when what they’re purporting is clearly factually incorrect – and easily demonstrably so. A simple example of this is recent voting patterns: many of the country’s central states both vote powerfully conservative, and are also those which stand to lose the most economically should the Republicans come into power. Why do these men who are most suffering from the current economic slump continuously vote for a political party which has no plan nor intention of assisting them out of their financial woes?
This has puzzled me for a while, and I don’t know the answer. However, a passing few lines in the above-mentioned Angry White Men gave me a sudden possible epiphany. Initially the author notes: “Many of the men I interviewed for this book are not bad men; they’re true believers in the American Dream, the same dream that I inherited, and in which I believe” (11). He explains one interpretation of that dream later as: “The promise of economic freedom, of boundless opportunity, of unlimited upward mobility, … what they [American men] believed was the terra firma of American masculinity, the ground on which American men have stood for generations” (13).
So… my interpretation of this is that what he’s saying is these angry white men absolutely believe in upward social mobility: you get a job, you work hard, you make money, you’re a success. They’re feeling betrayed because they either are working their asses off but just barely making ends meet – or they can’t find any job at all that suits their emotional and financial needs. Now, here’s the kicker – the sentence that made me sit up and take startled notice:
Unlike many of her subjects [for her 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man], who cast their eyes down for enemies but their allegiances upward at fictive allies, [Susan] Faludi is clear that the betrayal has not been the result of an indifferent government doing the bidding of hordes of undeserving “others” – whether women, gays, immigrants or whomever; rather, it has been perpetrated by the rich, the powerful, the corporate magnates, the corporate lobbyists and their plutocratic sycophants in legislatures and state houses. Like Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Faludi observes a paradox of these white men voting for, and identifying with, the very people who are doing them in. (13-14; bolding mine)
Could these men devoted to the upward mobility promised by the American Dream… be consistently voting conservatively simply because the majority of Republican candidates are rich white men — men who appear to have risen to the top of the America social hierarchy? -because to these financially hurting and angry white men, the Republican political party apparently most epitomizes the culmination of the American Dream that they offer?
Could it really be that simple? And if so: how do we help these men help themselves?