By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Defining trashiness down

Or is that up? I’m not sure.

In today’s New York Times Book Review, David Kamp writes about Norah Vincent’s “Self-Made Man,” in which the author spends a year disguised as a guy and chronicles the experience. The book itself sounds pretty interesting. Vincent is a lesbian, so there are layers upon layers here, especially given that — in her male disguise — she goes on several dates with women.

This morning, though, I come not to praise Vincent but to bury Kamp. Here is what he says about Vincent’s experience in a men’s bowling league:

The resultant chapter is as tender and unpatronizing a portrait of America’s “white trash” underclass as I’ve ever read. “They took people at face value,” writes Vincent of Ned’s teammates, a plumber, an appliance repairman and a construction worker. “If you did your job or held up your end, and treated them with the passing respect they accorded you, you were all right.” Neither dumb lugs nor proletarian saints, Ned’s bowling buddies are wont to make homophobic cracks and pay an occasional visit to a strip club, but they surprise Vincent with their lack of rage and racism, their unflagging efforts to improve Ned’s atrocious bowling technique and “the absolute reverence with which they spoke about their wives,” one of whom is wasting away from cancer.

I quote this at some length to show that Vincent apparently gets it, even though Kamp doesn’t. In Kamp’s mind, a plumber, a repairman and a construction worker — all of them employed in what has traditionally been well-paid blue-collar work — constitute “America’s ‘white trash’ underclass.” What world is Kamp living in? Media Nation does not generally engage in reverse snobbery, but I can’t let this go.

Plumbers, especially, need to be highly educated in their trade, and are — along with folks such as electricians and carpenters — members of a rather select group of skilled craftsmen who can and do charge a lot of money for their services. Or hasn’t Kamp called a plumber lately? Kamp’s casual dismissal of working people as “trash” says a lot about what’s wrong with a certain type of Manhattan-centered elitism.

The tagline reads, “David Kamp, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, is at work on a book about the American food world, to be published later this year.”

Keep him away from diners.

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  1. Anonymous

    Taking a page out of David Brooks’ playbook, it seems to me.

  2. Anonymous

    Well put, Dan. Those of us to your right have been frustrated by this mindset for years by many in the Times, hoping that karma would catch up to them.Like some right wingers who finally get outed as racists, the conceit that white collar work is more valuable BECAUSE I DO IT bubbles just below the surface. The connection with Vanity Fair is no surprise. Every once in a while there is something of value, (only reason I have that cheap subscription in the first place), but it’s tough to wade through the chaff in VF.(“People” for those whose lips don’t move when they read). Obnoxious hypocrites shopping for vulgar bling-bling watches with rappers at parties in Nantucket or The Hamptons. Under-educated celebrities pontificating on politics and the environment. Talk about “birds of a feather”. Ugh.

  3. neil

    Nice catch Dan. He put “white trash” in quotes, so possibly this was a phrase Vincent used? Even so, it’s an unconvincing attempt to put distance between himself and the term as if to say, so-called (not by me, but by others!) white trash. Wink wink.Or maybe it’s a bowling stereotype. If you’re white and you bowl, you’re a member of the white trash underclass.Further down the article is a similar grotesquery. Kamp says conspicuously absent from the book are examples of men leading full contented lives. Which stands to reason, he says, because after all, a “man created out of ‘thin air’ and stoppelpaste can’t very well insinuate himself into an elegant country club or a loving nuclear family.”An elegant country club? So that’s where all those men who lead full and contented lives hang out–not at the dang old bowling alley!What a twat. He’ll be at the club sipping Chardonnay with Joseph Epstein, while Gomer unclogs the drains. Be sure to use the service entrance, Gomer!

  4. Rick in Duxbury

    No danger of him at a diner, Dan. No tofu there!

  5. Anonymous

    A plumber charged out landlords (through us) $140 in labor for an hour with of work. That’s an order of magnitude greater than I typically get after four years’ of college and a half-decade of experience.Something tells me Kamp forgot his own roots and his struggles, even.

  6. o-fish-l

    Kudos Dan. I think behavior, far more than occupation, defines “white trash.” In fact I would place President Bill Clinton in the white trash category before any of the plumbers, repairmen, construction workers or bowlers that I know. This from a Republican who thought Clinton was a misbehaved, but pretty decent President.

  7. tony schinella

    Great catch. When will some of the “high brow” class get the fact that we are all human beings and deserve respect as such? Like being a plumber – making what, $30 to $40 an hour? – is a bad thing? Like being in construction – with our relatively booming housing and building market – is a bad thing? Like being an applicance repairman – OK, not as goos in our throwaway culture – is a bad thing? Give me a break. Give me anyone of those guys when I need my pipes fixed, ‘fridge fixed, or addition put in before some cocktail crowd putz any day of the week!

  8. mike_b1

    Wonder if Kamp realized that the White House has a bowling alley in the basement?And btw, o-fish-I, Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar and can charge as much as $150,000 for an appearance. I’m not sure what that says about the tradesmen you know, but that doesn’t sound trashy (white or otherwise) to me.

  9. Anonymous

    Class———Maybe this country needs a wholesome debate on class in the country…as in class rivalry…class warfare…Like when Eugene Debs and Andrew Carngie were polar oppositions..The unnoticed 800 lb gorilla in the room of our marketplace of ideas…Say what you like about the Brits, but at least they recognize it…A honest reckoning can be forged from such recognition…A more honest society from such reckonings…

  10. Anonymous

    Great point Dan. This viwew that Kamp has is not a liberal view or conservative. it is the view of those sheltered all their lives from the real world and raisedf t6o believe they are superior. I don’t know much about Kamp but I suspect he came from a privledge background and went to school with others of privledge. He has felt superior all his life and is surprised that there are evry day people who feel emotions like he does. He does not have empathy for middle and lower class american’s. This attitude is growing and it will contribute to the growing void between the haves and the have nots.

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