Monthly Archives: April 2012

Calling All Stooges: Slapstick and the Working Class

The Farrelly brothers’ new film version of The Three Stooges opened in theaters 10 days ago to thumps and slaps by the critics. Many of the critics seem to really like the pseudo-violence, the bonky sound effects, and the topical stupidity of The Three Stooges, and they hoped that the movie would deliver satisfying Stoogification to hardcore fans everywhere.

With the return of the Stooges, it is worth revisiting a great, but largely forgotten example of television slapstick.  The ABC series about two slapdash carpenters, I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, debuted fifty years ago, in September of 1962, and, after a rough start it won its time slot against another very popular show, Route 66. Sadly, it was canceled after one season, but happily, this spring, we can now enjoy the series on a beautifully curated 3-DVD set from Jim Benson, host of the blog and radio show TVTimeMachine.

I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster features two carpenters who are also best friends: a bachelor named Arch Fenster (Marty Ingels), and his married friend, Harry Dickens (John Astin). At least half of the scenes take place at work, where the two friends compete for promotions, run into doors, and fall into vats of concrete. Most of the rest is set at the home of Dickens and his pretty wife Kate (Emmaline Henry), where the duo try to install a garbage disposal, patch holes in the drywall, and fix the kitchen cabinets, usually unsuccessfully.

The home remodeling theme is based on creator and producer Leonard Stern’s experience with his own house, when carpenters accidentally bricked a ladder inside the chimney. Stern was a long-time staff writer for The Jackie Gleason Show and, later, The Honeymooners. He also won an Emmy for writing on The Phil Silvers Show. By 1960 he was ready to strike out on his own.

The show was originally called The Workers, but ABC executives made Stern change it, afraid that if it went into daily syndication it might be called “The Daily Worker.” It is remarkable indeed that Stern was able to get a show featuring working-class characters on television in the 1960s. In the early days of television (1948-1956) there were a handful of working-class families featured in network sitcoms (The Life of Riley, I Remember Mama, The Goldbergs, Life with Luigi, The Honeymooners and Duffy’s Tavern), but by the late 1950s most sitcoms featured suburban families who were decidedly middle class.

Stern’s carpenter comedy earned him the best critical reviews of his career. Life magazine declared it a “surprise success” about “of all people—carpenters.” After one season, though, I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster was just starting to beat out its time slot competition.  The TV critic Harvey Pack loved the show, and campaigned for it to be saved.  In the end it was canceled, but it retained many loyal fans.

It is not news to readers of this blog that workers, and especially working men, almost always look stupid, silly, fat, bumbling, poorly dressed, and unappealing on network television—no matter what era is under discussion. No one has argued this more forcefully than Pepi Leistyna, whose scathing documentary, Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class, shows how cartoonish and buffoonish the representations of working-class TV characters have been, from riveter Chester A. Riley, bus driver Ralph Kramden, sewer worker Ed Norton, dock worker Archie Bunker, to nuclear plant worker Homer Simpson.

Dickens and Fenster fit the pattern. In the pilot episode, Fenster makes some carpentry errors that cause Dickens to run into a door and fall onto his backside. In an episode called “The Joke,” Dickens takes off his safety hat and two heavy items fall on his head. Fenster is also clumsy and hapless. He’s a professional carpenter, but somehow he can’t fix Mrs. Dickens’s garbage disposal or the magnet on her kitchen cupboards.

But the Class Dismissed critique overlooks the fact that many of these working-class shows, came from the slapstick or “burlesque” comedy tradition that has its roots in working-class culture. Burlesque comedy started in seedy strip joints in the 1920s as filler between the strip acts. It was often performed by a comedy team, a “straight man” and a “second banana,” who took turns ridiculing each other and/or the audience. Burlesque humor was full of sexual innuendo, malapropisms, insults, and loads of physical comedy.

