Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir
by Joe Bageant
Joe Bageant died at the age of 64 in March of 2011. With Rainbow Pie, his final book, he has left us with two eulogies — one for himself and his people, the other for America. His people — “America’s peasant class” — have, historically, been at the end of whatever line exists. Last in employment, advancement, everything. His people came from the earth, living off of it, working it, and finally, losing it to mega-corporations bent on short-term gains. Somehow Joe was able to escape the Virginia hills of his youth, ending up his life as a sort of part-time ex-pat, living in Mexico and Belize. But he kept a close watch on his homeland, and described it with a caustic pen that reminds one of a modern day Twain. His love for his family and people is evident, even when pointing out their unfailing ability to vote against their own interests, to shoot themselves in the foot at any chance, and to embrace every bit of crack-pot nonsense the news media can churn out. He knows what growing up in that environment means: limited resources, strong belief in family and church, and a general antagonism to self-improvement and education that as he so clearly shows, dooms them to perpetual bottom-of-the-heap status.
And it dooms America, as well. When over half your population is doing worse than their parents, drowning in debt, unemployed, uneducated, uninsured, you have created a system that cannot stand — it has no foundation. The people Bageant describes once grew our food or taught our kids. Now they lie on the couches of their parents’ houses and eat junk, once the food stamps kick in. Generation after generation of no ambition, no hope — this is what faces both the hill country people of his Virginia — and the rest of us, eventually. He shows us a nation gutted, stripped of all value, left to wither and die to increase the bonus of some creep in a corner office. Rainbow Pie is no fuzzy-eyed tome of warm remembrance, but rather a sarcastic and angry look at the ignored mass of America — the have-nots, and how they got there. Joe Bageant died too young; he had a hard life, to say the least, but one thinks that you’ll hear his voice, clear as a bell, when what’s left of this society attempts to look back and wonder what happened to the greatest nation on earth. As Joe shows us, what happened was the rape and pillage that goes with a war; in this case, a war against “his people.”
Who, in the final accounting, are all of us.
Joe Bageant: www.joebageant.com/joe