Lately, one of my favorite shows has been NBC’s My Name is Earl. In part because of the excellent use of the porn-mustache, but also because we finally have a lower-class sitcom again, one with flannell shirts, buttcracks, dive bars and humor arising out of a generally low IQ–in short: it apparently is time again to simultaneously mock the supposed inferiority of the lower classes, as well as romanticize them due to the picturesque simplicity of their existence (oh, could we be that stupid, ignorant and dirty just once–that would be so much more fun than the complex yuppie lives we are leading). Those “hicks” (interestingly Earl’s last name is in fact “Hickey”) are then in this show construed as further removed from general social rule, from the repressive superego and part of the fun they have is that they are depicted as precisely leading such an outsider existence (strange that what still forms the exploited backbone of our economy is now romantically idealized as happier and more free than we are, no?).
So, my point here is: the interesting ideological marginalization of the lower classes paralleling the de-marginalization and increasing integration of racialized subjects. Does anyone watch Trading Spaces? Great in this respect was this week’s episode called “Blow” in which Earl tries to help a black woman reach her goal of becoming a professional wrestler, her gimmick being theatrical fights in which she (Liberty) dresses up as the Statue of Liberty and fights the “Klanimal” (woman dressed up in white KKK outfit) as well as “Da Man” (guy dresses in Colonel Sanders fatigues). While the show continually represents the lower class subject as marginalized (and that seems to be quite ok with all involved parties) it directly corresponds with neoliberal logic that assumes that we are simply all anti-racist these days: the ultimate villain is the Klanimal and all the hicks in the audience booh this racist figure.
My question of the day then is: how does one talk about racism these days when anti-racism is such a standard gesture of US society? None of us seem to be racist any more, not even the stereotypical Southern hick (the figure we usually rely upon when claiming that we are not racist–“no, no–racism is one of those Southern redneck-guys burning a cross in a front yard–I am not racist, I have a black friend!”). Yet, I heard someone tell me that there still is racism out there. Strange. Similarly: how does one talk about the interconnection between race and class when they have traded places in their structural relation to mainstream society, yet class is now increasingly being romanticized as the “simple life” alternative, as a hope for escapism (The City Slickers syndrome), to the middle to uper class life. We all know by now that neoliberal ideology poses a problem here (see Walter Benn Michael’s latest book), but how do we actually mount a politics on this realization?
In short: what to do politically in a society when nothing is more mainstream than not wanting to be a part of the mainstream? Where to locate actual political progressivism when nothing is more hip (and financially lucrative) than fighting “Da Man?”