Category Archives: Review

From Rust

I am from Erie, PA. A city failing so hard it hurts to go back. I was born during its destruction (1980s) and saw my father continually laid-off and rehired by the same factory (General Electric). During the periods he did work, my father worked as many hours as possible, removing him from the family. I mainly remember him as the man who slept because he worked long hours. Slowly more and more people were laid-off and never rehired. Amazingly, my father survived the numerous rounds and always returned to the factory. It was not until last year that my father left the factory; he was forced to retire at the age of 57.

Erie is a rustbelt town on Lake Erie. The pollution from factories still kills the fish and makes for beautiful sunsets. Two types of people live there: those who have resigned themselves to staying and those dying to leave. People do not stay for the jobs (there are not many) or the lifestyle (fast food, scary bars, and box stores). They know the situation. They understand the economy sucks, that the town is going down hard, but what are they going to do. It’s a quiet, sad reservation that makes drinking and/or gambling a serious pastime.

I write all this because I am amazed at how well Philipp Meyer’s American Rust captures the feeling of Western Pennsylvania and the people who stay and the guilt of people who leave. The novel centers on an accidental murder, but this one death seems insignificant when compared to what US capitalism has done to these people. The closing of the factory left a shell of a town; the inhabitants know everything changed, but do not know how to react. They stay because it is familiar and how much worse can it get: a local claims, “There just isn’t that far you can fall.” The comfort of failure is all around, so they scrape out a living through any service industry job they can find. Hoping for better seems silly and others have it worse, or so they say to comfort themselves.

What I like about this book is that there is no optimism, well maybe some, but not a lot. Life in this town will never be the same and neither will the people. The sadness is palpable. Young women sit around discussing the losers they ended up with and placing all energy hopelessly hoping that their children will have a better life. Shame-filled fathers knowingly emotionally distant, sons with potential who cannot seem to get out, and mothers whose sons’ failures wrack them with guilt. Those who left feel as if they abandoned their families, while they made a life elsewhere in more hospitable places. Even when they leave, they carry the “backwardness” and sorrow of their town with them.

In the end, most flee, but not without a sacrifice. The escape is not glorious. It is mournful. A person with a broken spirit, burning down their trailer home is not cathartic, but sad desperation.

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The Humanity of Hate

I watched this documentary and really enjoyed it, so I thought I would share.

Louis Theroux’s documentary The Most Hated Family in America provides insight into the daily lives of the Phelps family, creators of http://www.godhatesfags.com and picketers of almost every kind of event. (They seem to pick an enemy of the day.) Through the documentary you see their ridiculous campaigns and the ignorance produced from strong emotion (hate). Their lives depend on hating others; this obviously closes them off from understanding the other’s position and reinforces their opposition to them (obviously).

The interesting twist is that you also see the normality of their lives. The teenagers act like teens and if the video was edited you would not even know they were in a cult; the only difference is they have no interest in dating, the end of time is near and God needs soldiers, not a populated Earth, and they hate everyone who is not them. The seemingly normality of their lives made me question what role plays in typical US subject, is hate already so central to who we are that dedicating your life to it does not radically reshape your subjectivity?

Louis Theroux does an excellent job of documenting, but also intervening. He is not pretending to be a fly on the wall. Instead he attempts to get the family to think about their lives, what they do to others, and their beliefs. I actually prefer this style. It does not pretend to be objective; he’s biased and obviously does not agree with the family’s stance, but he wants to understand. This is why he prods and makes the family members uncomfortable. He wants to know why they hate. He makes it personal because they hate him. He has a baby and is not married. Everyone is worthy of hate in their eyes.

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Filed under queer, Review, Subjectivity