Culture

A (Not Really) Working-Class Journalist Is Something to Be

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Try to guess the provenance of this sentence:

Weren't nobody happy when Ma got pregnant with me […], what with her being barely seventeen and all and the father being my old man, who wasn't nobody's idea of a young go getter. Me? I can't complain — I got borned, didn't I?

Is that some snippet of oral history from a WPA project on Appalachian life? Perhaps a selection from The Autobiography of Chicken George?

Nope! It's from a new nonfiction book by a New York Times staff writer, who grew up in, uh, New Hampshire. As Washington Post book critic Jonathan Yardley, who flagged this passage (and liked the book), put it, such demonstrations of "hardscrabble bona fides" sound "contrived and artifical." They also sound a lot like the round-the-clock Tim Russert tributes that have clogged the media's tubes since Friday's news. Who knew that being a fan of a professional sporting team was such a telltale indicator of regular-guy, working class heroism?

In watching bits of MSNBC's ongoing Russert telethon, Beltway elitist after Beltway elitist waxed positively proletarian about the Meet the Press host's authentic Joe Sixpackitude, his instinctive "connection" with the great unwashed lunchbuckets of (late-campaign) Hillary Clinton's Real America. It was kind of like watching Stephen Hawking sing the glories of the Yanomami tribe.

Being the son of sharecroppers myself, I tend to be allergic to the sight of monocle-wearing Kennedy Center regulars expressing wonder that a guy can really make it in this big old world without Ivy League certification. And needless to say, the bizarre ritual of resume de-padding at the top of the heap would strike me as borderline offensive if I wasn't so busy working three jobs and going to night school. But maybe there is a more charitable interpretation.

Why are baseball players the most superstitious athletes in the world? Because 1) the game is a festival of failure, where screwing up 7 times out of 10 is a much-coveted goal; and 2) they get to be bajillionaires as long as they can continue to slightly beat the odds and stay healthy. The joyride can be stopped at any time, without warning. Something similar is at play with hot young actresses ? they're rich, they're famous, they're adored, they're despised … and they can be out of work forever overnight, for reasons often out of their control.

It makes a kind of perfect sense that those lucky few who ascend the rickety throne of network TV news would pay constant, treacly tribute to the masses who make it all possible. If an army of Viagra-popping geriatrics was paying for my baseball season tickets, I too may be tempted to wax poetical about the gritty hometown I long left behind, and the ironclad Wisdom of Big Russ' Greatest American Heartland Generation of Our Fathers. Also, maybe there are worse things than an elite class that feels under constant pressure to demonstrate their jes'-folks street cred.

But still. If, as former reason editor Virgina Postrel suggested in a fascinating recent Atlantic column, rising incomes on the lower end of the economic scale are eroding the need for immigrant and minority communities to overcompensate with conspicuous consumption, maybe it's time for a mirror effect to begin taking shape at the top. It's OK, you Skull & Bones fancy-lads who will always rule the world ? you no longer have to pretend to like Pabst Blue Ribbon! Besides, only Dennis Hopper ever drank that shit to begin with.