When burlesque migrated to television in the 1950s, it continued the tradition of lampooning working-class characters.  Television comedies like Abbott and Costello, Amos n Andy, The Honeymooners, and The Phil Silvers Show featured stock lowbrow characters (gangsters, hoodlums, con-men, spiritualists, gypsies, corrupt landlords, intimidating bosses, pesky in-laws, and corrupt politicians), lowbrow activities (horse racing, boxing, card playing, counterfeiting, contests, insurance schemes, peddling phony medical cures and hypnotism), and lowbrow settings (bars, taverns, pool halls, fraternal lodges, soda shops, pizza joints, urban apartments, diners, and nightclubs). These shows were the polar opposite of those sweet suburban sitcoms where the conflicts were usually resolved when Ward Cleaver doled out a minor punishment to the “Beave.”

I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster followed many of the conventions of lowbrow television comedy, but it also had some important differences that made the show interesting. For one thing, Fenster and Dickens dressed in a way that hinted at a subtle class difference between the two men. Arch Fenster always wore overalls loaded down with tools, while Dickens often wore a jaunty army jacket over a black turtleneck. Dickens was more uptight, and, hence, the straight man. He dressed and acted more “middle class.” Ironically, or, perhaps, pointedly, he was usually the one to buckle under pressure. When he was trying to get the job of foreman, he didn’t have the courage to ask his boss. Fenster had to do it for him. In a later episode, when Dickens was selected to read for a television commercial, he fainted, and Fenster had to take over for him, again. Most of the time, the “middle class” Dickens had to be rescued by the more “working class” Fenster, and, thus it was usually the “middle class” Dickens who was the biggest butt of the jokes.

The truth is that many television shows featuring working-class figures set them against some kind of authority—a boss, a landlord, or a friend with more power and prestige. The humor employed by I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, and even today in the Farrelly brothers’ updated Three Stooges, has its roots in the American immigrant, turn-of-the-last-century working class. Peter Farrelly called the three stooges “working-class, blue collar, down-on-their-luck guys.” Slapstick humor is working-class humor. As Rob King has argued in his history of the Keystone Film Company, slapstick can reduce “authority to absurdity.”

Of course, in real life the working class today is getting walloped as never before in U.S. history, and it is anything but funny. Easing the pain of the cuts and bruises from the beating the working class is taking in our current culture will be more difficult, to be sure. But if you want to travel back in time to a moment of possibility when the working class could make fun of the middle class, if you want to laugh your tushie off like my eight year old son and I did when we were watching I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster, order the three DVD set. These crazy carpenters and their critique of authority have offered me a few good belly laughs and some genuine relief from the depressing political and economic roller coaster that is our current moment.

Or, as Curly once said: “Is this work in competent hands?” “Coitainly—we’re all incompetent!”

Kathy M. Newman

Work and Taxes

If I earned more than a million dollars a year, I would be for the Buffett Rule – not for the reasons that famous billionaires like Warren Buffett and George Soros are for it: because it’s just fair.  I’d be for it because in the long run it would save me money by distracting the public from seeing the roots of class warfare as it is fought in the U.S. Tax Code.

The Buffett Rule says simply that anyone who earns more than $1 million a year should pay at least 30% of their income in federal income taxes.  Legislation to institute this rule is supposed to be voted on this week in the U.S. Senate, sponsored by Democrats and ballyhooed by the Obama Administration.  It won’t pass the House, of course, so it won’t actually affect anyone’s taxes, but it’s a helluva good campaign talisman for Obama and Democrats to run on.

The point of the Buffett Rule is to avoid the kind of obvious inequity that Warren Buffett pointed to in his August New York Times op-ed:  In 2010 Buffett, the second richest man in the world, paid only about 17% of his income in federal taxes (income and payroll taxes) while the 20 people who work directly for him paid an average of 36% of their much smaller incomes.

The Buffett Rule was not devised by Buffett, but by the Obama Administration.  And the first thing that should be noted is that even at 30%, Buffett and other millionaires will still be paying less than the 20 people who work for Buffett, including his now-famous secretary.  More importantly, however, Buffett was clear about why he and other investors paid lower effective tax rates than most workers: income that you do not work for is taxed at a lower rate than income you do work for.

Why this isn’t a scandal in a country that supposedly prides itself on its “hard-working people” is a mystery to me.  If you get your money by investing in stocks and bonds, your income is taxed at a 15% rate because it is unearned.  What’s more, you pay nothing in payroll taxes (i.e., nothing for Social Security and Medicare) because you’re not on anybody’s payroll.

