Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

1. The American middle class is an affluent working class. Almost nobody in the middle class can afford not to work. This working middle class has been wealthier than most upper classes through most of history.

2. The 20th century American economic splendor allowed the affluence of the middle class to extend down to blue collar jobs. This social strata has been diminishing drastically since 1980.

3. The American middle class depends on Uncle Sam guarding the borders. We depend on exporting a huge percentage of the squalor necessary to support our affluence. With open borders, our perch atop the economic heap would be knocked over.

4. The most vital American arts of the 20th century -- movies, jazz, popular music -- modeled American economic might by doing away with the "single author" and celebrating hierarchical, collective modes of cultural production parallel to the economy of manufacturing.

5. In jazz, the American myth of individuality within corporate, collective life reaches its most paradigmatic and beautiful expression. Star players are recognizable from their intensely individualistic styles. And in jazz, they must fold their individuality into the tune or band or session at hand.

6. Norman Rockwell is the painter of the mid-20th century American working middle class. Many people reject pictures like his Breaking Home Ties of 1956 as dishonestly sentimental. But millions of parents did make sacrifices in order to pay their children's way through college, so their children could have better lives. This does not look like an idealized family. Parent and child are alienated from each other, even as they're physically connected. The image of awkward, inarticulate love between father and son does not feel false or over-sentimentalized to me. The collie's chin resting on the son's knee may be overly sentimental -- false, even.

7. The problem of borders -- of economic inequality between nation states -- is a huge political conundrum. Nothing I have read indicates that we have had the beginnings of a way to address it humanely.

-- Breaking Home Ties, Norman Rockwell, 1956

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