This photo is from the Flags of Valor: A memorial for hour Fallen American Heroes exhibit in Saint Louis. When I took it, I envisioned it as part of what I consider my Naive Photography effort. For me, Naive Photography is about presenting staged, wholesome events without any kind of irony or ill will. Its purpose is the purpose of the subjects: to make the subjects happy; and some sort of effort to boost community pride. I believe there are deeper meanings to be found in these kinds of efforts, but I admit I’m having trouble finding them. I recently had a hard drive crash that possibly meant the loss of two years of this kind of work, and I didn’t even care.
Anyway, the point is that when I took this photo, I had no ill will towards these gentlemen, nor against the military, the flag, veterans, the war dead, or anything else. I envisioned it as an Instagram photo, and possibly something for the larger Naive Photography effort. I figured the military would encourage their members participating in this kind of thing. It makes them look good in a way they want to look good, and shows them as an integral part of the community.
But when I asked them for their names so I could put them in the captions, they got very weird and defensive and refused to provide them, saying they were afraid they would get in trouble with the Public Relations people. Perhaps that was true, but I got the impression they used that as an excuse, that there was also some deeper kind of fear. A mistrust of the public. A fear they would be attacked.
I found the whole exchange disturbing. I think it’s a bad sign when the military fears the people. And I think it’s a bad sign when soldiers are even allowed to be anonymous.
And I really can’t imagine what they were afraid of? Did they think I was one of those miltary-hating unicorns, and that I might Photoshop them into a porn image, or something like that?
I say “military-hating unicorns” because the only people I’ve ever met who hate the military were people who served in the military. I don’t think I’ve ever known any civilians who hate the military, certainly not the individual soldiers who serve in it. Sure, I know plenty of people who hate how the politicians have used the military, but that’s a different thing altogether. And I know plenty of people who criticize the military when individual service people commit war crimes and atrocities, such as Mai Lai or Abu Ghraib, but again, that’s not hating the military.
Anyway, I notice it’s 9.11, so maybe this is apropos.
Judging by what I see, hear and read, Hispanic-Americans are taking over much of the trades in the United States. I think every single roofer I’ve noticed in the past several years has been Hispanic. The workers in this photo, btw, are American citizens, but of course others are undoubtedly working here illegally.
The reason for this – again just going by what I see, hear and read – is that they are very, very hard workers. The days of Slowpoke Rodriguez are long gone. Even if they are paid the same wages as other Americans, local Hispanics are cheaper to hire because they typically get the job done in half the time.
When I was in New York and needed movers, I hired a couple Mexican Americans from one of the street corners where independent contractors congregate. They literally jogged up and down the stairs with heavy boxes and other stuff all day. That got me interested, so I did some research on the street corner contractor scene in New York and learned that everyone had the greatest respect for the Hispanics. Eastern Europeans and other Americans had trouble getting work until all of the Hispanics were taken.
Where I live, there are still a lot of good blue collar jobs, and a lot more that aren’t so good, but provide a paycheck and a job history to build on. Employers have a lot of trouble filling those jobs.
The reason? Too many Americans cannot, or will not, pass the drug test. And there aren’t enough immigrants to fill them.
I know saying that about regular Americans is inviting flack among liberals and leftists, but it is true, certainly within my experience. My experience consists both of interviewing employers as a journalist, reading the same thing in articles by other local journalists, and actually knowing quite a few people who would rather smoke pot than work a shit job, and aren’t the least bit ashamed about it. Hell, I’d rather smoke pot and be poor than do a lot of these shit jobs, and still be poor.
Not that they would work as hard as the recent immigrants even if they did want the job bad enough to quit smoking pot for a month, but that’s a bit of a different question. I’m guessing the second generation immigrants, certainly the third, will settle into more typical American ways.
Still, for the time being, it’s a sad state of affairs.
