I grew up in the Bronx – one of this nation’s great working class communities.
One of the joys of my return to the area nearly 20 years later was the ability to speak colorfully, profanely and directly again without offending anyone. I was also delighted to be reunited with a childhood friend named “Tony,” who had just returned to New York City from Boston after completing his doctorate at Harvard.
Tony had landed a job as a professor at a local university and everyone in our old circle of friends was incredibly proud of him. However, his new speech patterns took some getting used to.
Professor DeJesus (below right) doesn’t curse anymore, speak fast, use slang, or mix Spanish and English in the same sentences. He sounded a little “fancy” without those vestiges of working class speech, which is not a compliment for those of us raised in the city’s outer boros.
Tony’s wife has a PhD too. They sound like a doctoral dissertation whenever they’re together.
“Hey Tony,” I said one day in 2009, speaking with my habitual machine gun speed. “Hey man, you guys wanna grab some dinner with Amaka and me this weekend? Maybe catch a flick? Have a couple cervesas?”
Tony looked at me like he was studying a computer screen as he gathered his thoughts with silent deliberation. He’d always been thoughtful, but the pause between thought and speech grew considerably longer during his time at Harvard. So much so that people often erroneously assumed he had nothing to say just as he was preparing to speak.
I’m fairly impatient and would sometimes jump into these lulls. Inadvertently upsetting his thought process like a ring bearer running through puddles beside a bride in her wedding dress.
“I can whip up a batch of my homemade marinara sauce if you want to make the hike out to Jersey City,” I interjected during one lull. Tony responded with the kind of pained expression normally associated with nails on a chalkboard.
“I’ve got a bottle of Jack,” I added a moment later, earning another wince.
Finally, Tony’s enormous Harvard brain completed its tortoise-like journey from thought to action.
“That’s a promising idea,” he said, speaking deliberately. “Let me conference with Madeline before we commit.”
I leaned forward into the subsequent pause, silently willing the absent-minded professor to continue. Instead, he stared off into space.
“We’ll brainstorm some alternatives and get back to you,” Tony said, refocusing his eyes on me. “I know she’s partial to cabernet sauvignon these days.”
I stared at him long and hard. This is someone who used to sleep over my house when we were teens and vice versa. Someone who once spent 45 minutes trying to convert me to Catholicism in his days as a youth minister.
“Who the fuck are you,” I suddenly blurted out. “Do I even know you? And what the fuck is with the long delays every time you talk. Did you flip a switch and trip your pause button or something?”
Tony smiled warmly at this insult. It’s common for working class people to playfully insult those they love, while being artificially polite to the “beautiful people” they work for.
“Fuck you Vic,” he finally said, staring meaningfully at me to let me know the street-smart Tony I know and love is still in there. Buried under centuries of accumulated academic knowledge.
“That’s more like it,” I said, breaking into a smile. “I was worried. Thought I’d lost you for a second there. I was getting ready to hook you up to the fucking car battery.
Tony stared off into space, absentmindedly editing a student’s term paper in his head.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I continued. “What did they do to you at Harvard anyways?”
I don’t talk like that because I don’t know how to speak proper English. I’ve got a master’s degree from Columbia University, which means I can talk like an over-educated poser with the best of them.
However, I also understand that educated speech is not the only form of verbal communication on Planet Earth.
That’s where the rubber meets the road right now in the United States with working-class Americans and Faux News – the propaganda mouthpiece of the over-entitled rich person’s party.
There’s absolutely no reason for Faux to be popular with us given that the Grand Old Party has been waging war on blue collar America since 1980, while targeting urban communities for a few additional elbows. The GOP’s elitist values and policies are not our values, but we’re echoing them anyway.
This is happening at least partly because the Right Wing Noise Machine uses a style of verbal communication which is comforting and familiar to working class Americans.
Content has nothing to do with the undeserved popularity Faux and the GOP now enjoy with the very people they’re attacking. It’s all about style.
