04 July 2006

Rednecks, White Trash and...

...Blue Ribbon beer? It's the white people's equivalent of the aforementioned Red Stripe, originally popular with the lower socio-economic spectrum, then somehow transformed by subcultural fashion trends or brilliant viral marketing into something hip or with-it while still tasting and acting like the same old crap.

I drank a fair bit of it myself in the mid-60s, especially after a price war made it cheaper than Detroit's locally-brewed Stroh's Beer, but while I liked the red, white and blue can design, I was no great fan of the contents. Nonetheless, it did the desired trick, and once I went to work at Ypsilanti's Motor Wheel factory and moved into a boarding house with a dozen refugees from Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, Pabst was pretty much the only beer I saw. I used to think it was around the time of the hit country song "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer", but I was wrong; it didn't come out until the 1970s. Nonetheless the sentiment was definitely there in 1966. My father had been ragging on me ever since 8th grade about my fondness for white socks; now I lived with a whole houseful of white-socks-wearers.

According to Dad, white socks were the surest sign someone was a hillbilly, though I only wore them because my gang had decided they looked cool with the skin-tight black slacks and winklepickers we favored. Since it was the custom to wear our pants so that they finished about three to four inches above our shoetops, the socks became almost a focal point of our getups, and the more dad fulminated, the more, of course, I became devoted to them.

Working midnights at the plant and drinking Pabst by day (we never called it PBR; I suspect that's a modern-day hipster affectation), I was soon living up to all of Dad's worst hillbilly nightmares. Luckily he wasn't there to witness the night I passed out midway through my second sixpack and set the sofa on fire with my cigarette. That might have been when I realize I was becoming that other thing I'd been warned against back in my salad days: white trash.

I'd heard the expression often as a boy, but never understood exactly what it meant. Well, I did, sort of: it referred to Those People who lived on the other side of the tracks or the highway, who had cars up on blocks in their driveway (respectable people, like us, left the wheels on their junk cars), who lived in wood-frame houses instead of brick ones, or maybe even in trailers, and, of course, spoke with a Southern accent.

It never occurred to me back then just what a racist term "white trash" was. Not so much against the white people it was meant to slander, but against people of any other color. The implication was that other races - blacks being obviously the main target - could naturally be expected to act like trash, whereas it was some kind anomaly for white people to behave that way. That's probably also the reason there's never been a comparable epithet - at least not one usable in polite company - aimed at that portion of black people who acted in a trashy or antisocial manner.

I've also always had a problem with the term "redneck." It's generally used by snobby Northern liberals as shorthand for "ignorant, racist, hick" but it's nearly as abusive a term as "nigger" (and, not surprisingly, just as many blacks have, the people most commonly derided as "rednecks" routinely use the word to describe themselves. But just as whites are best off avoiding use of the N-word even if "some of their best friends are.. etc. etc.," they might also be advised to skip the R-word if they don't consider themselves to be one.

I was reminded of that when "American Idiot" came up on the iPod (that's one crafty little machine; it's been doing - unbidden - a 4th of July theme all day). Catchy tune, but the lyrics provide one of the few weak spots on the otherwise sterling album. "I'm not a part of the redneck agenda," sing Green Day, betraying a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept. The whole point of rednecks (if you'll allow me to break my own rule about using the term) is that they're in no position to have agendas (except perhaps those involving white socks and Blue Ribbon beer). They're marginalized and disrespected, very nearly to the same extent that members of the black underclass are.

Growing up where he did, Billie Joe should know better. There were plenty of Southern or Southern-oriented blue-collar types in his town, and I'll bet if he thinks back, few if any of them were plotting imperial wars or national schemes of oppression. Most likely they were trying to bring home a paycheck and keep their families fed. George Bush talking with an exaggerated hillbilly accent because he figures it might get him more votes does not make him a redneck, and the right-wing Republican agenda Billie's railing against is about as friendly to poor Southern whites as it is to poor people of any color anywhere in the world, i.e, not at all.

8 comments:

Nick G. said...

Thats what has always bothered me about the song american idiot. Right wing republicans are far from being rednecks, especially those in this white house, they are by far richer than any other presidential cabnets.
I have grown up in Berkeley, so im usually around more of the yuppie types than rednecks, but a lot of my family lives way north on the Klamath river near the Oregon border, and in that area there has always been an abundance of people who would be considered 'rednecks', and from what i know about them, the only reason Billie Joe might not want to be associated with their 'agenda' is that they are for the most part republican, sometimes not super right wing, but republican none the less. But just because they are republican dosent mean they themselves have a specific agenda.


my iTunes was doing a similar trick with its music selection today, playing a lot of USA songs;
We Americans - The Briefs
Fort U.S.A. - The Weirdos
I'm So Bored with the U.S.A. -Clash
Anarchy In The U.S.A. - Sex Pistols
God Bless America - MTX (it also did God Bless Lawrence Livermore)
The Body Of An American -The Pogues
Insurrection Avenue -American Steel

etc. etc. etc. the point is that the people at apple have created a very smart program. maybe TOO smart...

tim said...