Buffett himself actually still works and draws a salary, and on that part of his income he pays a top rate of 35% and regular payroll taxes on the first $110,000 of that income. But the vast majority of his income comes from investments – capital gains and dividends – and on that part he pays only 15% and no payroll taxes.  Here’s how Buffett explains it: “If you make money with money . . . your percentage may [even] be a bit lower than mine.  But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine – most likely by a lot.”

Fair shares and percentages aside, the U.S. Tax Code literally says that investors are more valuable than workers, and therefore, should be taxed less. Or it says that investors need more encouragement to invest than workers need to work.  In any case, our tax code fairly screams that only losers and suckers work for a living.

The obvious remedy to this moral abomination is to tax capital gains and dividends (called “unearned income”) the same as wages and salaries (called “earned income”) on the principle that you should not be taxed at a higher rate for earning your income.  That’s how it was after Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 tax reform law, and for most of our history before that.  It was under Presidents Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II that investor privilege was installed in our tax code.  (See the Citizens for Tax Justice’s recent report, “Policy Options to Raise Revenue.”)

Taxing capital and labor income at equal rates would produce much more revenue for the government: $53 billion a year, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, while the Buffett Rule would raise only $17 billion (with other estimates being as low as $5 billion).  You can see why as a greedy, but rational millionaire I’d embrace the so-called Buffett Rule in order to shift the focus away from the basic class bias of our tax code.

There is a theory behind privileging investors by taxing them less.  Namely, investors are “job creators,” and any additional taxes on them will lead to less investment and, thus, slower economic growth, fewer jobs, and even higher unemployment than we have now.  I’ve critiqued this theory before, giving it some credence when it was initially articulated in the 1970s, but showing how it is clearly irrelevant today because investment lags not for lack of money (of which investors have plenty), but for lack of consumer demand that would give investors a reason to invest.  But that’s just me.  I’m not one of the greatest investors of all time.  Here’s what that guy said in his August op-ed:

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher . . . . .   According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.  I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

There are a lot better rules to derive from Buffett’s puckish op-ed than the one the Democrats are using to embarrass Mitt Romney, whose effective tax rate of 14% is even lower than Buffett’s.  Taxing all income at the same graduated rates, for example, would be both simpler and fairer.

While I was writing this post, the Obama-Biden campaign sent me an e-mail asking that I sign a petition supporting the Buffett Rule.  I signed it because Obama’s tax policy is way better than Republicans’ proposed tax cuts for the wealthy.  But the at-least-30%-for-millionaires is a political gimmick without principle, and it leaves in place a tax code that dishonors work and the people who do it.

Jack Metzgar

Chicago Working-Class Studies

“Which Side Are You On?”: The Life and Travels of a Working-Class Song

Why do certain songs get under our skin?  How is it that they seem to express the way we are feeling or speak to the times we are living in?   The old labor anthem “Which Side Are You On?” has been such a song for me.  I’ve been playing it, singing it, and listening for new versions, ever since I first heard Florence Reese perform it in Barbara Kopples’ documentary film Harlan County USA (1976).

According to John Steinbeck, in his introduction to Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People, “The songs of the working people have always been their sharpest statement and the one statement which cannot be destroyed. . . .  You can learn more about people by listening to their songs than in any other way, for into the songs go all the hopes and hurts, the angers, fears, the wants and aspirations.”

Florence Reese, a thirty-year-old miner’s wife in Eastern Kentucky, wrote “Which Side Are You On?” in the midst of the coal wars of the early 1930s.   Sung to the traditional tune of “Lay the Lily Low,” it spoke of the “good news” of the union, the violence of the gun thugs, the hardships for workers and families, and the necessity of deciding “which side are you on.”  Since then the song has traveled, as good struggle songs will, from one place and time to another, picking up new verses as well as different vocal accents and musical styles, while the moral challenge posed in the chorus has remained unchanged.

According to George Ella Lyon’s beautiful picture book Which Side Are You On?  The Story of a Song (2011) Reese’s original verses included:

Come all of you poor workers
Good news to you I’ll tell
Of how that good old union
Has come in here to dwell
Which side are you on?

