"Angry White Men,” by Michael Kimmel, 2013
If you are an angry white man, you might not be the target of this book. What he really means is ‘angry right-wing white men’ of the U.S. but that title wouldn’t sell evidently, so he appeals to the identity crowd by misidentifying the target. This topic was covered years ago in more accurate ways, first by Susan Faludi in 1999’s “Stiffed,” and then by people like Michael Moore in 2001’s “Stupid White Men.” He also admits that black people of both sexes are angry and so are white women. Even young people are angry if they stop being mellow for a second ... In fact, EVERYONE might be angry!
Fuck, I’m angry at this guy for sometimes confusing working-class, middle-class and upper-class men in his introduction and in the section on ‘class’ in the book. I’m angry that as a result he makes blanket inferences that all white men now hate women or immigrants or blacks in his intro. I’m angry that he can’t tell left from right populism – the thinks it is all ‘emotion.’ In fact, I’m sick of upper middle-class professorial fucks who are Democratic Party hacks and pretend to analyze things without a mention of the Democratic Party’s role in all this. Or the role of capitalism as a whole. Myopic sociology.
Kimmel is another liberal guy obsessing over Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and that ‘sexy’ Sarah Palin - if he has time. You know, just like the liberal internet sites that incredulously repeat every stupid racist/sexist/religious stupidity these guys utter. Even though intellectually he knows that these people are just part of the American woodwork. Here’s the deal. Limbaugh is as essential to capitalism as air. They’ve had guys like Limbaugh for 150 years in the U.S. - slamming foreigners, wimmin, Jews, ‘negroes,’ ‘wetbacks,’ Commies, ‘fags,’ union thugs, etc. Same shit, different decade. The Know-Nothings, the Klan, Father Coughlin, the John Birch Society, now the Tea Party. Let’s go a little deeper, shall we …like who benefits? Whose the real enemy underneath all these disguises?
Kimmel has made a cottage industry out of looking at maleness in the U.S. – writing books like “Guyland” and Y. He’s probably a guy who’s never turned wrenches in his life, had a working-class job, been in a fight or shot a gun. His idea of danger is watching skiing on TV. He wears a suit to work, has a secretary and calls a doctor every time he has an ache. HE never gets mad because his annual tenured salary is in the $200,000s. He’s polite and kind to everyone. So in this case, ‘anger’ is just odd. Which is maybe why he has to study it.
OK, I got that off my chest.
Kimmel’s book is a blend of sociology and psychology, based on interviews and internet visits regarding different right-wing men’s issues, mostly based on what he calls ‘entitled’ white anger. Kimmel’s first chapter is on the billionaire A-males of the AM Radio dial who prey on insecure white men in the listening audience – or as Kimmel calls them ‘Angry White Men.’ (AWM). The role of woofs like Limbaugh is to blame everyone but the rich and the capitalist system for the problems white middle-class and working-class men face. Business bankruptcies, house foreclosures, job layoffs, inflating costs, uppity wives, lost wars and gays on TV – don’t look behind the curtain! It’s obvious these reactionaries are as necessary to capital, in the ideological sense, as a large mental shield. Diversion, diversion! Kimmel understands that, and says the AWM’s should direct their anger at … the Wall Street behemoths behind it all. OK, right. Except that might not be so emotionally satisfying as bashing women. Or as easy.
His next chapter is on how, since around the 1999 Columbine shootings, it is white boys that are behind the overwhelming majority of school massacres. He shows how the majority of these white boys were physically and verbally bullied by jocks and the various conformists you find in high school, attacked as ‘nerds,’ ‘fags,’ ‘weirdos’ and small ‘wimps.’ So shooting these fucks was psychologically logical at a certain point for these boys. Not sure there is a problem here, only a solution. They took the macho gun culture they grew up in and threw it in the face of the bullies. Of course, suicide and depression are much more common results of bullying. The obvious, immediate villain is the right-wing culture in some schools – mostly in rural areas or upscale rightist suburbs – that endorse bullying of anyone who doesn’t conform to some right-wing cultural norm.
Kimmel’s next chapters are on the ‘men’s rights’ and ‘dads’ rights’ movements, which are, of course, mostly straight white men. This movement seems to be marginal, and not sure why he spends so much time on them. He does agree with them on the issues of the courts being outdated on divorce and child custody, but parts ways on the rest. Kimmel locates their birth in the ‘men’s liberation’ movement that then parted ways with mainstream feminism. They guide frustrated men through divorce by blaming everything on ‘women’ as a sex. If you want a useful polemic on these issues, he has one from a male feminist point of view.
