Book Review; Angry White Men

By Patrick Brogan

Customer; Could you give us a drop of orange? Like, in a cup.

Subway Employee; A bottle of orange?

Customer; No, just a drop in a cup. I don’t want a whole bottle.

Subway Employee; Just take some and pour it into a cup?

Customer; Yeah. I don’t want a bottle or anything.

Subway Employee; I can’t do that, because of the system.

Customer; The system? It’s just a mouthful of orange!

Subway Employee; I know, but I can’t. The system won’t allow us.

Customer; All systems in this country are corrupt.

Subway Employee; Sorry?

Customer: All systems in this country are corrupt, don’t you know that? Look, it doesn’t matter. You tried. You tried.

Obviously, this customer was very thirsty. Despite the small mound of used up milk cartons building up beside the coffee, they asked for some water.

Customer; Do you have any water?

Subway Employee; I think we have some tap water. (After walking into the back he returns a few minutes later.) The tap isn’t working.

Customer; For God’s sake!

Subway; I can take some from one of the bottles and pour it in a cup if you like?

Customer; No, no, no. It doesn’t matter. I just want to get out of here now. I’m sick of it.

Subway Employee; What was that?

Customer; Nothing, nothing. (Mumbling to himself, or maybe me) Why don’t they employ Irish people in these places? Fuck’s sake. I just want to get the fuck out of here.

Fuck me. What had I just witnessed? Be honest with yourself; are you picturing the customer as male or female? Younger or slightly older? This customer was male and middle-aged(ish). Stroppy, rude, petulant. He got upset because he wasn’t given free orange. I can’t think of any other circumstances where I’ve been in such a place and a person came off the street and expected to get the produce for free. That’s a sense of entitlement, right there.

If I could sum up Michael Kimmel’s book “Angry White Men; American Masculinity at the End of an Era” in a word that would be it; entitlement. Dr Kimmel is a well-respected author and academic. His website describes him as one of the world’s leading experts on men and masculinities. A bold claim. He is a professor of gender studies at Stoney Brook University in New York and has published such critically acclaimed books as “Guyland” and “Manhood in America”. Angry White Men was originally published in 2013 by Nation Books. Unbeknownst to myself, the book is due to be republished, taking in the campaign and victory of Donald Trump in the presidential election, later this month. I only found this out after reading the book. Anyway…

This book was recommended to me by two people. And a video. The reason was during Trump’s election I wanted to understand why people were voting for him and who were they. I noticed a lot of his supporters on Twitter were talking about a white genocide. I was really curious about this. This book, written long before the Donald ran for the highest political office in the States, does address many of the questions I had.

So what’s this book about? I mentioned entitlement, but he also goes into a range of socio-economic factors as to why America, but particularly the white male section, are so angry. The chapters range from youth, the men’s rights movement, the role of the family — especially that of the divorced father–, feminism and racism. Each chapter is in-depth and with plenty of interviews. Kimmel is successful at painting a picture of how the angry white male sees the world. And it is full of paranoia, misunderstanding and distrust. It must be pointed out that some of this is justified, or at least understandable, but directed at the wrong people.

In the introduction, Michael Kimmel sets his stall out early. This quote sums what Make America Great Again means; “Ironically, that sense of being entitled is a marker not of depravation but of privilege. Those who have nothing don’t feel they deserve anything; those who already have something believe they are entitled to it. When one feels that slipping, one may idealize, as Carol Gilligan says, that earlier time when privilege was unexamined and assumed rage at those who seem to be taking what you thought was rightfully yours.”

He continues on with this theme; “Perhaps the dynamic of aggrieved entitlement is best described by psychiatrist Willard Gaylin. “We can endure the fact that we do not have something unless we feel that something has been taken away from us. We will experience a sense of violation,” he writes. “The smoldering rage which comes from being cheated [will be extended] to the society which allowed us to be cheated.” It’s misdirecting that to others that is the central dynamic of America’s angry men.”

Father’s Rights Movement

The New York Times Book Review described the book thusly; “Kimmel’s balance of critical distance and empathy works best in his chapter on the fathers’ rights movement, a subset of the men’s rights movement.” I didn’t see that. Not that he wasn’t empathetic, I just didn’t see it in this chapter. He seemed to spend a lot of time bashing this movement, albeit the more extremist element. He threw in a remark about it being difficult for fathers at the end, but the main body of the work seemed to be disproving their main arguments, including the claims the courts always side with the mother. This is too academic a take in my view. Although he is right to look at this and other subjects in this way– he is an academic after all–, but if this is to be an overview of what is happening he must also take in the fact that given what happened these men, their arguments may not always be based on sound logic.

