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I thought since I had to witness a whole bunch of snotty poets dissect the working class poets (or lack thereof) on a thread today, I’d have some fun and brand them as they brand folks like me.

First this is the general gist of what they inferred. All white working class people have disappeared. We don’t really exist and so must be represented by Philip Levine and James Wright–two men who didn’t spend as much time in the factory as they spent teaching at leading universities. They wrote about working class people. We were interesting back in the day. We had clout because class and fashionable communism (not the real thing, but the kind you embrace when you take a theory class) prevailed. Now all we got is the “white working poor,” and we all know those fuckers just show up in photos of fat asses in the people of Wal-Mart and as extras in movies that prove it was working class whites who lynched all the black folks, and the rich white elites tried really hard (they really, really did) to stop them Yeah, Sure. Right.

If every upper middle class southern novelist’s family had been as “different” as they are in the novels, there never would have been Jim Crow. So myth number one: working class white folks no longer exist and that’s a good thing because they lynched all the colored folks while upper middle class whites sang Joan Baez songs and went on secret life saving missions with their black maids to the poor side of town. Uh huh…. Fucking spare me. Now only poor working whites exist and that’s a bad thing because they’re really stupid, have fat asses, and vote Republican, and we all know what that means: they must be sterilized.

My own branding iron on artsy white folks: the first thing artsy white people check out are your clothes, your weight, and your shoes. The next thing they check out is what program you were in and who you studied with. Then they check out where you were published. If it’s a rainy day, and they’re bored, they may even check out what you actually wrote (to make sure its what they write, only different–different in the same way).

Artsy white folks call themselves foodies then waste 60 percent of the shit on their plate. Al dente is misapplied to everything. Everything is almost raw. This allows them to think they are cooking things the right way and showing off their good teeth, yet not eating much because all the chewing tires them out and reminds them they need to up their anti-depressants. Upper middle class white artsy folks do not like soft foods. They like crunch and bite, and things you have to chew for hours. They like soup, but only if its “comfort food.” Artsy white folks use comfort food, the phrase, the way pool players call a safety when they have no shot: it absolves them from being branded working poor. When I eat macaroni and cheese among artsy white folks I say: “I’ve had it rough lately. Time for some comfort food.” It doesn’t work for me because I’m husky and I never order anything I have to chew for more than four seconds. I also don’t wear the right pants.

Artsy white folks still hang out with people who fucked and dumped them and gave head to their best friend. This allows them to feel bitter indefinitely, and say sarcastic, bitter things while pretending they are mature and above holding a grudge. This also allows them to feel that they have real and important issues. Artsy white folks “grow apart.” They “move forward.” They “let go.” For some reason they use some of the same terms in romances as they do in business meetings.

Artsy white folks all try to look like William Hurt or the older Jessica Lange if they are over forty. If they are in their thirties, they all try to look a little like a cross between Natalie Portman and Kathleen Keener. If they are really artsy, they all look like Katherine Hepburn playing Joan of Arc in 400 dollar jeans (both the men and the women). There is always someone who looks like Catherine Keener among their friends, and this person is always mean and funny. Artsy white folks keep a rich supply of mean and funny people around them at all times. These used to be their gay or bi friends, but then they realized this was stereotyping, so now all their gay friends are happily married men or women who wear expensive Irish sweaters and really “grock them.” Mark Doty is always on their book shelves. Artsy white folks know enough not to listen to Pachelbel (though they have hidden him somewhere in the house with the one pack of cigs, and the can of beefaroni). They listen to Philip Glass instead, and, sometimes, even John Zorn. They go to Lyle Lovett concerts even if they never listen to country music. They want the whole country to be Brooklyn, Portland, or Austin, Texas. All artsy white folks eventually live in one of those three places. If they can’t, they live in Jersey City or in Nashville.

All artsy white folks can get really conflicted when the cashier says: Plastic or paper? They have different strategies for dealing with it. Some get haughty and say:”you must be joking,” And then hope the cashier gives them plastic. Others say paper and don’t really mean it. Still others look around quickly, say plastic and live with their decision. If they ever shop at Wal-Mart, they wear a disguise, do it in the dead of night, and make amends the next day by walking in the breast cancer or gay pride parade. They are all green conscious people who lived in the suburbs which destroyed the woods and created the fossil fuel emissions problem. Now, because they said oops and want to solve it, they all think they dance with wolves.They moved back to the cities because they realized the suburbs were a cultural desert and unsustainable. You’ll know when artsy white folks are moving back to your urban neighborhood because both the rents and the police presence goes up and everything starts to resemble a slightly cooler version of White Plains, New York.