If you go to Harlan County
There is no neutral there
You’ll either be a union man
Or a thug for J.H. Blair

They say they have to guard us
To educate their child
Their children live in luxury
Our children almost wild

Gentlemen, can you stand it?
Oh, tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

My daddy was a miner
He’s now in the air and sun
He’ll be with you fellow workers
Till every battle’s won

The verse which evokes extreme class division in the image of the children suggests that Reese wrote as a mother as well as a union supporter, while the verse about her father indicates she wrote also as a daughter, within a proud family tradition.  (To be “in the air and sun” implied to be blacklisted and therefore unable to work underground in the mines.)

The story goes that Reese wrote her song on the back of a wall calendar while her husband Sam, an organizer for the National Miners Union (NMU) was on the run from Sheriff Blair’s deputies.  Of her motivation for it, she has said: “Some people say, ‘I don’t take sides—I’m neutral.’ There’s no such thing as neutral.   You have to be on one side or the other.  In Harlan Country there wasn’t no neutral.  If you wasn’t a gun thug, you was a union man.  You had to be.”

With its message of resistance and hope, the song quickly became a picket-line standard.  As Jim Garland, another songwriter-organizer from that 1931-32 strike and lockout in “Bloody Harlan,” explains: “In the course of such fights, songs expressed people’s feelings in a manner that allowed them to stand together. . . .  Rather than walking up to a gun thug and saying, ‘You’re a bastard,’ which might have resulted in a shooting, we could express our anger much more easily in unison with song lyrics.”

“Which Side Are You On?” began its travels out of Kentucky when Garland and his cousin Aunt Molly Jackson took the song to New York City where they held concerts to raise funds for the striking miners and their starving families.   Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie learned it and included it in performances of the Almanac Singers in the early 1940s, singing Reese’s original lyrics.

The first rewriting of the song I have discovered occurred when Pete Seeger adapted it as a recruiting tool for another “NMU,” the National Maritime Union, which was supported in 1947 by the Peoples’ Music collective.   Seeger’s version adds some critical humor to the call for solidarity:

The men who hate our union’
They say we dodged the draft
Not one of those damn liars
Knows his forward from his aft.

Chorus

So all nonunion seamen
Who listen to my song
Unite with us, fight side by side
And make our union strong.

Chorus

Like Reese, Seeger includes verses that point to a family legacy of work and struggle:

My daddy was a seaman
And I’m a seaman too
But poor old daddy sailed the seas
Without the NMU

Chorus

In days before the union
I heard my daddy say
‘Twas hardtack for your breakfast
And peanuts for your pay.

Chorus

In the 1960s, the song was picked up again and repurposed for the Civil Rights movement.   The Freedom Singers, formed in 1962 by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, rewrote everything but the chorus to address the local struggle in Fulton County, Georgia.   In gospel style, with preacher-like lead vocals and choral responses, they sang:

Oh tell me Mayor Allen
Where is your heart?
We are children of
The same almighty God.

Chorus

Come all you negro people
Lift up your voices and sing
Will you join the Ku Klux Klan
Or Martin Luther King?

Reese herself, now in her 70s, took the song to the Brookside (KY) strike of 1972 – 73, where she was filmed for the first time singing it in Kopples’ award-winning filmAfter listening to the multi-voiced versions of the Almanac Singers and Freedom Singers, Reese’s quavering a capella rendering at a hushed union rally is powerful [You Tube link].  Whereas in 1932 — before New Deal legislation secured the right to organize — the miners lost their fight and the union was driven from the coalfields, the Brookside strike ended in a UMWA victory in which local women played a leading role.