In many cases, these men have lost the most important thing in theirs lives, their very reason for living. The trauma and shock must stay with a man for a long time after. Added to this, some have lost good jobs and most are struggling financially. Many described being slaves to an unfair system. It’s hard to disagree with this when what were normal, happy members of society are now without their families and financially trapped. I wish Kimmel could have mentioned more about this rather than the misogynistic fringe. I’m not saying this shouldn’t have been mentioned but they are a fringe after all and only represent a small section of divorced or separated men.

It’s funny, I thought Kimmel was more sympathetic towards what he calls the white wing, white supremacists– Kimmel is Jewish and these people have some very disturbing notions about Jews– and the farming community.

Farm Aid

Artists like Willie Nelson and Neil Young took part in a series of concerts called Farm Aid. As a Neil Young fan, I had heard of these but never really understood the context. Kimmel does a great job of spelling it out.  Farming was badly impacted under the Reagan administration. The money just dried up. “Researchers noticed a strong correlation between the farm crisis and suicide rates among male farmers in the first half of the 1980s- significantly higher than for truck drivers (another manual occupation with a notably high rate of suicide). In the upper Midwest states… alone, more than nine hundred male farmers committed suicide in the 1980s, more than double the national average.”

Just to give that a bit of context; “The number of suicides in America’s Midwest was higher in the 1990s than during the Great Depression” and suicides represent the highest number of fatalities in a famously dangerous industry. And farming isn’t a regular job. These farms had been in the family for many generations in most cases. Now they are forced to sell. They have failed their families. No wonder Trump, the “anti-establishment” candidate, did so well in rural America.

The White Wing

These are probably what most people would view as the most troubling sub-group analysed in the book. America has always had a deep issue with racism, the country was founded on slave labour. The White Wing is not just one faction. The sub-group is divided into further sub-groups. A bit like Inception, but with more skinheads. According to the author, the white supremacists also suffer from entitlement. They cannot stand the changing of the guard. Although many black Americans suffer as second class citizens, the fact that they have equal rights on paper is too much for many struggling white folk.

White supremacy is closely linked to nationalism. Kimmel uses a quote to tie in nationalism and entitlement. “”Nationalism,” writes feminist political scientist Cynthia Enloe, “typically springs from masculinized memory, masculinized humiliation and masculinized hope.” We’ve seen how historical memory has been masculinized in white-wing rhetoric: once we were hardy yeomen in a Jeffersonian village; we controlled our own labor, owned our own homes, shops, and farms, and supported our families. We served our country, and it repaid us with the fruits of freedom.”

Michael Kimmel went out and met some of these people. Many were men, between the ages of 30 and 40. Most of these men have lost their way and want to belong to something bigger. There is an important factor wrapped up in all this; class. Kimmel points out that they are not welcoming to all whites. They certainly aren’t in favour of fraternising with Jewish bankers. They are rabidly anti-Jewish. These people are poor. This makes Kimmel meeting them all the more remarkable as a Jewish and academic and obviously so, as he says. They are constraint by a world run by bankers and insurance companies, or the nanny state as its also known.

Kimmel was brave in interviewing these people, given his own background. They seem to trust him none-the-less and give very honest interviews. He has a good rapport with the individuals, but mocks the homoerotic nature of some the organisations. Ironic, given their loading of gay people. This is a slight aside, but how can they refer to themselves as the master race and yet complain about other ethnicities taking over? Like so much else about these people, it doesn’t make any sense.

The Role of Men and Masculinity

The role of men in society has altered drastically in the last 50 years. How men see themselves has not always moved at the same pace. This relates to sexuality, too. Some traits are seen as being feminine or unmanly. Depression and anxiety fall into this category. Men won’t seek help if they are struggling with these conditions. And then the problem gets worse. “Several psychiatrists have begun to pick up on this trend. For decades, therapists understood depression as a “feminine” psychological problem. Depression is anger without a voice, anger that has no way to express itself in public, so it turns inward, shuts down. Real men, by contrast, don’t swallow their pain or hurt; they explode. Thus, therapists saw anxiety disorders as more “masculine” on the mental-illness continuum.” Being depressed is unmanly. However, if you are suicidal you might as well take a few of your enemies out in the process.

