[lbo-talk] "Nothing is too good for the working class"

Jerry Monaco monacojerry at gmail.com
Mon Dec 17 15:35:22 PST 2007

A lurker on this list writes the following about this thread:

"Go with me on this, as I pull this thread into my WGA obsession.

"The thread is about how both corporate right and the sectarian left go after progressives who wear expensive fashionable clothes. Andie posted a rant inviting critics of his Armani suits to F-off; why should any of them dictate to serious activists their clothing style choices.

"Compare to the disdain the WGA faces when they invite fans to their pickets for theme days: the moguls call them unserious and the radical left can't even be bothered to show up. Meanwhile, the participants in the labor action report back on the fun, the sense of community, the things politics are supposed to have."

I replied: The only thing wrong with well tailored Italian suits is that not everybody can afford to wear them and if everybody could afford to wear them we would have to have a lottery to ration them. If I could buy well tailored Italian suits I certainly would. But I would probably feel guilty for not giving the money to a Central American cooperative.

If I haven't commented on this thread so far it is because I think that all sides have been pretty inconsiderate. They don't considered the fact that there can be such a thing as Fred Astaire socialism, which is a kind descendant of Oscar Wilde socialism, and the Fred Astaire variety was not at all alien to the Italian working class neighborhood that I remember from my youth. I remember people who worked at the GE during the week and were proud to dress up for dinner at the weekend and practice the fine art of bella figura. They were proud that they knew how to sing and could tell a good story and knew what went into making a good and beautiful building or a powerful opera. They were proud to tell me why Hank Williams was great but Jimmie Driftwood was shit, or why the Marx Brothers made good movies and the three Stooges which was just vulgar. They were proud to explain why a good shoe was well made and why so many factory made shoes were awful, even if they could not often afford the well made shoe. My Aunt V, who sometimes voted for the Socialist mayor of Schenectady, used to tell me that style, elegance, and good work were working class virtues and we had to fight for it.

I don't know what everybody is ranting in this thread, to tell you the truth. Most people in the world don't get a chance to search out quality food, clothes, music, art, literature for many reasons. One of those reasons is that most people are economically deprived. More than 50 per cent of people in this world have never used a telephone and large portions of people do not have good water much less good food. But even without that major reason for the lack of quality, most people in the American middle class are simply not exposed to wonderful food and well tailored clothes or beautiful and uplifting architecture or challenging and engaging art, consistently and at an early enough age in order to know the difference. In Northern Italy even the working classes can discriminate between a well tailored piece of clothing and a lousy piece of clothing even if they can't afford the former. When I was young in Schenectady everybody I knew, knew the difference between good bread, cheese, prosciutto, pastries, etc. and the bad stuff. But when I go to places like Schenectady now -- or Nashville or St. Louis -- very few people can distinguish between decent bread and anything else. Why? I'm not quite sure, but I do believe it's exposure and desire and opportunity. It is not economics.

For me the question is closer to Oscar Wilde's question of beauty and quality and its relation to socialism... and why capitalism provides the economic possibility of abundance but at the same time undermines excellence. It is a question of the depth of experience in everyday life.

My Italian working class neighborhood in an industrial town wasruled by General Electric, the Catholic Church, the democratic machine, and the union local. But the people in that neighborhood I remember from 1965, had a good eye for "the quality" of certain things -- good food of course, but also good music and beautiful well made clothes and well designed "things". But their Italian-American children and grand children who moved to the suburbs often simply don't care. My great grandfather could tell you why Verdi was good and Puccini was "like adding sugar to honey" and he never even finished the third grade. He could tell you the difference between a good stone mason and a bad stone mason and could point out the well built churches in town and the ones that were just "mish mash". He knew who was the good tailor in town, where the good cloth came from, and what a well cut suit should look like even if he didn't own one. And all he did in his life is work in a factory and own a store. My great Uncle Tony could tell you why Louis Armstrong was great and why Italian leather was well tooled and why he liked Frank Sinatra and Billy Holiday but why so many other popular singers were "empty". Uncle Tony never graduated from high school, but he did take classes in classical music and the union hall. He belonged to a reading group at the union hall and read poetry. Yes there was a poetry group for the factory workers at the union hall in Schenectady, NY. I tend to think that because such people were around I learned to appreciate quality.

This whole thread seems misconceived to me. The question is one of quality and excellence and why once the working classes all knew people who were master craftsman who "knew" quality in their everyday work. You can only respect quality once your basic needs are satisfied. But you have a better respect for quality and excellence if you know working class people who strive for it. In most places in the world the basic economic struggle is what outweighs everything else. And yet I believe that it is a loss that working class and middle class neighborhoods have lost their everyday relation to crafts people who actually strive to make things with high quality. I think this is why many people in the middle classes don't distinguish quality on many levels. But I don't know why so many people I have met in the South and the Midwest seem to actively reject quality or to actively resent good craft makers. It is as if quality itself is an enemy. It is as if the very idea of excellence is looked at as "foreign" or "big city".

