50 Flix: An Exploration of White Trash Identity in Film, Family Tree and America

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: I’m so excited that Raven Mack is writing for our site. He’s one of my biggest influences, as his various zines and writing efforts have taught me so much about how to write and how to live life. This project that he is sharing with us has me totally fired up and I’m so happy he’s decided to share it here.

[This project originally posts at https://www.patreon.com/ravenmack – consider supporting Raven’s dumbass.]

There’s still a number of people who have followed my Raven Mack creative output over the years from back in the old Confederate Mack days, when I was younger, and still figuring out my place in American society as a white male from a somewhat fucked up background. I’ve seen a separation over the years in some of those old followers in that many have grown in ways related to how I’ve grown over the years, but others have not, and probably view me as some sort of softened asshole now who forgot his roots. This is also testament to how the digital algorithms channel us all as well, because many of us fall down the rabbit holes, and are never able to extract ourselves back out to the light, as well as just basic toxic masculinity. (Trust me, I’ve still got plenty of toxic masculinity in me, I just prefer to flaunt that chip on my shoulder in different ways.)

One of the main reasons behind referring to myself as a “dirtgod”, as I do now, is because it’s a signifier of growing from my white trash roots into something I see as greater than that, while also resisting the promises of being assimilated into the larger power structures of American society that is always specifically available to competent white males, even from fucked up backgrounds. For the most part for poor whites, this is done through the racial structures of whiteness, as well as the patriarchy, and has been an essential tool for those in power to somehow keep broke ass white people swearing allegiance to a power base that doesn’t serve their best interests for many decades. (Please note: this is not a blue/red binary argument, and I’m not suggesting switching between the two parties necessarily benefits anybody. But I know the wealthy powerful men who have maintained emotional sway over what’s often referred to as “the white working class” ain’t doing shit for poor people. Also, the concept of a hard-working “white working class” out here in factories or doing industrial jobs is misleading as well, because we live in a broken economy where you’ve got multiple hustles, and you’re more likely to be service industry than some sort of factory worker. Service is the new factory, and way harder to organize.)

I’ve often dabbled in what I call “trash cultural anthropology” over the years, because I was a first generation college student, so I’m college educated (and even gradumacated too, though I’m not sure where my physical degree is… I see people at work with their’s framed in their offices, and mine sat in a box for years on top of the freezer on the front porch, which is about as on-brand as a white trash to dirtgod story can get). But also coming from a more chaotic lower class environment, I have always recognized how the academic and upper class worlds tend to be full of shit as well. In fact, the main reason I had an old zine called “The Confederate Mack” was to piss off the openly hypocritical neoliberal punk college students I knew and hung around with at the time, who talked the talk of inclusion, but if I showed up with some mulleted redneck or crazy black dude I got high with to one of their functions, it was pretty obviously frowned upon. (To be honest, this is how Republicans appeal to poor whites for the most part, by pointing out how Democrats are obviously full of shit and judgmental, which is just as true as the fact Republicans don’t do shit for poor people.)

So I used to do Malt Liquor Movie Reviews in my old Confederate Mack zine and website, where I’d watch old ass movies and get drunk, babbling happily about whatever thoughts were triggered from my mind. Now I’m nine years sober, not nearly as self-destructive, but still pretty fucked up and jaded. And I’d been wanting to do some sort of movie exploration on the lifelong canon of “white trash superhero” movies I’ve maintained internally – guys like Philo Bedo and Gator McCluskey and Billy Jack, and how that white underclass antihero was such a common theme back in the day. Somewhere along the way, that character became a caricature of itself, and then got repackaged and demonized, and I really don’t understand how a shitty white dude from some crappy little town should be all that different than one from 30 years ago, but somehow it feels different culturally. This feeds the resentment that some white dudes feel, because of how culture is presented to them, and then it becomes this chicken and egg thing where you have fucked up racist white assholes everywhere. At least, that’s the theory I’m working with going into this thing, and ultimately the goal is to watch a bunch of movies, and try to not have so many fucked up racist white assholes everywhere.

So this is going to be 50 Flix, an exploration of white trash identity in film, family tree, and America, over the course of 50 years of film (and hopefully over the course of the next 50 weeks, though we all know dirtgods are pretty bad about keeping to a tight schedule… I’m on that honeysuckle time). Beginning with 1967, I’ll watch one movie from each year, specifically selected because of its relation to lesser whiteness, and basically do the same thing as those old Malt Liquor Movie Reviews where I drank malt liquor and streamed my consciousness at anyone who read it, except now I’ll more likely be drinking mineral water, and try to organize my thoughts a little, I guess, but probably not all that much more than I ever did.

I’ll also be talking about my own immediate family tree as it was in each of those years, when these movies got released, which means exploring my own growth from white trash to dirtgod. I’m not gonna dig super deep into that (I don’t think, but also I don’t know), because this ain’t about being a fuckin’ memoir so much as watching a bunch of movies to see how the pattern of representation of whiteness has morphed over the decades. But all culture is not only how it’s presented to us, but how it echoes our real lives, so it’s gonna be impossible to watch 50 years of lower class white people movies and not have to dig into my own personal history.

And finally, I’ll touch on the political state of America when each of these films was released as well, with the very conscious decision made to go from 1967, when Lyndon Johnson used scenes of rural whites from Appalachia (and not the inner-cities with people of color) to declare a War on Poverty, up through 2016, when Donald Trump was elected, as nihilistic world views became so ingrained so as to cause America to collectively decide “fuck it” somehow, even though everybody seems to act like they’re above what caused all that. The vague “white working class” has been vilified and embraced, and the battle for 2020’s election seems to involve how do you appeal to a nihilistic hopeless barely working class that knows they ain’t gonna have shit in this lifetime.

The plan is to post these every Monday, leading up to next November’s 2020 Presidential election, but y’all know how I am… the schedule might meander a bit. I’m a back roads type of dude, and straight lines with markers every mile like on the interstate just ain’t really my thing. But I’m gonna try to get there ( meaning November 2020) right on schedule. And there’s no plan to flyover any of it – one movie per year, where my family was at that point in time, and what was going on in America. So we’ll start this excursion next week, going back to 1967, with Cool Hand Luke. Holler at you then.

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