My Fellow Joe Six-Packs:
Sarah Palin et al like to call us "Joe Six-Pack," and they think we like it too. They think it sounds folksy and homey and cute.
Sure. It's a folksy, homey, cute way to euphemistically call us something very close to trashy, ignorant hillbillies. We're just not supposed to be smart enough to realize it.
See, JSP isn't referring to our rock hard abs. JSP literally means "the blue collar guy who picks up a six pack of cheap beer every night after work and goes home to watch Nascar (and probably beat his wife/kids and light a cross on the black neighbor's lawn but we won't say anything about that wink wink nudge nudge)." That is the message that they are trying to get across to America.
We know you. You don't have a thought in your head beyond making sure you have food on the table and beer in the fridge. You want us to take care of you and do all the thinking for you. You're a demographic we've put together based on statistics of race, level of education, and family income. And we think that everyone who falls within those statistics is just exactly the same. And did we mention we don't think you're very bright?
And that, to them, based on statistics, is what they think of us middle Americans.
Are there a percentage of Americans who fit their definition? White (or POCs who are happy with their lot in life), blue collar, no higher education, racist, homophobic, specific brand of Christianity, afraid of intellectuals, jingoistic, sexist...of course there are.
Can we safely assume that demographic is already on their side? Fabulous. So now, JSP just refers to the undecided voter and the folks they want to pull over from the other side.
That is to say, us.
So, Governor Palin et al, let me tell you who the Joe Six-Pack that you think you're talking to really is.
Joe is the guy I worked with who served in Vietnam, worked construction, had four kids, thought Portland micro-brews were for hippies and weirdos -- and told me one day about having to change churches, because "our pastor spends all his time talking about how bad the gays are, and I go to church for God, and I really don't think God cares who you sleep with or who you marry." Oh, and he went back to school at 45 to get a degree in architecture, so I guess he won't be Joe Six-Pack soon. His income will put him into that Better Class of People y'all think you're part of.
Joe is a writer or an actor or an artist who waits tables, pumps gas, shelves books, does landscaping, delivers pizza, scrubs toilets, and otherwise works his or her ass off all day or night to pay the mortgage so they can continue to write or act or make art.
Joe is the lady down the street who is "just a secretary" and never finished college. She also reads D.H. Lawrence and lots of egghead poetry. Oh, and she can also name the newspapers she reads, but then she doesn't actually have time to read all of them.
Joe is a POC with parents of different races, who gets interrupted an awful lot at work to be asked "what ARE you?" by customers, and continues to bag your damn groceries with a smile. Then he goes home and watches Britcoms on PBS, plays long distance chess with a guy in Russia over the Interwebs, and feeds his kids before putting them to bed and reading them subversive stories by Neil Gaiman.
Joe is a stripper (who doesn't have a drug habit and isn't a prostitute.) She's putting herself through school. She's going to be a lawyer and look like one of you on the surface, but you're really gonna hate it when you're up against her in front of the Supreme Court.
Joe spends 8 hours a day on an assembly line with a wrench, turning bolts and hoping you don't send his job to a child in China. On Thursday nights he bowls with a bunch of construction workers and he does share a pitcher of beer with them. Budweiser, even. Then he goes home, puts on his ABBA records, and dances with his partner -- Andrew.
Joe comes in when you call I.T. because you've opened a forwarded executable file from your sister in an email with the header "Smile, God Loves You" and locked up your machine with a nasty killer worm. She smiles politely when you tell her how impressed you are that a pretty little girl like her knows so much about computers. Then she goes to her Tai Chi class and later dances naked in the back yard with her coven. But she drives a Chevy truck, so who knew?
Joe Six-Pack isn't who you think he/she is. You don't have a fucking clue about Joe Six-Pack.
I wish I were only talking to one camp. But I'm talking to my own, too. We "liberal elitists." Because we say the same kind of things when talking about "the average American." We assume we know them, and they are the same people Palin knows.
And that's kind of dangerous, and it's also kind of not true. Like I said, there are those people out there, and we know what camp they are in. But how many of us assumed "the average American" would say that Palin won the debate, because she didn't fall down and start speaking in tongues? And what are the polls saying? And hasn't our side also been moaning about how "Joe Six-Pack" wouldn't vote for a black man? Assuming "the average American" is that special demographic? Do we really think he did so well in the primaries because there's such a vast quantity of "intellectual elites" out there to compensate for all of the average people who'd naturally vote right wing? Come on, people.
Most of the "liberal elitists" I know are not, in fact, rich. Some are highly educated and working in lucrative professions. Some are highly educated and working class. Some, sadly, are incredibly liberal but not terribly educated (formally or autodidactically) and are just as easily led by sound bite as "the great unwashed" that they don't believe they are a part of.
But honestly, I know for a fact, pretty much everyone I know who will read this is, statistically, demographically, Joe Six-Pack.
And how many of you...us...truly fall into the assumed stereotype? Even if you're conservative? Even if you do like to buy a sixer now and again?
Are we the Joe Six-Pack they think they know?
When I get overwhelmed by all the things I feel passionately about -- racism, sexism, homophobia; when I despair that nothing is getting better and we're all just going to go on hating each other; when I start to fall into thinking that the doomsayers are right and nothing has improved and America just sucks...I hear Dr. King in my head.
I say good night to you by quoting the words of an old Negro slave preacher, who said, 'We ain't what we ought to be and we ain't what we want to be and we ain't what we're going to be. But thank God, we ain't what we was.'
And I look at the world, where things have changed a bit at a time, a step at a time. There are states where gay marriage is legal. We have a black Presidential candidate, and not, bless his heart, a Jesse Jackson running independently, but a black candidate who made it through our very inherently racist and generally crappy two party system to be the probable next President of the United States. And had it not been him, it would have been a woman.
We SO AIN'T what we ought to be or what we want to be. We are not even what I would call close. But one step at a time, one person at a time, we are steadily pressing on, trying to get there.
And the rich and powerful don't get to steal the credit for that.
The credit for the ongoing battle goes to Mr., Mrs., and Ms. Goddamn Joe Six-Pack. The agitators, the commenters, the people on the phone banks, the people in the streets marching, the people organizing, the people speaking out, the people working on their families and neighbors to make the changes that have to happen for us to change our society for the better...
You are JSP. I am JSP. I grew up white and middle class. I have that endangered mortgage. I worry about putting food on the table. Hell, I'm an artist and a writer, I'm not even as high up as blue collar...I can barely find a good shirt to wear. And I'm bisexual, polyamorous, and pagan. And by the way, I know Cindy Soccer Mom. She's a full time nurse, "single" mother, drives a minivan, takes her kids to soccer and dance classes -- and goes home at night to strap on a leather harness and roger her girlfriend silly.
I am Joe Six-Pack. I am not who they think that they are talking to. Are you?
Friday, October 03, 2008
I'm Joe Six-Pack
From the inimitable Copperwise, ok to link/distribute with proper credit.