Monday, February 21, 2011

The Real Jersey Shore

1960 Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

"Poverty" has become a meaningless term in the United States. My family is living in poverty, bigtime, if you go by the numbers, but what we're not living in is squalor. America suffers from a surfeit of squalor now, not an epidemic of poverty. Fifty years ago, America had a multi-tiered middle class, including a tier both sides of my family emerged from that would give your average favela a run for its money, but there wasn't a true caste system. Now I see an iron-clad two-caste system being assembled for the wreckage of the middle class by the government and their handmaidens in big business, especially the big media business: High-budget squalor, or low-budget squalor.

Low-budget squalor is financed, generally, by signing up for all the help the government provides, which requires you to forswear any attempt at a dignified and meaningful life, as this approach makes you ineligible for all the "goodies." High-budget squalor is attained by being a hero to the low-budget squalor contingent. That's about it. It's exceedingly difficult to avoid rubbing elbows with the squalid culture, because it is literally everywhere, and is reinforced and sometimes made mandatory by the force of the government. If the guy at around one minute in the video lit that cigarette most anywhere now, he'd have a hundred scolds in his face, but if he popped an oxycontin and a Paxil and washed it down with four Red Bulls no one would bat an eye.

If you appear on a reality show, you can afford high-budget squalor; if you watch it you can emulate what you see and assemble a low-budget squalid lifestyle for yourself. If you play in the Stones, you can afford high-budget squalor, or you can use the Stones as a soundtrack for your low-budget squalor. Same sort of thing.

In 1960, you could move up or down the middle class ladder, depending on lots of details within your control; you weren't born into a static society. If you desired it, lack of money was not a bar to dignity. No one in this video is wealthy, but they don't lack the dignity of even your average Charlie Sheen. The children and grandchildren of the people in the video are in a casino in Atlantic City now, covered with orange spray-on tans and misspelled tattoos, hoping to get a glimpse of the latest Snooki at the tables, while their illegitimate babies slumber in the back seat of their soon to be repossessed Escalades in the parking lots.

Poverty is no fun, trust me; but it's miles better than even high-budget squalor.


teresa said...

Yep. Rather than go to a "Presidents Day" sale, my daughter and I had a conversation about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, read aloud George Washington's "Rules of Civilized Behavior", Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation", and from there moved on to Longfellow. We read "Evangeline" earlier this year. We read some history about that poem today, and moved on to "Paul Revere's Ride". The rest of the day will likely be spent noodling around on the violin and lap harp. That and moving about a cord of maple from the garage to the basement. Wood warms you ever so many ways.
Oh we're broke 'til payday, but we don't care, cause we sure ain't squalid!

Rob De Witt said...


Beautiful piece.

Thud said...

sipp, great post plus you got an email from Teresa way back in 1780 I may join her.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

'3 hots and a cot' ain't poverty, unless they are provided by the government, without basic training being involved.

Poverty is a state of mind, brought on by constant repetition that you are poverty stricken.

Hell, by today's standards the Rockefellers were poverty stricken in 1940.

No Color TV, no Cell phone, no Microwave oven, no air conditioning.

Golden West said...

I agree wholeheartedly! And what a treat it always is to come and read your latest.

Jim - PRS said...

I was looking for myself in that video. :-)

Casey Klahn said...

Here is where I write something witty but not trite. Can't do it. This one is too great.

Great essay. It reminds me that I am possibly half the man that my father was. Which, come to think of it, may be just enough.

Anonymous said...

Grew up in Jersey. Spent many a day Seaside. Went there as a kid, teen and twenty something. It was trashy as only NJ can be. Man I miss those days.