The women’s lib movement is seen as a threat. Women are part of the reason for the malaise of the West. How dare they demand an equal society! Although the richest and most powerful people in the States are mainly rich, white men, it is felt women are taking over; “women are the new men, and men are the new women.”

The Solution

There is no doubting that America and ordinary Americans are suffering. There is an element of unfairness in all this as the economic disaster was mainly created by greedy bankers, inept politicians and voracious corporations. Kimmel’s suggestion is that the resulting anger is directed at the wrong people. “They may have some legitimate gripes, though they are delivering their mail to the wrong address. (The right address is, of course, neoliberal economic policy).”

Some may want to go back to the days of yore, when men were “absentee landlords”, but that isn’ an option as Kimmel quotes Charles Blow; “You may want ‘your country back’, you can’t have it. That sound you hear is the relentless, irrepressible march of change.” So what’s the solution?

For everyone to embrace equality. “Diversity, when done right, means everybody can get the opportunities and rewards they deserve. Listening to the voices of everyone means just that.” Love as a political act.

Final Thoughts

There is much to commend about this book. Firstly, it is really well written. Sometimes academics are too tempted to splash academic jargon all over the place, Kimmel resists. I read most of this book between two flights, at just over two hours. Kimmel actually went out and met many of the people involved. Too often writers just sit behind desks and are directed by their own unchecked bias, not so with Kimmel. Also, he doesn’t mock any of the individuals, only the movements and the ideology. There are some issues I had with the book.

Firstly, I didn’t get the sense of palpable anger through the pages. America has become a dangerous country right now. This has been building since the 80s, but I get the sense that Kimmel is not taking the threat that these people have on society all that seriously. Sure he mentions the murderous tendencies that some might have, but the overall feeling is that they will just die off.

“For the truth is that Angry White Men may make a lot of noise, but they are a fast-disappearing minority. Despite the anger I’ve discussed, this is not the new normal. The rage is actually declining, and we are, individually and culturally, accommodating ourselves to greater equality. The overwhelming majority of America’s white men are quietly accommodating themselves to the new world of greater gender equality– doing more housework and a lot more child care than American men have ever done before.” This may be true for some men, but they are doing this to the soundtrack of “Build the Wall! Build the Wall! Build the Wall!” It’s fair to say Kimmel’s view of Angry White Men dying off is totally wrong because one of them is in the White House with many more electing him there. Kimmel was led by his own bias in this regard.

Kimmel seems a bit disconnected for what is reality for many Americans. He keeps quoting Springsteen. Is this his way of trying to connect with ordinary Americans. We both like Springsteen, we are in the same boat. It seems a bit cliché as well, Springsteen represents the working man. This simply isn’t true. And I’m a big Springsteen fan.

There are a few other notions he has that I certainly don’t prescribe to. He says if Timothy McVeigh had have been treated better after serving in the American military he wouldn’t have carried out the Oklahoma bombing. The Oklahoma bombing is not as clear-cut as the media presents it. There are many that believe McVeigh was still working for the American military, the intelligence branch, up to the time of the attack. Also, his take on Capitalism is way off. He says the White Wing supports Capitalism even though they have suffered at its hands. They haven’t. They have suffered under Corporatism, which is very different. One of the basic tenets of Capitalism is the protection of human, particularly workers’, rights. There are many forms of Capitalism, but what we in the West live under is the shadow of Corporatism.

America

This is not a new phenomenon in America. The White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, WASP, section of the society has always had a leaning towards fascism. General Smedley Butler was approached to led a military coup, ushering in a Fascist dictatorship in what is known as the Business Plot. Charles Manson was predicting a race war. Trump’s rise to power, or someone similar, has been on the cards for a long time.

Female Entitlement

Is there such thing? Of course. Hillary Clinton rigged the DNC nomination and nobody said boo. She loses the Presidential election and her supporters, many of them women, took to the streets. This would make an interesting book.  To simply say that entitlement is a characteristic of white men is very unfair.

Real people are suffering under imaginary concepts like politics and economics. Instead of addressing the real issues, people have turned to another imaginary concept, a white male genocide, and a president that best represents that. There is enough evidence now to suggest Trump’s presidency will be a disaster. And this when America needs it least. Russia and China have moved away from the dollar. If others follow it will see America’s hegemony over the world weaken dramatically. Kimmel says Angry White men are disappearing. The country was founded by them. No, it’s America’s power that is disappearing.

 

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