Tuesday, August 16, 2005

(Blue) Collar (Red) Neck

Here’s a research question: why is it that “Blue Collar” now equals “Redneck”? How, why and when did this equation become so common sense that no one questions the fact that the Blue Collar TV (on Comedy Central) and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, the biggest comedy concert of the past couple years, features four southern rednecks. If Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) of The Honeymooners (located in New York City) was the iconic pop culture proletarian of the ‘50s, and “Rosanne” (Rosanne Barr) represented the working class (located in the Midwest) in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, Larry the Cable Guy (from Florida) is the ultimate symbol of the working class in the ‘00s. (Larry’s new CD, The Right to Bare Arms, entered the “music charts” at number 7. This is the best first-week entry of any comedy album in history.)

Other interesting questions: why are there no women on Blue Collar TV or the Comedy Tour? What does this all say about the trajectory of working class politics? And is there more to be said about the blue-red relationship here?

A more accurate icon of the working class in today’s South, as everyone who lives here knows, would be a Mexican immigrant working in construction or on the poultry dis-assembly line at Tyson Foods or as a janitor at Walmart. For the poultry side of this story, look for my colleague Steve Striffler’s book, Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food (Yale University Press), due out on September 26.

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