Working class Americans like Faux because its modestly talented on-air personalities don’t talk down to them. They’re opinionated, confrontational, direct, sarcastic, prone to sweeping rhetorical flourishes, and sometimes just downright rude. Just like us.
As in “You’re a Jets fan too? Forget about it, the Jets never win. In fact, they’re so bad I root for them to lose now. It saves time.”
That kind of sweeping statement is completely inaccurate from a legal perspective. The Jets actually do win about twice a year, much like a broken clock that’s right twice a day.
However, working class New Yorkers understand that nuance without being told. They don’t need a translator to suss it out for them.
Meanwhile, the bonafide journalists of the mainstream news media and their over-educated counterparts in the Democratic Party seem to abhor blue collar communication patterns. Which is why they come across as pretentious and distasteful to us regardless of what they’re saying.
That’s why we use foul language at the Cynical Times, which is a nonprofit news organization devoted to the faltering middle class. That’s why we’re confrontational, direct, feisty and unapologetically liberal. And that’s why we’re going to continue to be all those things.
We ran an entire column reaming out the religious nutjobs who tried to get the Modern Family TV series (below right) cancelled back in 2012, and would be happy to do it “a-fucking-gain” if need be. Any time.
Unlike Obama and DeJesus and those like them, we understand that one reason Faux’s hijacking of blue collar communication patterns has been so successful is because liberal elites are obsessed with the trappings of education and intelligence. As if they’re one and the same.
Education is largely memorization in our society now, rather than critical thinking. That’s why there are millions of self-described liberal intellectuals who think mixing it up with the sonsabitches on the far right is beneath them.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
Case in point, the spectacular toupee that is Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (below right). This is a rich kid who inherited his money from mommy and daddy and has never worked a real day in his life by blue collar standards. He regularly spews elitist nonsense, but does so using the kind of direct style of speech working class people relate to.
Incredibly, the sheltered idiots of the political aristocracy in Washington, D.C., can’t tell the difference between this parrot and the working class Americans he’s parroting. They think Trump sounds “authentic.”
Swear to God.
“Authentic” is actually the word liberal elites use for one of the fakest fake tough guys on the planet.
Could they be any more clueless?
I don’t know. I don’t remember the last time I was that out of touch with the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is a legitimate product of the working class who bulled his way into Harvard behind his big brain and appetite for hard work. His policies champion the middle class and essentially saved the nation from social collapse in the Post-Geedub period. Not to mention navigating the ship of state at least partially through the worst economic climate for working people since The Great Depression.
However, this working class hero’s popularity with blue collar America is a fraction of what it should be.
I don’t think it’s solely because of race and incumbency. I think it’s also because Obama is infected with Harvard’s ridiculously ponderous style of academic communication. He comes across as “fancy” because of that.
Just like Tony.
The problem is one of timing and context.
There’s certainly a time to speak like a Harvard professor, but it’s At Fucking Harvard. Not when you’re talking to a crowd of working class families in Peoria, Ill.
Liberal intellectuals have to learn how to shift gears between communication patterns to suit the audience they’re speaking with. Just as immigrant children switch between English outside their homes and their native languages inside it.
When they do this, they sound a lot like presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.
This is because the central premise of communication is to be understood by your audience. Not to alienate them with a needless demonstration of how well educated you are.
I’ve got another childhood friend named “Lou” who illustrates this phenomenon. He’s deep in his 50s, but still pays just $600 a month to live in the same two-bedroom apartment in the Marble Hill Projects in the Bronx where he was raised by his mom. That’s him below left.
Without subsidized housing Lou would probably be living in a subway tunnel. However, that didn’t stop this powerful and proud African American from identifying as “Republican” after 9/11 and tuning his television set to Faux News.
The transition was shocking for me, because I knew Lou when he was openly contemptuous of America’s country club set in his fearless youth. He despised opportunistic Republican presidential candidates, like Ronald Reagan.