Artsy white people might even be amused by this post if they feel superior to me (they do, and I agree with them) They know they are the exception. Artsy white people are always the exception. They hate cops and lawyers and the industrial military complex though they are usually involved in some form of litigation and feel “violated” when someone steals from them, and they do nothing to stop the poor from fighting wars for them. They love equating getting ripped off with being violated. They hate cops even though they are likely to call them first, and they deplore racial profiling, yet count any art house immediately to make sure there is enough of a sprinkling of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and cool white people to be worthy of their presence. They are always lauding people of color yet somehow manage to end up with each other–deploring those unenlightened working class whites and Republicans who give whites a bad name. Along with corporate Republicans, they rule the world, but feel really, really bad about it…you understand? After all some day we will all be living in Agamben’s post-identity community and none of this will matter. An artsy white person who likes you can always be trusted to take you to the “real Mexican restaurant.” That’s one of the things I like about them. Artsy white people are all knowing, and always know the real Mexican restaurant. They always know what’s real. After all, they invented it.

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Joe Weil is a lecturer at SUNY Binghamton and has several collections of poetry out there, A Portable Winter (with an introduction by Harvey Pekar), The Pursuit of Happiness, What Remains, Painting the Christmas Trees, and, most recently, The Plumber's Apprentice, published by New York Quarterly Press. He makes his home in Vestal, New York.

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  • Semper_5 April 1, 2014, 6:58 am

    Every Poem-A-day mailout I get seems to be a whole gaggle of upper-middle-class people from the world of academia; hell, the history of the arts could be judged as such.

    Anyway, I’ve tried to get published and have had no luck. One could indeed infer it’s a class club. I’ve even asked a few times for ay kind of feedback as to why my work is unworthy for publication and get these half-assed non-committal aversions. You start digging and find things like ghostwriters, PR agents, trust funds, familial hookups, and all the other little Oompa Lompas of BSing pushing whoever has the cash or the pedigree to play adult make-believe. Never just good work getting it’s due.

    And because we’ve been told it’s a “meritocracy” you do start cultivating those sour grapes like in your article here… what else do you have? Money allows people to pretend to be whatever they want. And if you’re just a guy with a job and a love of the art then you have little hope to play the game too; unless you have something novel about you like alcoholism or drug addiction for rich folk to latch onto in order to give themselves “street cred” and teenagers to latch onto because a petty level of “naughty” behavior is the only standard they grade things to – never just the work. Never what’s being said. “Gild the bars of the petty cages we’ve built – tell us our ugliness is beautiful and our deceptions noble”. That’s all they want you to do.

    When the culture no longer studies the craft of poetry, painting, and music then the tools to discern what is good from what is merely artifice and posturing is gone – and all we’re left with are the same rich posers; who come in all shades and dominate every industry. Skin color doesn’t come into the class club – your ability to play pretend is all that counts. Ever seen a Warhol painting? The Emperor’s New Reality – the one we’re living in.

    Art is supposed to be a dialog about what it is to be human and to feel and to be alive… and in that respect nothing has changed Art is now about how well you become a brand, live a lie, and what you have to offer people to buy and buy into. Hypocrisy is a given. A human centipede of fictitious persona gnawing at each other in the hopes of ascending the coil. And, ultimately, a place-holder of pretentious name-dropping, thuggery, or gaudy noise where Art used to be. Art has become irrelevant unless it’s a mirror of our own lie of who we want to be perceived as. It’s the necessary prop in the costume of pretending to be an artist.

    But distracted by this noise, and the game-show histrionics, we never have to face ourselves and self-awareness. Never face the fact we are so fragile and impermanent, that we’re here to go. Never have to face the fact that all culture is just make-believe. And as the scientist wants us to know – We come from Nothing and we go to Nowhere, and forever and ever; Amen.

    I guess even in it’s plasticity and venality art can never lie. So it goes, huh? So it goes. The ultimate and final work of the species could be the installation of our own extinction.

    But there’s always hope – they can’t take that away from you. Keep working. Art is what is created despite the fakers and the phoneys not because of them. Keep going.

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