Review by Pete Soderman
One of the reviews on Amazon suggested that Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir should be required reading for all American schoolchildren, and I heartily agree. The picture Joe paints of what’s happened “his people” in the rural south applies to working men and women everywhere in America. Far from being only the family memoir I expected, Rainbow Pie is really a story of the corporate takeover of America from the point-of-view of the common working man and woman. There is essentially no difference between what has become of the world Joe describes around Winchester, Virginia, and the world I grew up in near New Haven, Connecticut. In both cases, the good jobs are gone, both on the land and in the factories.
The chief difference between the two is that, while “Joe’s people” are clinging to their guns and religion to protect them from what they see as an overreaching government, mine, in the liberal north, are clinging to the faint hope that Obama, the magic-man is going to somehow save them from their own stupidity. Both ideas are equally divorced from reality.
Joe writes about the American underclass, what made them that way, and how the sinking tide is lowering all boats, except for those one or two percent who really have boats of their own. It’s no wonder the rural poor mistrust the government, it was government policies, forced by the Corporatocracy, that drove them off the land in the first place, only to be victimized by the deliberate destruction of the unions that kept wages high, again by government policies, forced by the same Corporatocracy.
Growing-up in the 50’s, I experienced the America Joe writes about, an America that’s unfortunately gone forever. When I graduated from high school, even the “D” students could read, and most could write a coherent paragraph. Companies had “personnel departments,” jobs were plentiful and well-paying, and you could buy things that lasted for a long time. Globalization, unfettered capitalism, and good old-fashioned greed and corruption has changed all that, and given us the America we have now. As Joe writes:
“The bottom line, however, is that they can’t read. Feel free to blame anyone you choose, except the free-market system’s extreme preference for dim-witted consumers and workers …
Ultimately, these kids will join the millions of adults who cannot read. And they cannot read because: 1. They do not have the necessary basic skills, and don’t give a rat’s ass about getting them; 2. Reading is not arresting enough to compete with the electronic stimulation in which their society is immersed; 3. They cannot envisage any possible advantage in reading, because the advantages stem from extended personal involvement, which they have never experienced, are conditioned away from, and is understandably beyond their comprehension; and 4. Their peers do not read as a serious matter, thereby socially reinforcing their early conclusion that it’s obviously not worth the time and effort.”
The renaming of “personnel” departments to “human resources,” some time in the 70’s was actually a culmination of 60 years of efforts by corporations to put human workers in the same category, only different bins as nuts, bolts, and screws. To increase profits, corporations eliminated skilled positions and hired non-skilled workers at lower wages, even though they needed more of them to do the same jobs. This resulted in the production of cheaper goods that had to be replaced more often, leading to still more profits. Now, as goods and increasingly services are provided by offshore workers at still lower wages, the corporations don’t really need us very much at all. As Joe writes:
“Those consumers may have been stumbling instead of running down the store aisles of late, but recreational shopping is still a major driver of the US economy. Americans are still doing their bit to save the country, even if they hit the mall with only ten bucks to spend.
And why not? We’re talking about brand-new stuff here, folks — like the ‘improved’ iPhone and its must-haves for shoot-everything-that-moves apps for gamers’ … The survival of American-style corporate capitalism depends on the public perception of such unending ‘newness’ and ‘improved must-haves’ to sustain abnormal market growth. To that end, it has buried us not only in junk, but also in junk efficiency, in the encrustation of ordinary goods with electronics – things designed to delight consumers by their novelty.”
Joe tells the story of his family, of course, within the backdrop of the last 60 years in the land of the free. For those not familiar with the “great white underclass,” some of what Joe describes may come as something of a shock – and that’s a good thing. As you read the stories of these “plain country folk,” realize that we are all heading down the same road, and they may have started at a lower level, but we will all eventually reach the same point – courtesy of the Corporatocracy that has us all in thrall. I know that wherever Joe may be, he would be thrilled if his last work served as a wake-up call for some of those who are, for whatever reason, ignorant of the present situation in which we find ourselves.
We lost Joe Bageant all too soon! I read a posting on his website some time ago, concerning a small Mexican village named Ajijic, where Joe was living. We began an email correspondence, and I was able to meet him when I moved here myself about a year ago. With his schedule and mine, we only had a brief time to get to know each other, but I feel we could have become friends.