They would journey to the Bronx’s worst neighborhoods for political photo opportunities every four years as if they were on a wilderness safari. Then ignore us again afterward.
Lou was a big brother to me. One of several role models who possessed the qualities I wished to embody as a man.
We met during my freshman year at The City College of New York, in Harlem, when I was a cocky 17-year-old midfielder on the school’s varsity lacrosse team. Lou was coaching its defense, but still enjoyed widespread recognition in the city’s lacrosse community for his ferocious playing style.
I had a penchant for blowing up defensive drills, which didn’t go over well with the coaching staff. After one verbal lashing my younger self invited the fat man to walk the walk in some one-on-one. Lou strapped on a helmet and beat me to a pulp for about 10 minutes, talking shit the entire time.
We’ve been madly in love ever since.
Before long, Lou had me playing token white cornerback on his informal tackle football team – The Marble Hill Spades. Our African American squad competed against groups of other young men. Among them the “Puerto Rocs” from the nearby Dyckman Projects, a street gang called Born Crazy; and a tavern team named “Brew Crew.”
The games were played entirely without helmets and pads. Bloody noses, broken fingers and concussions were common.
I was a kind of secret weapon, because both Lou and I knew the games would invariably begin with a series of running plays directed at the Spades’ only white guy. He’d strip the blockers from his position at linebacker and I’d nail the ball-carrier.
We got so close that we didn’t really need to speak that much to communicate. So when Lou talked, I listened.
“I can tell you’ve been hobnobbing with the goober-schnoobers,” he said out of no-where one day after I’d begun my graduate studies at Columbia University in Upper Manhattan.
“How?” I said.
“Cause your rich new friends at Columbia have you saying ‘dood,’ ” Loou said, spitting the word out like a mouthful of sour milk. “You sound like some kinda California beach boy now.
“We don’t say dood,” he added. “We say ‘man.’ “
“Fuck you – Lou,” I responded respectfully.
Age, divorce, job loss and jail time all seemed to erode Lou after I left the city. The more frightened and insecure he became with the passage of time, the more he shifted rightward. In spite of the GOP’s oft-stated animus toward big government and social programs, like public housing, and the racial code and double standards it directs at urban blacks.
Because Lou likes the way its journalism spokesmodels talk.
He doesn’t like Faux and the GOP because he understands all of their political positions or agrees with them. He likes them because they sound honest to him in comparison to the “goober-schnoobers” who have traditionally dominated the mainstream media at places like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and CBS.
The same dynamic prevails with his radio choices, which favor shockjock Howard Stern and 1010 WINS over National Public Radio.
This is a huge problem for liberals.
One which illustrates the intellectual barrier to blue collar participation in the public forum liberal elites like Tony and Barack Obama have unwittingly erected. They’ve done so by embracing the idea that anyone who can’t express themselves eruditely, courteously and professionally has no place there.
It’s kind of like an informal version of the exclusionary poll tests and poll taxes of old.
This attitude is part of the reason blue collar voters feel increasingly invisible and marginalized in our society. It also illustrates the blinders newsroom managers seem to don when they begin talking about newsroom diversity, which they view almost exclusively as an issue of pigmentation and national origin. Rather than wealth and social class.
This kind of elitism is one of the reasons why there are so few newsroom staffers at the big national news organizations who know what it’s like to scramble for subway fare or go to bed hungry. And even fewer in the big DC news bureaus that specialize in national events.
The handful of national correspondents from blue collar stock typically hide their modest roots at big news organizations instead of trumpeting them.
This social fault line in the news industry is exactly where the detestable Rupert Murdoch – Faux News’ controlling owner – has planted his intellectual pitchforks. This silver spoon mofo has branded the Trojan Horse that is Faux News as some kind of “working class” vehicle despite its improper relationship with the GOP and class warfare mission.
One of the keys to the success of his disinformation campaign is the almost complete absence of blue collar communication patterns at mainstream news organizations.