Meanwhile, across the pond, Londoner Billy Bragg rewrote the song to address the bitter British Miners’ Strike of the mid-1980s and Margaret Thatcher’s relentless attack on labor rights.   Bragg performed his song at rallies and on picket lines, in punk-folk style with jagged electric guitar accompanying his broad cockney vocals [YouTube link]:

It’s hard to explain to a crying child
Why her Daddy can’t go back
So the family suffer, but it hurts me more
To hear a scab say “Sod you, Jack”

Chorus

I’m bound to follow my conscience
And do whatever I can
But it’ll take much more than the union law
To knock the fight out of a working man

Many other musicians have performed Reese’s original lyrics, reinterpreting them by shifting tonalities and tempos: Jamestown (NY)-raised Natalie Merchant has produced an elegiac soft-folk rendering and Boston’s the Dropkick Murphys an angry post-punk performance, while Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine sings a version with elements of Merchant’s pacing and the Murphys’ intensity.  There’s even a karaoke version by the PPK Band!

The most recent and, to my ears, compelling rewriting of “Which Side Are You On?” comes from Ani DiFranco on her 2012 CD of the same name.  She records a version first performed in 2009 at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden.   The six-minute track opens with a Seeger banjo solo, but after that homage to the song’s origins, it quickly gathers momentum and instruments, including Occupy-style drumming, as it addresses the current fight-back against corporate greed, political corruption, environmental destruction, and endless war.   If the song lacks the sharp class-consciousness of Reese’s original verses, it certainly gains in breadth of political critique and rousing energy.  And in some verses it re-genders the song, citing a different family legacy:

my mother was a feminist
she taught me to see
that the road to ruin is paved
with patriarchy

so, let the way of the women
guide democracy
from plunder and pollution
let mother earth be free

There is no space here to trace more of the song’s musical and political border-crossings — a friend heard it recently during an NPR report on rallies against the Greek government’s austerity measures.   Most of the versions mentioned above can be heard on iTunes and/or YouTube.  So what is it about the words and tune of “Which Side Are You On?”— written in a Kentucky coal camp at a time of mass poverty and class violence—that allows it to speak in so many different accents and contexts about the key contradictions of our time?

Nick Coles

Nick Coles teaches working-class literature at the University of Pittsburgh.  He is the president of the Working-Class Studies Association.

This American Strife: What Happened To The Working Class In The Mike Daisey Retraction?

On March 18, the popular public-radio program This American Life issued an unprecedented retraction of the now-infamous episode in which performer Mike Daisey recounts his supposedly firsthand experiences of exploitative labor practices at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China that produces Apple products.  The issue was not that Daisey had misrepresented the company’s labor practices.  Instead, the concern was Daisey’s misrepresentation of his interactions with Foxconn workers.  A full explanation of the inconsistencies in Daisey’s story and the subsequent fallout can be found in the retraction itself, in which both Daisey and TAL host Ira Glass suggest that Daisey’s theatrical untruths serve a broader existential truth, namely that Apple conceals from view the kinds of inhumane and unjust employment practices to which Daisey supposedly gives a human face.  The situation raises several issues related to the ethical standards of theater and journalism, particularly how these standards apply to depictions of the working class.

Public radiophiles have been buzzing for weeks with the revelation of these fabrications, but what has gone largely overlooked and uncommented on, despite write-ups from outlets as diverse as Slate, Entertainment Weekly, and The Washington Post, is how Daisey’s own business practices— the concealment of fact, the smoothing over of complexity in order to form a sleek, streamlined narrative— mirror those of the company whose exploitation he claims to have “outed.”  No doubt Apple understands the centrality of narrative to its marketing success more thoroughly and successfully than any other contemporary corporation.  Suppressing the unpleasant reality of its production practices, Apple peddles a lineup of sleek, minimalist products expressive of an existential “truth” for the consumers who buy them.  We buy iPhones, in other words, not because they have the fastest download speed or the largest screen of any phone on the market— in fact the iPhone remains stunningly behind in both of these categories— but because Apple has wrapped the phone, like all its products, in a narrative of which we want to be a part, a narrative of youth, fashionability, and cleanliness.  (It is one of the damning ironies of the company that one of the adjectives most often used to describe its products, assembled by workers who often work 24-hour shifts in dust-choked factories, is “clean.”)

