Travelers in Time — “Joe Six-Pack”   1 comment

Travelers in Time — “Joe Six-Pack” Has Hitched a Ride On the American Worker

As children, most of us experienced being called names reflective of a group, region, country, sex, race, or class.  As adults, derogatory name-calling remains, only it’s taking on more sophistication.  Often such names become acceptable, but generally by those who seek an emotional identification with  people who “are just like me.”  Such emotional identification has its place, but when I select someone to represent me, I’m not looking for someone who is just like me.  When you vote for someone because they “are just like me,” the implication is a desire to make us all the same.

So, it may be all right to refer to your spouse a “…Joe Six-Pack kind of guy…”, but if you are seeking to express identity with the American worker, why use a phase that many see as a derogatory term for workers who are lazy “clock-watchers,” who go home, sit down with the remote control and open a six-pack of beer.

Most working people I know don’t name themselves by their vices.  To name others by their vices is very condescending. Is Joe Six-Pack really a “Beavis & Butthead,” “South Park,” or “The Simpson’s” character? A caricature of the American worker?

Studs Terkel has stated, “I’ve always felt, in all my books, that there’s deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence – providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.”  The following is from the Introduction to Studs Terkel’s, “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.”

Simultaneously, as our “Alf,” called “Archie” or “Joe,” is romanticized, he is caricatured.  He is the clod, put down by others.  The others, who call themselves middle-class, are, in turn, put down by still others, impersonal in nature – The Organization, The Institution, The Bureaucracy.  “Who you gonna sock? You can’t sock General Motors . . .”  Thus the “dumbness” (or numbness or tiredness) of both classes is encouraged and exploited in a society more conspicuously manipulative than Orwell’s.  A perverse alchemy is at work: the gold that may be found in their unexamined lives is transmuted into the dross of banal being.  This put-down and its acceptance have been made possible by a perverted “work ethic.”

If the intent is to generate an image of the “America worker” and his/her values, I suggest listening to the workers Terkel has chronicled, and the images written about by Walt Whitman, Woody Guthrie, or Bruce Springsteen.  Whitman pays tribute to America’s laborers in “I Hear America Singing.”

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day – at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Guthrie wrote of Americans with dreams, but debts an honest person can’t pay.

I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing.  Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built. I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. – Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie (July 14, 1912 – October 3, 1967)

And Springsteen has written of the American working struggling to reach the American dream.

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately, there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
All those things that seemed so important, well mister, they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember, and Mary acts like she don’t care
But I remember us riding in my brother’s car, her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on the banks, I’d lie awake and pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me, they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it doesn’t come true, or is it something worse
That sends me down to the river, though I know the river is dry,
That sends me down to the river tonight?
(verse from “The River”)

Let’s hope that future generations will know our current generations as expressed by Terkel’s, Guthrie’s, Whitman’s, and Springsteen’s, not the “Joe Six-Pack” distortion of the American worker.


Posted October 5, 2008 by kenneturner in Commentary, Information

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One response to “Travelers in Time — “Joe Six-Pack”

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  1. Reblogged this on Becoming is Superior to Being and commented:

    It’s important that American workers have the facts, not lies. We need to see the American worker through the eyes of Terkel, Whitman, Guthrie and Springsteen, not the eyes of politicians. I first posted the on my blog eight years ago. — kenne


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