Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Dark Persons of America

Dark matter: that matter in the universe that is not directly observable. Dark internet: that portion of the Internet that can no longer be accessed through conventional means. Dark people: those individuals who have fallen out of society’s view, who have disappeared from society’s radar. (Most of them are poor.)

My follow-up post containing the rest of the brownfields interview will be posted this weekend. But for this present post, I want to discuss something different.

Bernard Hill is a name that is probably familiar to most people who remember the Lord of the Rings movies. He played Theoden, the King of Rohan. That role was the first role I saw him play, because I don’t go to movies much and I don’t have a TV. But because I was intrigued by the Lord of the Rings movies, I did a bit of research on the principal characters, and discovered a surprising amount of information on their previous acting roles. It turns out that an early breakout role for Bernard Hill was in a British TV miniseries titled, The Boys From The Blackstuff.

Hill played the character of Yosser Hughes, one of five unemployed asphalt (tarmac for you British) layers in the 1980’s. The series chronicled the lives of this loose gang of five men as they struggled to maintain their dignity and provide for themselves and their families amidst mounting national unemployment and the indignities of being “on the dole.” It was a struggle that each man eventually lost. The most harrowing portrayal of that loss was shown in Yosser Hughes, who lost his wife, his children, his home, and lastly, his sanity, while constantly asking – sometimes demanding, sometimes pleading – “Gizza job!”

The Boys From The Blackstuff was an eye-opener for many of the British, who had previously been trained by their culture and their own mass media to think of the poor and unemployed as mere scroungers. In fact, the series was widely seen as a dramatic denunciation of capitalist, free-market Thatcherism. Most of all, the series put a human face on the poor.

Such a series would probably not have been made or broadcast in the United States at any time during the Television age. (It is doubtful that such a series could be made anymore in Britain.)

Our nation has been trained to ignore the poor. This training has been accomplished through a steady diet of distraction and aspirational propaganda that claims that “anyone can be rich, and by Gum, everyone should want to be!” So we allow ourselves to be hypnotized by game shows, upscale living and “home improvement” shows, sports, the promise of the Lottery, and the advertising that goes with it all. When we go to the store, the magazines next to the checkout counter are full of flashy covers full of beefcakes and vixens and stories about the lives of these “stars.”

When events force the poor onto the American national consciousness, the response frequently consists of anger and hatred on the part of the rich and the “aspirational.” The poor are blamed for being poor. This, of course, gets the rich off the hook for any sort of duty or obligation of charity toward the poor. Thus the mainstream media (which is owned by the rich) denounces any suggestion that government social spending should be increased (though they are curiously silent when the Government bails out the institutions of the rich). They denounce any suggestion that the rich should be taxed more heavily than they are (and they are not taxed heavily right now). This is why the mainstream media in Oregon (such as that “progressive” newspaper, the Oregonian) have come out so vehemently against Measures 66 and 67. Measure 66 would add an increase of a (very) few percentage points to the tax rate of singles making over $125,000 a year or couples filing jointly making over $250,000 a year. How many people do you know that make over $125,000 a year?

Sometimes that anger and hatred takes even more grotesque forms. Pat Robertson, the outspoken founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, recently denounced the country of Haiti, saying that the earthquake that struck that country several days ago is God’s judgment on its people for “making a deal with the devil” two centuries ago in order to get free from their French (white) colonial masters. If the earthquake is “God’s judgment,” that excuses rich Americans from having to help Haiti, doesn’t it? By the way, Mr. Robertson has a net worth of between $200 million and $1 billion, according to Wikipedia.

(Pat Robertson claims to be a Christian and a minister of the Gospel. But I am a Christian, and I’ve read the Bible, and I think Mr. Robertson might have to prepare for an unpleasant surprise on the Day of Judgment – see Matthew 6:24; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31; 1 Timothy 6:9-10 and James 5:1-6. I shall have more to say about him on my other blog. Has he ever heard of a place called Gehenna?)

Usually, though, the eyes of American society are directed away from the poor. There’s a store I regularly visit that carries Newsweek Magazine next to its checkout counter. Last week, Newsweek’s front cover was dedicated to picturing the “new face of Al-Qaeda” – the supposed black Nigerian threat. This week’s cover featured the growing American conservative acceptance of gay marriage. To the best of my knowledge, Haiti did not even make the front cover of Newsweek. (In fact, I’ll bet that in two weeks, Haiti will be forgotten – just like New Orleans was after Katrina.)

But we don’t have to go as far as Haiti to see how hard our leaders are working to keep our eyes off the poor. There are the “official” Government unemployment figures that are regularly cooked to a reality-obscuring flavor. I am truly thankful for those analysts who are able to sniff out the truth, people who publish websites like Shadowstats and The Automatic Earth. Basically, what they reveal is that in order to keep the “official” unemployment rate from going much above ten percent, the Government is ignoring huge and growing sectors of the unemployed population. Would you like to meet a “dark person”? You may not have far to look.

Meanwhile, if you want a peek at the lives of these dark people, feel free to rent or buy The Boys From The Blackstuff. You won't find another such portrayal in our mainstream media. It’s a good preparation for the time when you yourself will have to shout out the American version of the plea, “Gizza job!”


Aimee said...

Thank you for the links, I am very interested in checking them out.

I wonder if you are familiar with the work of Jonathon Kozol? He is an educator-turned-writer who has written many books on poverty in America and the ways in which it is perpetuated. The most moving - to me - was Savage Inequalities, written I believe in about 1999. His books stretch back to the 1970's with Rachel and Her Children. They are absolutely riveting and written with a deep respect for the subjects, who are the urban poor in New York city.

What is the name of your other blog?

TH in SoC said...

It's called "From SoC to Points North." There I primarily discuss religious matters (frequently consisting of giving a righteous kick in the pants to American evangelicals, even though I also am an evangelical). Sometimes I also discuss Christianity on this blog, The Well Run Dry, but it causes choking in a few people.

I'll check out Kozol; thanks for the info. I remember reading a book of his in high school.