Friday, February 13, 2009

Deer Hunting with Jesus

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War
Joe Bageant 2007
267 pages + acknowledgments

One of the benefits of living in a university setting is that I’m constantly surrounded by people who are reading idea-centered books. One such book came up in my sociological theory class last week while we discussed Marxism. By Marxism, I’m referring to Marx’s historical, sociological, and economic analyses -- not Communist or Bolshevist governments. While discussing class consciousness and class conflict, someone brought up Deer Hunting with Jesus, a book written about the poor white working class of the United States, better known as “rednecks”. Author Joe Bageant is a redneck, albeit one who has become something of an alien to the very culture in which he was raised. He and I are alike in this regard: both of us were raised in this same class, and I am intimately familiar with every aspect of the culture he addresses, and as such the book was particularly relevant to me.

Who are the people of the poor white working class? Why do they vote the way they do? Why is their culture the way it is? Why is their life growing progressively worse, and why are they oblivious to this and even making the matter worse? These are the questions that Bageant faced when he moved back to the town in which he was raised, and those are the questions he tries to answer for the benefit of his fellow progressives who grew up in different settings and who don’t understand this base of the Republican party. It doesn’t come off as patronizing: it’s more of a resigned “What do we do about this?” attitude.

In the book Bageant writes about the Republican party’s appeal to poor whites, gun control, housing problems (in which he predicts our current debacle), religious matters, violence, healthcare, and “the American hologram”. He’s humorous in some ways, saddening in others. In some chapters he only explains the issue: in others, he explains the issues and chides Democrats for their mistakes about the issue at hand. This is particularly the case in “Valley of the Gun: Black Powder and Buckskin in Heartland America”. He tries to explain “this is why your actions are having this effect”. He paints a picture that is sad, tragic, sometimes horrifying, and sometimes. If you want to understand this part of America, I recommend the book to you -- but you may find it more disturbing than funny. You can read a sample of Beagant’s portrayal here.

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