"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 5 May 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.

King of the Hill


[this week:
low - anon]

The guy who said that just

because you're paranoid doesn't

mean they're not out to get you

was an optimist. In the

suspiciously smooth fit between

your persecution fantasies and

their sadistic plans, an even

worse option is available: Not

only are you paranoid, not only

are they out to get you -

they're out to get you because

you're paranoid.


Jim Goad's The Redneck

Manifesto: How Hillbillies,

Hicks, and White Trash Became

America's Scapegoats, recently

released in paperback, allows us

a kind of access to racial and

political thought in the '90s

from an unpopular and therefore

very strategic viewpoint that

has some right to be considered

paranoid. But in years to come,

people are going to feel like

ninnies for having read Nick

Hornby and Hugh Gallagher novels

instead of this. At least

they'll have an excuse - from

its bibliography (the trail of

serious research is papered over

with key references to works by

Monetary Science Publishing, The

Southern National Party, and a

tome on The Phoenician Origin of

the Britons, Scots and

Anglo-Saxons) to its rhetoric

("I'm going to fist-fuck you

with the facts" - preceding an

illuminating and clear

discussion of the history of

class in America), it seems

designed as a flak magnet.


Which is a pity - The Redneck

Manifesto is also an extremely

substantial political argument

from a position so marginalized

that people like to pretend both

that they understand it

perfectly and that it doesn't

exist. They also tend to assume

that the people in question -

"white trash" - are so

cretinously stupid that they

really shouldn't talk at all. Is

this what our (magnanimous, to

be sure) granting of "voices" to

the oppressed was supposed to

achieve? Or is this just one of

our era's moral failures, the

magnitude of which we're just

beginning to grasp? Goad's

central point about liberalism:

"Just because something's a good

idea doesn't mean you can't

brainwash someone with it."


Goad's excruciatingly close

study of his own illegitimacy,

of exactly why he's got no right

to speak, is what makes the book

so convincing: The uncanny

effect of a person who has had

thrust upon himself every

possible warning signal and then

has started to collect those

warning signs like a hobby. Goad

calls himself "low rent, low

class, lowlife" and then points

to those very indicators and

uses them to show why you might

be the one who's insane.


[action slacks - louder]

Because what's so threatening

about Goad's weirdness and

alienation is how it could be

yours, too. This is how the

floor moves out from under the

reader, in a totally generic

tale of individual frustration:

Like some other people, Goad

voted for Anderson, Mondale,

Dukakis, Andre Marrou; he voted

for California's Proposition

103, reducing car insurance

rates in 1988. All of his

candidates lost; the insurance

bill was simply ignored. Goad's

radical conclusion: He's never

had a say in anything. Well

Jesus, Jim, that's like

complaining that you put a

quarter into one of those

gumball gift dispensers and

don't get the skull ring! That's

like being mad at not winning

the lottery! That's like ...

wait a second. Why did we think

Goad was so naive? Why are all

our metaphors for political

participation so fucking



The body politic is now so vast,

so industrialized, that it can

speak only in the way subatomic

particles do: through statistics

that nobody even pretends

represent a fixed reality. The

only way we can touch base with

popular politics is through

simulations: The ground of

what's convincing and real is

something that can only be

imagined with the help of a

computer. And the fact that we

can sagely discuss these

simulations, use them to make us

feel less frustrated than Goad,

should not be as reassuring as

it apparently is. After all,

it's not as if we got the skull

ring, either.


While our present political

situation beggars the

imagination, Goad tries to

imagine something better, in an

odd, extended fantasy sequence

about having every black person

in America over to his house to

talk ("I hope you like

mayonnaise on Wonder Bread and

peppermint soda.") That he is

evoking the generic baby-kissing

imagery of every US politician,

including Jesse Helms, shouldn't

disturb us as much as the fact

that this is now the only way we

ourselves can visualize any kind

of meaningful communication:

Clinton hosting a TV talk show,

a million living rooms on the

screen rather than viewers in

living rooms watching it. The

one thing the public sphere

cannot admit: a public sphere.


My first axiom
is that there is
no public sphere in the
contemporary United States, no
context of communication and
debate that makes ordinary
citizens feels that they have a
common public culture, or
influence on a state that holds
itself accountable to their
opinions, critical or otherwise.
By "ordinary citizens" I mean
ones without wealth and
structural access to brokers of

- Lauren Berlant (The Queen of
America Goes to Washington
Duke, 1997; p. 3)



Goad's weird crime here is his

acting as if there's no public

sphere. What makes him a

"crackpot" and

"conspiracy-theorist" isn't his

thinking that relationships

between citizens and government

are based on inertia and

intimidation, structured by

ideology. Heck, that's not news

to any cynical liberal, and it's

sure as hell not news to the

IRS. But in his "wacky" talk of

tax resisting - "Is it screwball

xenophobic Euro-rage that drives

me to ask why I'm required to

pay two-fifths of my income for

programs and policies I never

approved?" - he's lodging a

disagreement with the concrete

aspect of our ideology, the

"acting as if" part, the point

at which you sign the check.

That's also what makes him

racist, sexist, anti-gay,

ignorant, and insane:

Ideological crimes get

ideological punishments.


[harvey danger - problems and bigger ones ]

Surely Goad is imprudent and

irritating, causing himself and

his readers unnecessary pain.

Some of Goad's sources are

definitely tainted, but I think

that's deliberate, to set off

people like me, to see if we're

paying attention to his actual

arguments rather than the

identity-signifiers he's

festooned himself with. Because

many of his points are extremely

serious, something that comes

into stark perspective if we

compare his views on identity

with those of someone like

Harvard's Kwame Anthony Appiah

(another mutant since he's an

African aristocrat who works as

an anthropologist and scholar of

American literature). Both agree

that our dashiki-toting,

sideburn-cultivating frenzy over

identity is mostly an anxious

response to its evacuation, to

the fact that hardly any of us

are speaking Bantu or Yiddish at

home anymore; we're all watching

Seinfeld instead. Rather than

real compensation for social

ills, we get more identity: as

Goad says, "the ONLY place

blacks have it better is on TV."

And it's not a coincidence that

such a structurally alienated

jerk as Goad - not just bummed

out but poor, white, and

disrespected - is able to grasp

things that way.


In Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax

View (part of his Paranoia

Trilogy with Klute and All the

President's Men), a lonely,

anti social journalist

accidentally witnesses the

assassination of a reformist

political candidate. Ten years

later, he realizes that everyone

else who witnessed the

assassination is dying, one by

one, from "unrelated" causes.

Poking around the deaths, he

finds traces of an organization

that recruits lonely, antisocial

people with the hope of seeing

their individual promises

rewarded. As a perfect

candidate, he infiltrates the

organization to find out that

its job is producing lone gunmen

for political assassinations. A

lonely, antisocial reporter on

the trail of a promising

investigation, he himself ends

up framed as the lone gunman in

a political assassination. It's

precisely Goad's "rage" and

"paranoia" that makes it

possible for him to gain an

objective insight. We just need

to remember that Goad is the

reporter, not the gunman.

courtesy of Hypatia