Joe Bageant, 'Redneck' Rebel and Popular Progressive Author, Dies at 64
On Sunday March 27, progressives lost one of their most talented authors in Joe Bageant, who died at age 64 after a four month bout with cancer. The recipient of high praise from luminaries such as Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn, Bageant was one of AlterNet's most popular essayists for his work on the corporate takeover of American democracy, the destruction of the middle-class over the past four decades and the plight of Redneck America. Bageant grew up in Winchester, Va. and his work often dwelled on the misery and duldrums of rural blue collar life.
Joe laments the fact that both affluent and poor are now being brought up with neither the capacity nor the need for self-recognition -- for discovering who they are as individuals. Instead, they are given a 'menu' of lifestyles to choose from, each with its own defining brand names and ensembles. "Adult yokels and urban sophisticates can choose from a preselected array of possible selves based solely on what they like to eat, see, wear, hear and drive." None of us can, any longer, "make up his or her identity from scratch." The upper-middle and affluent suburban "catering classes", those who support the corporatist centre (orange band in my chart above), are more to blame for its excesses than the working class because the catering classes at least have the education and power to see and resist it. When I published this chart a couple of years ago, it never occurred to me, in my liberal affluent comfort, that many or most of those living on the Edge are not at all able to see the centre for what it is, or to have any inkling that they need to pull further away from it, not aspire to become part of it.
We are all, Joe argues, prisoners of this corporatist political and economic system, caught, more or less, in its web. "America's much-ballyhood liberty is largely fictional. Three million of us are [in prisons or on parole]...The rest of us are captives of credit, our jobs, our need for health insurance, or our ceaseless quest for a decent retirement fund." What's worse, "You never know you are in prison until you try the door". And America's working class in particular has been so systematically dumbed down that they can't even see the door.
in a remembrance posted on Joe Bageant's official site, his friend Fred Reed shares Bageant's hedonistic side and his early career in arts & letters:
He lived largely, coming out of the mountains and spending a year at the Corcoran School of Art, and drifting west where his immense talent had him spending a lot of time with Hunter Thompson and the giants of the era and writing for all manner of publications. He believed deeply in booze and recreational drugs, which in those years was perhaps not a view unique to him. Shortly before his death he told Vi and me about having met some local Mexican folk here of Indian antecedents and going up in the hills one night to do mushrooms, and lying out half the night watching the stars swirl and dance. He lived for years on an Indian reservation without electricity, worked as an editor for Military History magazine, likewise for an agribusiness magazine flogging pesticides, and told horrendous stories about what we actually eat. He was miserable at Military History, but needed to live.
Joe is survived by his wife, Barbara, his three children, Timothy, Patrick and Elizabeth. Tragically, Bageant passed away only days before his second book, American Pie: A Redneck Memoir was released in the U.S. AlterNet published an excerpt from American Pie last September, where he explains that "Economic, political, and social culture in America is staggering under the sheer weight of its white underclass, which now numbers some sixty million." His archive of essays and books will continue to resonate -- Bageant's"How Unions Gave My Redneck Family a Chance at the American Dream" brings flesh to what's at stake in Wisconsin and other states trying to destroy labor rights.
Some of Bageant's most popular essays on AlterNet:
Bageant's final article: "America: Why R Your Peeps So Dum?"