While Apple conceals its outsourcing of exploitative working conditions in order for its consumers to preserve an image of themselves as socially-conscious global citizens, Daisey conceals actual working conditions in China in order to create the “clean,” streamlined narrative that we, as theatergoers and consumers, want to hear.  Daisey’s stage-performance works not because it peddles an objective glimpse behind the curtain of Apple’s business practices, but because it sells us the story of our lives that we desire, a narrative of ourselves as committed, well-meaning liberals.  Daisey’s story does implicate us in a system of social and economic exploitation, but its ultimate effect is to numb us to this complicity by reassuring us that we somehow transcend this exploitation simply by knowing about and acknowledging it.

In this respect, Daisey’s show is the theater version of the “slacktivism” that so often clutters our News Feeds with links to “KONY 2012” or Mother Jones graphs of American income distribution.  This kind of slacktivism may indeed be consciousness-raising, but it gives us a false sense that we are taking real action toward addressing the root causes of the problems these links point to.  Not only should we acknowledge the limitations of working-class slacktivism, we should also endeavor toward action in the real world of protests, picket lines, and legislation.  It is not enough, in other words, to post links in support of the working class, especially if we’re doing it using products, including the MacBook on which I write this, that undermine the sentiment behind those links; from the beginning, this kind of protest participates in the very practices it condemns.  And this is the genius of Daisey’s show, that it allows us to feel outraged— and self-righteous and angry and indignant and betrayed— but has the added bonus of permitting us to take no real action against the source of our outrage.

This is not to say that conditions at Foxconn, or at any other factory in China, are more pleasant than Daisey makes them out to be.  Workers, to cite an example from Apple’s own supplier standards, are often pressured to work 60-hour weeks on “sped-up” assembly lines at wages low enough to ensure a marginal profit for the corporations that employ them.  Between January and November 2010, a wave of suicides at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen prompted the company to install suicide-prevention netting around its buildings after 14 workers hurled themselves from the factory roofs.  And workers at an Apple factory in Turkey, who sometimes work 30-hour shifts, have been instantly fired for attempting to join a union, even after sustaining workplace injuries that could have been avoided had Apple taken basic safety precautions.  Recently, the Fair Labor Association issued its own critical report on Foxconn labor practices, noting widespread worker dissatisfaction with these kinds of abuses.

At the risk of apologizing for Apple, however, examining the intricacies of these situations— for example that thousands of workers “voluntarily” enroll at these factories, which offer some of the “best” jobs in China, or that Apple is merely one offender among thousands in a globalized system of labor abuse— requires the kind of time and detail that would disrupt the gripping narrative that Daisey constructs.  And in constructing this narrative, he misuses the working class in a manner similar to, though less severe than, Apple’s own mistreatment of its workers.  By fabricating his encounters with the workers of Shenzhen, Daisey transforms human individuals into cogs in the machine of fiction, mere characters designed to plug a hole on the assembly line of rising and falling action.

Even This American Life‘s “retraction” of the Daisey episode ends up oversimplifying, if not ignoring, the working class with which the story began.  In issuing its own quasi-apology for misleading its listeners, TAL wraps itself in the narrative we’ve always wanted to hear from our journalists, the narrative that, despite increasing pressure from a host of complicated factors, journalists continue to hold themselves to a higher standard of truth.  We need only look at the fabrications of a Jayson Blair or a Michael Olesker— or any program on Fox News for that matter— to understand how dangerous this narrative can be.

To its credit, TAL does not defend Apple, but nor does it attempt to interview a single worker at Foxconn or contextualize the experiences of those workers within the bigger picture of the globalized economy.  And while it discredits Daisey in order to prop up its own ethical stance, the show fails to point out that Daisey’s analysis remains an accurate, if mishandled, assessment of the working class both at home and abroad.  Indeed, TAL‘s apologetic hand-wringing conceals how the show utilizes Daisey and the abuses on which he “reports” to paint itself as a bastion of journalistic integrity, while ignoring, like so much American journalism, the broader systemic injustice of which those abuses are a part.  The narratives of both Daisey and Glass employ the working class, like Apple, as a mere tool to bolster each entertainer’s professional reputation.  As consumers of these narratives— and of all popular media in which workers’ voices remain suppressed, mediated, or misrepresented— we should recognize that the true narratives of the working class can only be constructed by workers themselves.

Christopher Kemp

Christopher Kempf is an adjunct faculty member at the Indiana Institute of Technology, and will be a 2012-2014 Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University.