White Male Working Class Frustration

“Joe is simultaneously racist, homophobic, sexist, a gun lover, patriotic, a World War II veteran, a provider and a dangerously frustrated and violent individual.”

The current presidential election features working class frustration with the current political and economic climate.   This anger emerges from a number of directions – the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the economic meltdown of 2008-2009, the predominance of the one percent over real power, a rapidly changing demography of the United States, and  the ability of African Americans, Latino Americans and gay and lesbians to hold political office and corporate jobs with visibility.   Political commentators often remark about the newness of this phenomenon.    The under-recognized classic American film Joe (1970) illustrates that this is not the case.  Joe emerged as the openness and freedom of the counterculture became awash with drugs and degradation and as the sixties closed with the Manson murders, millions of new addicts and the loss of faith in a new and liberated system.  Peter Boyle’s masterful performance as the title character, a working class, family man who has had it with all of the changes he witnesses is highly representative of the current political backlash.  Joe is simultaneously racist, homophobic, sexist, a gun lover, patriotic, a World War II veteran, a provider and a dangerously frustrated and violent individual.   He is attempting to make sense of a country he does not understand in which he feels he gains no respect.  His children are never home, his job is monotonous, and he finds it difficult to make friends in his middle age.  Joe exists during a time of great social and economic change and he finds that his old rules of morality, female subservience and nationalism no longer apply.  Joe is a film well worth taking another look at; it is emblematic of a recurring pattern of white male working class frustration.

Guest blogger Gerald R. Butters, Jr. writes about American history and popular culture. For more of his writing, see his website at  http://www.gerald-butters.com/

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