Thursday, October 16, 2008

mythical creatures: The American People, The Middle Class, and Joe the Plumber

My dissertation topic is the posthuman, which, rather unsurprisingly, has a certain kinship with other monstrous and mythical creatures: vampires, Frankenstein's monster, aliens, cyborgs and robots. So I spend a lot of time thinking about mythical creatures--concepts and images we carry around in our collective imagination, which we know don't really exist, but still serve in some sense to shape and define our view of ourselves and our world.

So, preoccupied with such, maybe it should have been unsurprising that I noticed a certain number of mythical creatures pop up in the debate last night.

The American People. The monolithic American People does not exist. Don't task me for my grammar; the verb is singular because the concept is singular. And that's what makes it false. I'm American. If you're reading this, you're probably American, because I don't have a huge int'l readership. But does this accident of our individual births somehow fuse us into one conceptual entity, one monolithic national identity, which can then be called upon reliably to display its uniform attitudes, desires, way of life, dreams? No. Should it? No. Has it ever? Probably not.

The Middle Class. IMO, just another version of the above. In the mythical land of The American People, The American People are Middle Class. At least, The American People that count are The Middle Class. Everytime I hear that phrase I want to clutch at my head and shout to the heavens, "what is so wrong with caring about the poor??? why is it off-limits for a politician to say, "poor people need some help"?" But beyond that, even, the point is that there is no The Middle Class in the sense we toss that phrase around anyhow. What is middle class? Does it mean growing up not worrying that you won't get enough to eat, but always with the background knowledge that there's not really enough money, to the point where in high school you were the kid who never asked your parents for $5 for the movies? Or is it growing up with enough security that money was never an issue, not even a background one? Obama's line of 250,000 sounds comfortably wealthy to me; but that just raises the I really middle class?

Joe the Plumber. Sure, I know he's a real guy. I heard him on the phone with Katie Couric and there's an NPR story about him and everything. But Joe the Plumber, symbolic representative of The Middle Class American People, DNE. He is a mythical creature. And he does not represent me, at least not in any way that takes into account differences that make a difference. I am very, very tired of being put into categories--social or philosophical--in which my humanity is represented by white maleness if it is to count. And I bet there are some others, as American as I am and as American as the real Joe the plumber, who feel the same.

Americans are not adequately represented by a white dude.

But The American People is a white dude.

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