I’ve been thinking about class. Class in all its varying forms: Class-warfare; Classism; Classy-ness they’ve all been sifting and rotating around in my mind. As I watched the Oscars last week, oohing and aahing over the dresses and hair; the tears streaming as Jennifer Hudson knocked it out of the ball park; I am sitting in my pajamas that I didn’t get out off all day I was thinking about the best movie I saw this year: Beasts of the Southern Wild. This movie touched me so viscerally and completely- I was literally sobbing, heaving wet sobs, at the end of the movie. The story follows a girl and her father in the swampy bayou of southern Louisiana and the story of people who live on the edge of the continent as the world warms and a hurricane approaches. It connects the moments that this tiny soul is living through to the entire world’s eminent disaster as the climate continually changes. It is micro and macro and contains so much in the world that my heart was wrenched and yanked out of its chest- I loved this movie so much.
Now I am well aware that movies that I love do not win Oscars so I wasn’t too surprised (Hello Tree of Life is the best movie EVER- no Oscar), and I was happy that Argo won- because I really enjoyed that film too- but I was thinking about this story- the story of the family on the bayou. The story of love trumping objects and that a life lived with people full of love will always mean more than a life lived in a consumer-driven society. That this little girl has more understanding of what is really important than the 33 year old woman who has to remind herself- it’s not the end of the world if you have to sit through a 30 minute anti-malware scan because malicious threats have been detected on your laptop.
Though it still kinda sucks.
This thought that lies underneath Beasts of the Southern Wild is also underlined in the novel I am reading by Barbara Kingsolver: Flight Behavior. (Side story: I have had this book on my list for the library but I was number 89 in the queue to get it so I was expecting to be able to read it as a summer book- when I was perusing the shelves and saw it. I brought it up to check it out- I was so stoked it was even there- and the librarian had this worried look when she saw the screen and it said “ON HOLD” she looked at me and said “Can you finish this by Monday?” and I was like “Oh yes!” and she let me sneak up in the queue so that I could read it now. It pays to have a good relationship with your librarian and to be a fast reader!) Anywho, this novel is amazing (as are most of all Kingsolver novels: she creates these wonderfully relatable characters male and female and the situations they find themselves in are beautiful and fanciful but real. Love her!) And I cannot recommend it enough (and I still have 20 pages to read- sorry Librarian Friend!) The story follows a young mother in Tennessee in the Appalachian/Smokey Mountain area. She lives in a very small town outside a moderately small town and Kingsolver creates a realistic world of small town life. The protagonist is fiery and smart as a whip but given the circumstances she grew up in her life is sheltered in this small town because of the limitations that come with that world. Her world gets thrown upside down when she makes a discovery and new people come into her world that broadens everything that she knows- and creates a gulf that she recognizes between the haves and the have not’s. In the novel there is a lot of exploration between media perceptions of reality and how people are portrayed in the media. It also dives into assumptions that are made on how people live their lives in Appalachia verses the coastal cities; on educated people verses people who didn’t have the opportunity to get to college; on the hillbilly reality shows verses the reality of people who make do with less. Kingsolver does a great job of highlighting all points of view- validating why people have these views- and pushing the reader to decide how they stand in these views- how they relate- and what that says about themselves.
For me, classism has been an ongoing battle within myself. It’s all about perspective, but growing up I always felt like we were poorer than other people. I never went without a meal, I always had coats and shoes, we had enough money to be able to go see a movie or go out to eat (White Castles or Steak ‘n Shake- but out to eat). Now, I know that I wasn’t poor and we were solidly middle class, but growing up I knew we were on a precipice of being poor. My dad worked in a dying manufacturing industry and the unions that we all believed would keep the wolf from the door was losing its hold in our area and my father- a shop steward- was on the front lines of any layoff that was eminent. There were years of belt tightening- and then the bottom dropped and my dad went from job to job as one plant would close down after the other and business drifted across the borders and across oceans. (Thank you NAFTA) I knew that it was scary as we got rid of cable, as we didn’t go out to eat anymore and school clothes began to be purchased from thrift stores. Luckily, I was heading into high school in the early 1990’s and the thrift store, grungy look worked and I was almost ahead of some social curve on that one!
My dad is so influential in how I look at the government, society and class standards, his anti-Reagan; anti-capitalism; socialist outlook has been a major influence for me. The way I view society in general- that I am only as comfortable as the least comfortable around me- that I cannot be free unless everyone is free- that my welfare is dependant only on the welfare of others is why I am the progressive, pinky- socialist I am today. I know the ripple effects of my actions- I know how influential my voice is to the body politic, I take pride in my efforts to be aware of what my country, my politicians, my government is doing on my behalf and make sure they stay true to my expectations of them. My dad may not have been able to always keep us in the black financially- but I never lacked in pride of my history, his work ethic that he gave me, and the passion for civic duty.
I care deeply about so many things, and tears flow easily from me. I cry often and I cry hard. I am sometimes ashamed of my free flowing tears- but have been lucky to have been surrounded by people who never admonish my visible emotions. Yesterday I sobbed- cried vocally and hard- on Roland’s shoulder after listening to This American Life. It was part two of a two part series on a Chicago Public High school: Harper, and the affects of gun violence on the school. At the end Ira Glass was responding to an email that was written into TAL after part one aired. The email commented on how sad it was that they had to cover the most violent school in America. Ira wanted to set the emailer straight: It wasn’t the most violent school. It was typical. Then he had these principals and superintendants from various high schools across our nation say their school name and the city it is located in and how many student deaths have occurred in the past years. All these schools- I believe over 20- from every corner of the country named all these children who are dead and it tore me up. It is tearing me up right now as I write this; so many useless deaths and the overwhelming feeling of how incapable I am to stop it. I realize how wonderful my little life has been that it has been untouched by such violence; that my world has maintained such a perfect snow-globe mentality.
It makes me ashamed of those egotistical moments that I worry about how un-classy I seem. How I pull and tug at objects around me, ashamed of my 1985 Impala on certain roads, how I judge my thrift store jacket when people I love, people who love me can afford Brooks Brothers. How they don’t wear their shame on them- and how uncomfortable I get when I walk into Plaza Frontenac- just knowing they can smell my NoCo past. How worried I get and then offended to no end by my husband’s seemingly classist thoughts against JC Penny- when I can remember shopping there with my mom and being mortified by how expensive everything seemed. How difficult it actually is for me to shop because I actually hate spending money and even now how guilty I feel about complaining about shopping when children are getting shot outside on their front porches, when there are whole species of animals that are dying because of my ecological footprint, when there are people living on the edge of the continent in houses made of found objects and hunkering down for another extended season of hurricanes and potential disasters. Where am I in this battle? Where do I stand in the war of the classes? What role am I playing on creating equality for all? How classy am I being about the inherent classism that surrounds me?
But I am aware. I know it exists- I am aware of my role in it, and awareness is the first step to changing it, to working towards a solution, and even recognizing there may not be one. I have power because I am able to work my way through these ideas, I am able to articulate the problem and formulate ways to change the outcome. I am able to share these thoughts and ideas with people I love, and now, through this social-media of my blog to share it with strangers. I am able to start a potential conversation with others and gather more and more perspectives and create a kaleidoscope of ideas that could lead to viable solutions. There is still power to enact change, and for that I am endlessly grateful.