“The Melancholia of the Working-Class – A Manifesto for the Working Class” by Cynthia Cruz, 2021
This is not a ‘redneck’ manifesto or drunkard’s lament or a swear-fest indicting the boogee bastards. It is a somewhat sad meditation by Cruz about her own life growing up working-class, while being surrounded at all times by upper-class and middle class rebuke who saw her as ‘white trash.’ She had a proletarian Mexican father who eventually sold cars; a Euro-American mother, a straightened childhood and rough youth. She eventually entered academe and the arts after finding out about college and discovering why she was so different and so unhappy.
Cruz points out that neo-liberalism erases the working-class. It rose ascendant under Reagan/Thatcher and Clinton/Blair. Even as it describes Latinos or ‘African Americans’ or indigenous Americans or whatever ethnic or national grouping you can name – they never associate these same person’s with the working class. And nearly all of them are! She was told a number of times – by professors, by light-skinned managers – that the working-class doesn’t exist, much to her surprise and consternation.
‘People of color’ have no class, just ethnicity, in the ruling classes’ political fairy-tale. In a way, these color castes are really stand-ins for that ghost, that hidden Leviathan, that invisible beast, that powerful but powerless majority. Cruz herself is an example, who only sometimes ‘passed’. This book is in a way a work of felt sociology by her, describing the “living death” of being working class. Then it morphs into a work of working-class culture analysis.
WORKING-CLASS in CULTURE
Referencing social class, Cruz looks at various artifacts – mostly films and music groups – to explore the working-class in culture. Among other films, she looks in detail at the film “Wanda” by director Barbara Loden, about a broken working class woman; and “Souvenir” by Joanna Hogg, about a doomed cross-class romance. She closely dissects the music of her early British political punk faves ‘The Jam’ and Style Council, as well as Joy Division, Sparklehorse and early Cat Power. Or the book Savage Messiah, which tracks the gentrification and destruction of working-class London. She shows how these artists and writers represented the darkness of the working-class, left-behind history and how middle-class critics mishandled them.
|Amy Winehouse Shoots for the Past|
Cruz covers the great working-class singer Amy Winehouse, who never left her roots. By turns powerful and shapely, then drunk and disheveled, Winehouse embodied the two turns of labor, dying eventually from alcohol poisoning, which the author thinks was caused by her eating disorder. Bulimia also afflicted Cruz, which is how she sees proletarian female bodies sometimes handling stress. She claims anorexia is the leading cause of death among those with mental illnesses.
She quotes various intellectuals –Freud, Boudrieu, Lacan, Zizek, Marx, Benjamin, Fisher – in the process. All of this shows Cruz’s suspension between 2 worlds – the one she ran away from in Santa Cruz of being a Woolworth’s waitress, receptionist or maid, drinking to excess on the weekends and having lots of babies – and writing 6 books of ‘perfect’ poetry among the precious confines of middle class aesthetes. The book reflects this ‘in-betweenness’ in an abstruse and obscure way, which is why working class people reading it might be put off. In-betweenness naturally creates a ‘split personality’ for working class artists, who combat melancholia and depression in various ways. This book becomes a compendium of proletarian directors, musicians and writers who reflect this life, but nothing like a manifesto.
Prior blog reviews on this topic, use blog search box, upper left to investigate our 14 year archive with these terms: “Chavs – the Demonization of the Working Class,” “The Sinking Middle Class,” “Class Lives,” “Class – the New Critical Idiom,” “The Worker Elite,” “The Precariat,” “Understanding Class,” “No Longer Newsworthy,” “The Football Factory,” “White Trash,” Hillbilly Elegy,” “Factory Days.”
And I bought it at May Day Books!
September 12, 2021