I’ve got a third childhood friend who also loves Faux News named Miguel (below left). Like Tony, he’s Puerto Rican and proud of his heritage – as he should be. However, that doesn’t prevent him from turning a deaf ear to the anti-immigrant code words Faux uses to disparage Hispanic Americans.
Mig’s a regional airline pilot and military reservist, which means he spends a lot of time being bombarded by the Faux News broadcasts that now permeate U.S. military facilities with their racial codes and half-truths. They’re intellectual catnip for many of our men and women in uniform despite the open contempt of conservative elites for public service and the greater good.
Those ideals are central to the military concepts of honor, sacrifice and duty. However, our military personnel just don’t seem to be able to make the connections between Faux, the GOP, and the morally bankrupt generation of conservative elites jostling each other for control of the Republican presidential clown car.
Conservative elites have never been shy about risking the lives of other people’s children in combat zones and almost never allow their own kids in uniform. That’s why there isn’t a single passenger in the Republican presidential clown car who has ever heard a shot fired in anger and so many of them appear to have been drawn straight from the bottom of the country club barrel.
However, you’d never know it from the respect for Faux and the GOP exhibited on our military bases. Our men and women in uniform have been saturated with conservative propaganda since KBR became the leading military contractor for base support services. So much so that the normal spectrum of American political viewpoints is almost completely absent from their discussions now.
Even the small percentage of natural contrarians among them seem to have lost their capacity for fractious behavior and been transformed into fawning, muzzled dogs.
All the TV sets I passed when I visited Mig at Fort Leavenworth seemed to have miraculously tuned themselves to Faux News. It didn’t matter whether they were located in an empty day-room, hallway or mess hall. If they were plugged in during my three day visit in 2014, they were turned on and tuned to Faux.
The same is now true at many truck stops, which are also packed with working class Americans.
This phenomenon defies logic given the deplorable behavior of the current crop of conservative elites. Behavior that includes the scandalous remarks made by draft evader Donald Trump about the military service record of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R – Ariz.), who was shot down over Vietnam in his youth and tortured by that nation’s Communist regime.
The Donald and his fellow silver spoons have made it abundantly clear they no longer value fair play, personal honor, a level playing field, or the meritocracy the American military is built on; they don’t champion the social services our veterans need, or better pay for our active-duty soldiers, sailors and airmen; and they most definitely do not embrace the premise that leadership is done by example and high office is a responsibility rather than an entitlement.
Mig and I kind of grew up together in a cadet program in the Bronx run by the Civil Air Patrol – the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary. Most of my fellow cadets went into the military afterward, while I pursued a career in journalism.
We’re still as close as brothers when we get together. Even 30 years later.
So when Mig told me he was going to be at Leavenworth for a few weeks, I jumped at the opportunity to drive down to Kansas from my present home in Iowa so we could catch a Royals game together at Kauffman Stadium. We were eating in the base mess hall the next day with the unremitting drone of Faux News playing in the background like elevator music.
Looking quickly from side to side like a character from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” I finally asked him the question which had been uppermost in my mind.
“How can you listen to this shit bro?” I blurted out.
“What shit?” Mig said.
“This Faux News shit,” I said. “It’s like it’s everywhere we go on this base. Can’t get away from it.”
“I dunno,” he said blankly, picking at his food with his head down. “I don’t even notice it any more.”
“Fuck you don’t,” I said, leaning in. “You’re so full of shit. Look, I’m in the news industry. I do this for a living bro. Do you really think these guys are telling you the truth?”
“I think they do a good job,” Mig finally admitted, taking off his Mets cap and running a hand over his clean shaven head in exasperation. “They make a lot of good points.”
“Bullshit,” I whispered passionately, prompting heads to pivot toward us from the surrounding tables. “Faux News tells you the comforting lies you enjoy hearing, instead of the painful truths you need to hear to vote in your own interests.
“And they fucking hate Hispanics,” I added. “Last time I looked, you were Hispanic.”
Mig looked up at me at that provocative remark, like a big Easter Egg with painted-on eyes and eyebrows.