Kimmel covers the issue of the rape and violence culture in the U.S., opposing those AWM’s who think that gender violence is ‘equal.’ 95% of all violence in the U.S. is carried out by men. Women are being brutalized and killed by their husbands, exes and boyfriends every day. Everyday in the U.S. 5 women die at the hands of their intimate partners. The U.S. has the highest rate of spousal homicide in the developed world. 45% of female homicides are by spouses and ex-spouses. Rates in some more patriarchal cultures are even higher. He gives figures on the rates among different classes and ethnicities. None of this is news, but it is repeatedly ‘hidden’ news. (See commentary "Rape? Really?," below. Use blog search box, upper left.)
The key chapter to my mind should be his on class –both middle and working class – but this chapter somewhat short-shifts the issue. Kimmel discusses the epidemic of ‘going postal’ shootings at work sites, which target both bosses and co-workers. In an exception, a very efficient accountant killed only the bosses who denied him a promotion – no sloppy shooting here! He does not blame the high rates of male suicide or depression on just psychological issues, but on the rates of unemployment, foreclosure, injury, poverty and other major events, as rates always rise along with these economic factors. Like India, hundreds of small farmers in the U.S. committed suicide in the Reagan 1985-1986 recession after experiencing 80-90,000 farm foreclosures.
Relief for men is found in ‘media fantasies’ like the film “Fight Club,” where young men immerse themselves in ‘reel’ life in order to live out revenge or power fantasies they cannot carry out in ‘real’ life. And perhaps move on to actual fight clubs. Violent gaming provides an outlet for other young men. But most do not join with others in unions or organizations to fight the corporations. According to Kimmel, they just listen to talk radio and curse on the internet.
Kimmel lastly interviews organized right-wingers – from Neo-Nazi, Klan, racist skinheads, WAR, Posse Comitatus, the Church of the Creator, Christian Identity Church, Minute Men, National Alliance, Aryan Nations and the Tea Party. 9/11 threw the right into a frenzy, but Obama’s election in 2008 made them see the ‘end of time.’ There has been a 50% increase in ‘hate’ groups since 2000, per the SPLC, to 1,108. We can see their local strength in Idaho, where a right-wing rancher wants his cattle to graze on public land for free – and backs his idea up with armed buddies. Yet most of these organizations key spot to organize is on the web. Most of his interviews were in rural areas, small towns or decimated exurbs. He sympathizes and then makes the white right a gender issue – which of course it is on one level.
Far right groups have pretended to oppose farm foreclosures. It is a failure of the left-populist farm and Democratic Party groups that they have let small farmers hang …and the right has attempted to fill the gap. Small farmers have been intentionally crushed by agri-business and the government who works for Big Ag. (See review of book on Big Ag, “Foodopoly." Use blog search box, upper left.) The far right attempts to speak to the white ‘lower-middle-class’ (Kimmel’s catchall for working/middle class unity.) Kimmel actually is describing the small businessman that is the classical basis of fascism. (‘…independent farmers, small shopkeepers, …small-scale entrepreneurs”) In that sense, they attempt to make a class appeal, much as Hitler did with ‘national socialism’ or as the Tea Party uses right-wing populism against the Democrats. It works because the Democrats are also in the pocket of the corporations and long ago left working people – even unionists – as an after-thought, fit for crumbs.
The problem with Kimmel’s various identity and sociological solutions (…’can we turn the volume down?”... he plaintively asks) is that it doesn’t fully account for the economic and political character of the society we live in. Kimmel does call for a ‘new New Deal” but we’ve had one and it turned out like this. A capitalist society doesn’t want people to ‘unite’ – except at the mall. A capitalist society wants you to believe that the Democratic Party – or the Republican Party – your two and only choices – will solve all your problems. A capitalist society wants women and blacks and Latinos to be at the bottom of things – because money is made off their unpaid and super-exploited labor every day. And they provide excellent scapegoats! A capitalist society is run by money, not by fairness or reason or human solidarity. A capitalist society has to exploit the labor of white working class and even some middle-class men too. And it even needs unemployment! Foreclosures are part of its ordinary functioning. Oligopoly is part of its ordinary functioning. A capitalist society will never stop producing these right-wingers, these AWM.
So really, Kimmel, what’s your real beef?
And I bought it at May Day Books!
April 15, 2014 – TAX Day. When the corporations pay less than the workers.