And it illuminates good reasons for legalizing marijuana, or at least taking it off the list of substances employers test for. It’s not just the fact that not having smoked pot for 30 days is a condition for employment, which does absolutely nothing to improve safety or anything else. A lot of these shit jobs are painful, seriously painful, and marijuana is probably the best way for people to cope. It is certainly better than alcohol, opioid pain pills and Xanax, which is how far too many people cope today.
And here in the horribly backward state in which I live (the most dangerous thing about a Trump presidency may well be that he dies and Mike Pence takes over), people with opioid prescriptions have to pass a drug test four times a year to get them. If they test positive for pot, they can’t get another prescription for six months. This has led to more than a few suicides, and countless overdoses (people don’t stop getting pain pills just because a doctor quits prescribing them). And for what? In a sensible universe, doctors would be encouraging people to use medical marijuana instead of opioid pain pills. It’s truly a no brainer. Unfortunately, too many politicians have no brain.
Anyway, when you see an Hispanic work crew, the reasons are complicated, and chances are very good they have those jobs for all the right reasons. They have those jobs because they do them best.
And they are willing to sacrifice their bodies to do them. That may be good for them in the short term, and for their employers, but it is bad for the country. Well paying jobs with solid workplace protections and a sane medical system would make so many of these problems go away.
Those who know me a little bit have probably noticed that I am often critical, or at least deeply skeptical, of the wealthy. This is true in relation to the wealthy as a class. Individuals, of course, are just that.
I’ve been accused of hating the rich, which is simply not true these days. I don’t hate anybody, and I consider no one an enemy.
I confess, however, that for many years I did hate the rich. I spent many of the formative summers of my youth and adolescence at a segregated country club where my father was a member. Mom would drop me off early in the morning for swim team. After practice, I’d usually play a round of golf with friends. Then I’d spend the rest of the day hanging out at the pool until mom would pick me up in the evening.
So I got to know the rich, or at least snobby people who considered themselves wealthy, pretty well; and I really came to despise them. African-Americans could be neither members nor guests, and they were constantly referred to in racist terms. I don’t know if the club discriminated against Jews. I don’t recall there being any Jewish members, but I really didn’t have any concept of Jews being distinct from whites at the time, so maybe there were Jewish members. Thinking back, however, I kind of doubt it. None of the people I now know to be Jewish were members.
But it wasn’t just people of African descent, and possibly Jews (there were no other ethnic groups in our little town back then). The club members, particularly the older ones, were snobs towards anyone they considered “not the right sort of people,” many of whom were white folk with as much, or more, wealth than the country club snobs themselves. Looking back, I think that pretty much anyone whose work might raise a sweat was considered “not the right sort of people.”
I came to see these country club folk, those leading citizens, as little different than the criminal class who bought and sold drugs, committed petty thefts and vandalism, and generally hated the straight world; only they seemed worse for their hypocrisy. I figured I’d rather be a member of the criminal class than the country club. Fuck those assholes and the golf cart they rode in on. That was my motto.
Anyway, my close proximity and inevitable run-ins with these assholes gave younger me a generic hatred for the rich, at least for the country club variety, but as I quit going to the club in high school, and then went off to college and the world, all that mostly faded from mind. It would really only show up in knee jerk type reactions. While most people’s knee jerk reaction was to admire the rich, mine was always to question them. Not for a nanosecond did I ever believe they were better than anyone else, nor more honest or moral.
But then when I got to New York, I came to know a whole different level of rich. Part of it was working with CEO’s and top executives in my various jobs. Most of it was through my kids’ schooling, as both of them went to one of the better independent schools. For the ten years I had a child in an independent school, and also in the year-plus I spent researching them before picking a school, I came to know many wealthy people, several of whom are actual billionaires. I also came to know their children, their children’s teachers and have an intimate knowledge about the independent school systems in which they are educated.