“Fuck you Vic,” he said, breaking into a slow smile.
The painful truth is that the only beneficiaries of most GOP policies are other wealthy elites. They’re clearly pushing for a plantation-style caste system that favors their short-term interests in every arena, from the legal field to mating rights, politics to education, and medical care to job opportunities.
So why are so many soldiers tuning into Faux’s vision of an unAmerican America?
Part of the reason is because they like the way the right wing noise machine communicates. I suspect there’s also a greasy KBR thumb tuning Faux in on base TVs. The military contractor is closely affiliated with the Republican Party.
It’s a safe bet KBR has tasked its staffers with tuning the TVs on base to Faux to create the impression watching its bleached blondes is synonymous with a proper military bearing. If for no other reason than because the Far Right has no impulse control right now. Whenever its members are tempted with an opportunity for gain, no matter how unethical, they invariably succumb.
KBR used to be part of Houston-based Halliburton, back when former Vice President Dick Cheney was running the place as CEO. So it’s been closely allied with The Republican Party for a very long time.
Why is it wrong for KBR to tune the TVs on U.S. military bases to its Faux News propaganda arm?
Because soldiers, sailors and airmen vote. Our government is not supposed to champion one political party over another any more than one religion over another. Or no religion.
When KBR tunes every TV on base to the Faux propaganda channel it associates that GOP mouthpiece with the government in the minds of those who hear it.
Bottom line, there appears to be a coordinated right-wing effort both to convince Americans that Faux is a legitimate news source, so they’ll adopt its flawed reporting as fact, and to pressure American workers to bow to its knowing lies. Like peasants before royalty.
The only problem is that Faux News is not legitimate. It’s mostly half-truths and half-lies.
The journalism fact-checking site PunditFact studies accuracy in mainstream media. It says the Republican Propaganda Network only tells the complete truth an incredible 10 percent of the time.
Which raises the same vexing question yet again: why are the very blue collar Americans being targeted by these treasonous sonsabitches buying into Faux’s elitist nonsense?
A big part of the answer is presentation.
Look, Murdoch isn’t even American. He’s from Australia.
That means he has absolutely no business telling anyone in this country how to be a good American. Especially when he’s trying to rile us up against immigrants just like himself.
That means different things to different people.
If you’re working class and you’ve been duped into believing the Faux News con, it means “fuck Murdoch and fuck his pampered silver spoon mofo kids. And their mothers.”
Stop watching that moron’s fatally flawed news network y’all.
And if you’re a member of the pretentious liberal media, it means “get your collective pumpkin heads out of your collective asses already.”
There are a lot more working class Americans than people with PhDs and you better rediscover how to talk to us while there’s still a semblance of representative democracy left in this nation.
Look, you don’t have to act like Donnie Trustfund to reach out effectively to the working class. Especially if you’re from money. But you do have to create a welcoming environment which is not predicated on the trappings of wealth and social standing.
To accomplish that goal it helps to have a clear understanding of the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives.
Liberals generally believe The Golden Rule is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Whereas most conservatives seem to think it means “he who has the gold makes all the rules.”
I can also distill it down to two short sentences, based entirely on the concept of “The Other,” which is a shorthand reference to the outsiders your group fears.
Here it is: “For liberals The Other is strong, wealthy, and domineering. For conservatives The Other is someone who is weak and proud in spite of their modest means.”
Conservative elites don’t like when we commoners get “saucy.” Any more than the British elites who impoverished their own citizens during the Napoleonic War by enclosing “the commons” that once surrounded rural British communities.
The Commons were shared areas where a flock of geese, a dairy cow, or a small herd of goats could be grazed. Without them, peasants had to queue up outside the Lord of the Manor’s kitchen door, begging for scraps and odd jobs. Kinda like the U.S. today.
All of which brings us right back to Square One, which is trying to figure out why so many blue collar Americans are lapping up the disinformation emanating from Faux News.