And here is where I think there is a connection to the writer's strike. Many of the writers you talk to are really and truly concerned with craft, and the quality of their craft and the possibility of actually writing something well, maybe, hopefully. Some of what neither middle America, nor leftists seem to care about or see, is that there are certain people in this strike who really care about the excellence of their craft.

Jerry Monaco

On Dec 16, 2007 2:15 PM, andie nachgeborenen <andie_nachgeborenen at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Obviously you've never tried on any of these clothes.
> You want physical comfort, wear Armani, properly
> tailored it fits and it feels glorious. If you have to
> wear a suit (I do and I like to anyway), it's no less
> convenient than wearing a no-name suit from the Men's
> Wearhouse or J.C. Penny's, and a lot more comfortable.
> I also recently acquired an Armani shearling jacket
> that is so comfortable I have a hard time taking it
> off in a warm house; outside it's so convenient that
> even in Chicago winter weather you don't need to wear
> anything more than a t-shirt or at most a light
> sweater under it.
> My mom, a textile artist, which is possibly where I
> got my clotheshorsey inclinations, said that you will
> never regret getting the best you can afford. She died
> with over 200 pairs of designer shoes!
> Speaking to WD's comment about reverse snobbery and
> faux working-classery, I recall an incident in the
> 80s. We were in an Ann Arbor peace group, all white,
> dressed like Ann Arbor peaceniks (worn jeans,
> t-shirts, no makeup for women, long hair, dressed down
> -- I wouldn't say consciously, it was just the style).
> We were working with these activists from Detroit,
> Black Women for a Better Society, and invited some of
> them to AA to come to talk to us about whatever. All
> of them were lower-income, relatively, lived in the
> Detroit ghetto. They turned up dressed to the fucking
> nines, designer everything, high Ferragamo heels,
> beautifully made up, hair coiffed -- they looked
> fabulous, it was like they were going to the opera.
> And hot! Yikes! The temperature in that room rose
> about 30 degrees! "Good to look" at didn't even come
> close.
> Well, the Sparts (all white and male) turned up to
> heckle because one member of the BWBS was a member of
> a group they disapproved of; there were several of
> them, rather large, and aggressive, in your face. This
> was stupid, apart from the politics of white men
> shouting down Black women, these were _tough_ black
> women. They could take you apart at the joints. They
> were very pretty, but not to mess with.
> The Sparts wouldn't stop, and I saw one of the BWBS
> women quietly taking off her Ferragamo high heels and
> cradling one in her hand, heel out, another just as
> quietly slid off a Vuitton belt with a large sharp
> buckle, and I bolted to get security before these
> tough women turned the idiot Sparts into sausage.
> The Sparts were escorted out, the BWBS gave its talk,
> and Sparts wrote us up in the Worker's Vanguard as
> having called the cops on them, being quite
> unappreciative of how we had saved their stupid asses.
> --- bitch at pulpculture.org wrote:
> > At 12:20 PM 12/16/2007, Carrol Cox wrote:
> >
> >
> > >"Mr. WD" wrote:
> > > >
> > > > When the occasion calls for it, real
> > > > working class people will always wear the best
> > they have, she said
> > > > (I'm paraphrasing).
> > >
> > >The category of "real working class people" is
> > itself pretty absurd --
> > >and in fact politically disabling.
> > >
> > >Both sides of this discussion are equally
> > moralistic and silly.
> > >
> > >Anyone dress for physical comfort & convenience?
> >
> >
> >
> > which is just another moralistic demand for someone
> > to live up to. it's an
> > assumption that convenience and comfort are somehow
> > free of ideology.
> >
> > horse. shittery.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > "You know how it is, come for the animal porn,
> > stay for the cultural analysis." -- Michael Berube
> >
> > Bitch | Lab
> > http://blog.pulpculture.org (NSFW)
> >
> > ___________________________________
> >
> http://mailman.lbo-talk.org/mailman/listinfo/lbo-talk
> >
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-- Jerry Monaco's Philosophy, Politics, Culture Weblog is Shandean Postscripts to Politics, Philosophy, and Culture http://monacojerry.livejournal.com/

His fiction, poetry, weblog is Hopeful Monsters: Fiction, Poetry, Memories http://www.livejournal.com/users/jerrymonaco/

Notes, Quotes, Images - From some of my reading and browsing http://www.livejournal.com/community/jerry_quotes/

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