About the beer: I stopped ordering Pabst specifically after I saw an entire audience drinking the exact same beer at a show. Now I get right to the point, "What's your cheapest beer?" If it's Pabst, I'll drink Pabst. If it's a Miller or Bud product, I'll drink those instead. The point being that I'm not paying more for any American beer. They're all similar enough to me.

I don't know if they still use it, but black people have a term that's the equivalent to "redneck" or "white trash". It's "country". I've never heard it said in quite the same hateful way though. I've only heard it as the setup of a joke or for some light ribbing such as, "Your family's so country, your last fight was over the kool-aid."

Larry Livermore said...

I'd forgotten all about that, but now that you mention it, I remember hearing black people using that expression back in Michigan. But that was a good little while ago. It must be at least ten or twenty years now since I last heard it.

Handsome Dan said...

Early Pabst consumption and endorsement appears to be the only trend that I was ahead of the curve on. I grew up in northern Wisconsin, and I'm willing to bet that my 'rents and my friends' 'rents were more likely to have Pabst in their fridges as a result. As most of you know, the beer in mom & dad's fridge usually = the beer that their teenage kids (and those kids' friends) will drink, if for no other reason than its easier to steal. Its the beer I grew up on and I continued to drink it after I was old enough to get into bars - I'm old enough to have had people make fun of me for ordering PBR. Yay me.

Here's the weirdest bit of PBR marketing I know of: from '00-'02, my girlfriend and I were putting out a 'zine called ALCO-BEAT. It was your basic stoopid punk rock 'zine, fairly indistinguishable from the legions of others out there, though I did draw some pretty swell cartoons if I do say so myself. As you may have inferred from the title, much of the content was devoted to alcohol, our love of it, and various stories about getting drunk. That's the only reason why I can figure that the Pabst Brewing Co. sent us a letter asking us to sell 'em some ad space. We would've done it with a smile (we have a healthy understanding of the whole selling-out/buying-in scheme), but wound up never taking 'em up on it for reasons of sheer lethargy - we were getting kind of tired of doing it and never wound up putting out another issue anyway. But I bet we could've taken 'em for three digits...

Spoke said...

In these here parts, Rednecks is them people that live on farms and ain't finished skooling. I work at a farm implement dealership selling parts and ship/receive. I can't beleive the poor grammer I hear daily.
" I ain't got no need for them bearin's no more, I brung 'em back fer credit"
Its laughingly sad! I think the Rednecks around here are mainly the guys that didn't finish school because they were working on the farm. They don't seem to be globally aware by any stretch of the imagination. Most of the self proclaimed Rednecks around here are frieghtened of change too. They don't trust the Government, Internet, Visa-over-the-phone. They seem to be quite nervous about security. Not too keen on strangers etc. At the same time, friendly as all get out to who they know. Hold tight, I'll ask a few of my self proclaimed redneck co-workers what "Redneck" means, I'll be right back. 1:28pm.
Woot woot, it's heating up a bit! 1:43.
Ok, 1:52 and have a few definitions...

We are the devil when crossed. An eye for en eye. Politically, we are the middle of the road. Short hair, actual red necks from working out doors. Fun loving and friendly.

Gun toting, conservatives with moral values. Old fashioned and hardworking.

Right wing wannabe cowboys.

We like things the way it used to be. Political correctness is a cop out. All this talk of recycling and the environment in trouble is a myth. David Suzuki is the antichrist.

So there you go, from the horse's mouths. Sure is different in Alberta than say, Vancouver. In Vancouver B.C. a Redneck was the welfare rat that smacks his girlfriend around and has little education. Usually spent his cash on cheap beer and cigarettes. Tight jeans and nasty wife beater shirts...ballcaps too. When I first got to Three Hills Alberta, I saw a Confederate flag flying proudly on a truck. That always meant "mighty white" in the city. Here, it simply means "good ol' boy" as their comments assure.
Go figger.

Spoke said...

wow, catch my spelling! I can't remember "i before e except after c" for the life of me!
I guess I aint far from Rednekkidness neither...
Actually, I've coined the term "GREEN NECK" and thats what they call me here. That and "tree hugger" "lefty". We prefer "leaf people" these days so I hear....

DK said...

I live in North Carolina, where "rednecks" tend to be one of two things: working class, uncomplicated Southern people with the accent to match, or intolerant morons who make fun of you if you use big words and beat you over the head with their self-serving religious beliefs.
Sometimes the term "redneck" is used unfairly. And sometimes it isn't.

Anonymous said...

yeah DK, i'm from Benson, NC... it's the same way around here. You hit the nail on the head with that one.