Liberal elites like to blame this disconnect enitrely on conservatives, but the painful truth is that it’s also due to their penchant for disguising egoism as idealism. The failure to confront this intellectually transmitted disease is pushing blue collar voters into the very arms of those waging class warfare against them.
A principled person doesn’t selectively abandon their principles when they become inconvenient.
Case in point, the incredible popularity of Bernie Sanders. Who is to pretense as Chelsea Clinton, Meghan McCain and Jenna Hager Bush – the most unqualified national correspondents in MSNBC history – are to good journalism.
Sanders doesn’t abandon his beliefs to suit his audience or his political opportunities. They’re a constant. Just as he is.
Working class people respect that kind of personal integrity. Even when they disagree with the views being expressed.
It was a frigid winter night in Manhattan in 2009 and Amaka and I were standing with Tony and Madeline outside the Gray’s Papaya fast food restaurant (below right) near the corner of 72nd Street and Broadway. The ladies were a little pissed off at me for blurting out “kill me now” in the middle of Tyler Perry’s horrendously bad film adaption of the classic feminist book “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide.”
I didn’t actually mean to say the phrase out loud, but a sudden and unexpected lull in the chick flick’s vapid dialogue exposed me. Setting off a chain reaction as other men in the audience broke into reflexive guffaws before brutally subjugated by their better halves.
Tony and Madeline were sharing their impressions of the flawed film afterward, as we were stood at Gray’s Papaya walk-up window near the street. The young professors sounded like they were conducting a quarterly earnings presentation for a Fortune 500 company.
“I was impressed with the project,” Madeline said, wielding the hotdog in her gloved hand like a pointer. “I found the undertaking to be a nuanced and reasoned presentation of the complexities, challenges and travails facing African American women of the period.”
Amaka darted a quick look at me to verify that Madeline was being serious. Like most couples, we had the ability to communicate briefly without words and I nodded my head in response to her unspoken question. Silently assuring her that Madeline was indeed using her everyday vocabulary.
Amaka shook her head from side to side immediately afterward. The involuntary shake was quick and brief. Like a baseball pitcher shaking off an undesirable sign from their catcher.
“I think Madeline makes a very valid point,” Tony said, pausing to gather his thoughts.
“Her initial conclusions certainly dovetail with my own,” he said, staring off into space as the rest of us waited in silent anticipation.
Our collective body weight involuntarily shifted forward to our toes as the pause went on and on. We were on the verge of falling forward when Tony’s big brain finally rumbled back to life.
“My impression was that the portrayals were realistic and multi-faceted,” he continued, speaking deliberatively. “However, I reserve the right to revise my findings after further contemplation.”
There was another long pause before we realized Tony had finished and wasn’t just gathering his thoughts again.
“Who talks like that?” I blurted out, speaking very rapidly. “First of all, the film was a sexist abomination. Every guy was either a rapist, a woman beater or some kind of con man. There wasn’t a single positive male portrayal in the entire flick.
“Second, you two sound like you’re on Face the Nation. We’re trying to have some fuggin fun here. Let your hair down a little bit. Relax. It’s too much work to be brilliant all the time.”
The professors exchanged a shocked look. Then Tony slowly turned his head back to me, cocking a single skeptical eyebrow.
“What do you guys do when you’re in bed anyway,” I said, taking a deep breath before plunging into verbal No-Man’s Land.
“Do you talk dirty to eachother like that?” I asked, dropping my voice into a conspiratorial whisper as Amaka’s forehead wrinkled with concern.
“I mean, what do you shout out?” I said, waving my arms around like an inflatable Airdancer. “I am arriving?’ ”
They mulled the politically incorrect gibe over in silence for a moment. Revolving the ridiculous image in their professorial brains before simultaneously bursting into spontaneous laughter and smiles.
“Fuck you Vic,” Tony said with uncharacteristic speed. “You’re a fuggin idiot.”
“Thank you,” I said, smiling back. “It’s more work than you realize.”