In short, I met many good people, and was incredibly impressed with how the wealthy are educated. In many ways, the people I knew actually are better. Not for their wealth, but for their open-mindedness, high level skills, and genuine care for their children. Of course I know that a small sample of decent New York liberal rich folk does not absolve the whole class, which I’m sure is still better represented by country club assholes in the sticks; but it did help me let go of those old childhood hatreds.
Still, although I was able to stop hating the rich; my hatred for the system that creates and perpetuates their wealth grew exponentially. I saw close-up how the advantages of wealth play out for the children of the wealthy. I experienced first-hand the incredible advantages kids get by attending the best independent schools, and going on to the choice colleges – not just for the actual educations, but for the networking as well. In the competition for good jobs, the odds are horribly stacked in favor of rich kids. Most regular, middle class people truly have no idea what their kids are up against.
I think that photography, especially documentary photography, has to be one of the worst professions in terms of favoring the wealthy. Photography is an activity that a lot of people really enjoy practicing. With the devastation of the old-time publishing industry and the ubiquity of high quality cameras, there are few photography jobs that pay more than diddly squat. And, if you take the most tried and true road to success, it costs a lot of money to fly all over the world and spend long stretches in war and/or poverty zones.
A regular kid with a passion, through study, hard work and skill may be able to pull it off, but it’s a hell of a lot easier for a trust fund kid to pull it off with the same hard work, granted, but with money not being much of a concern, and having been better prepared skill-wise through school and maybe workshops – and possibly knowing, or his or her parents knowing – editors, publishers, curators or NGO directors who can hire them or get them work.
So I try real hard not to blame the wealthy and connected photographers who benefit from the system. From what I’ve seen, they are for the most part decent, caring and talented individuals. But I do blame the system that gives them all of those unearned advantages.
Everyone should have access to great education. No one should be born a prince. We should all start out as commoners. Then, we’ll see who rises and falls. Then, we can feel much better that they truly earned whatever it is they got.
The music scene around here has always been excremental, which I suspect is part of the reason the more creative young people can’t get away fast enough once they graduate high school. So when acts from Nashville and Brooklyn played separate venues last night, it was truly something out of the ordinary.
Of course very few people saw either of them, and my wife and I were the only ones to see both.
The Mystery Twins are Nashville-based guitar and drum duo with, unsurprisingly, a White Stripes vibe. They have something of a dark edge, with songs that tend to explore alienation and topics such as misspent childhood. They played the closing of a gallery show that featured Nashville artists.
As was to be expected, a loud alt band freaked out a lot of the New Harmony residents who had either never heard loud music before or had always fled that kind of noise as fast as they could.
I liked them, of course. I just wished they could have played a bar or other darker venue after the gallery show, and done their full show. They are probably the best band, by far, that has played in Posey County, at least since 1972. But New Harmony now has a Nashville music scene connection, so hopefully, there will be a lot more of that in the future. (note to the uninitiated, Nashville is not just Country Music, anymore. It has a thriving alt scene that rivals New York or pretty much anywhere)
That was followed by a concert by The Bergamot, a Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter duo who are currently on a 50 state tour. They performed in a barn out on a friend’s property. It is a nice barn, often used for photo shoots, with good lighting and they brought in quality sound equipment, so it was professionally done. The barn swallows freaked out a bit, but I’m pretty sure they’ll get over it.
It all came about because my friend’s daughter worked for them in Brooklyn and, as they had a show in nearby Bloomington, they offered to come down and do one here.
Unlike The Mystery Twins, The Bergamot are very positive people who sing mostly happy songs. Although that’s usually not my thing, they are highly skilled, very likable, and it was an all around pleasant experience.
And there were actually a few young people at that show, though they were unusual for around here because they were talking about trips to, or stints living, in places like New York, L.A. Austin, etc. There is an overwhelming lack of that kind of ambition from most kids here, so it was refreshing, but I’m guessing they all came down from Bloomington or Chicago for my friend’s daughter, who has lived out in the real world and is very obviously planning to get back there real soon.