Everything is a Commodity

rainbow pie

It’s Joe Bageant week at The Contrary Perspective.  Bageant is best know for writing Deer Hunting with Jesus, but his second (and sadly his last) book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir, is equally good.  Bageant, a self-confessed “redneck,” worked his way into the middle class as an editor.  But he never forgot his roots in Appalachia and the subsistence farming of his Scots-Irish family. Bageant had a brutally honest and unadorned way of speaking and writing, and also a great affection and respect for traditional communal values in America.

The theme of Rainbow Pie is loss: the loss of down homey (even homely) values and their replacement by a “monstrous fetish of commodities, their acquisition and their production through an insane scale of work and round-the-clock commerce and busyness” in America (Rainbow Pie, 68-69).

Joe Bageant in Belize
Joe Bageant in Belize

Here is an extended selection from Rainbow Pie, pp. 69-70.  I for one have never read a better description of what ails us as a country:

Is it at all possible to regain a meaningful, positive, and satisfying expression of character while working in such a monolithic, non-human scale of “production”? Anybody else feel like America is just one big workhouse, with time off to shit, shower, and shop? Or is it just me? Must our jobs necessarily be the most important thing in our lives?

Yeah, yeah, I know, them ain’t jobs. In America we don’t have jobs–we have careers. I’ve read the national script, and am quite aware that all those human assets writing computer code and advertising copy, or staring at screen monitors in the “human services” industry, are “performing meaningful and important work in a positive workplace environment.” “Performing?” Is this brain surgery? Or a stage act? If we are performing, then for whom? Exactly who is watching?

Proof abounds of the unending joy and importance of work and production in our wealth-based economy. Just read the job-recruitment ads. Or ask any of the people clinging fearfully by their fingernails to those four remaining jobs in America. But is a job–hopefully, a good one–and workplace striving really everything? Most of us would say, “Well, of course not.” But in a nation that now sends police to break up tent camps and car camps of homeless unemployed citizens who once belonged to the middle class, it might very well be everything …

But you won’t hear anyone complaining. America doesn’t like whiners. A whiner or a cynic is about the worst thing you can be here in the land of gunpoint optimism. Foreigners often remark on the upbeat American personality. I assure them that our American corpocracy has its ways of pistol-whipping or sedating its human assets into appropriate levels of cheerfulness.

Rainbow Pie is a searing memoir on the loss of community in the U.S. and its replacement by commodities.  Bageant shows how we came to embrace the lurid appeals of Pottersville at the expense of the humble values of Bedford Falls.  The result: it’s no longer a wonderful life.

W.J. Astore