“The Best Way up for the Hillbilly Was out”

Title of the book: Hillbilly Elegy

Author: J.D Vance

Date of Publication: June, 2016.

When you put away Hillbilly Elegy after the first read, it might appear like a brave, thoughtful and sentimental memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional Scottish-Irish immigrant family. Vance was born in Kentucky, he spent most of his formative years living in a small town called Middletown, Ohio with an “unhinged mother”, a parade of problematic father figures and his gun-brandishing Mamaw (grandmother), who loves death threats almost as much as she loves looking after neglected children.

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Subsequently, if you revisit the book with the knowledge that the Hillbilly subculture was an essential demographic in Trump’s victory, it appears like a nuanced and heartbreaking representation of the numerous disgruntled lives of the white American working class, living in the Midwest.
The author’s life is a literal personification of the ‘American Dream,’ come true, some would say; from living in a town where poverty is the family tradition, to graduating from Yale Law School.

The broad arc of the survivor narrative traces Vance’s initial years of growing up in the Midwest, surrounded by the shutting down (and imminent collapse) of scores of manufacturing industries. To Vance’s family, this means a loss of economic security and the stability of domestic life that comes with it.

The tone of the narrative is sincere and personal, and the additional research is meant to be interpreted within the context; it isn’t exhaustive, but insightful enough to bridge the ever-widening gulf between various economic classes, in a “meritocratic society.” 

He makes the worrying yet plausible claim that poverty in America, doesn’t just plague those who live in ghetto cities.  He writes, ““The statistics tell you that kids like me face a grim future — that if they’re lucky, they’ll manage to avoid welfare; and if they’re unlucky, they’ll die of a heroin overdose.”

Fortunately for him (and for us), he manages to escape this fate by imbibing hillbilly values that Mamaw drilled into his head; loyalty towards family and self-reliance. After graduating from high school, Vance enlists in the Marines, serves in Iraq, finishes his undergraduate course at Ohio University and goes on to graduate from one of the top Ivy League schools in America, where he meets his future wife.

His transition from seeking shelter to providing it, is underlined by the pressing question of why a stagnant air of pessimism hangs around those families he left behind in Middletown. The young Silicon Valley investment manager talks about a psychological phenomenon called ‘learned helplessness,’ which manifests in the indifference towards work and dependence on welfare, among the residents of Middletown. “People talk about hard work all the time in places like Middletown [Ohio],” Vance writes. “You can walk through a town where 30 percent of the young men work fewer than 20 hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness.”

It’s essential to keep in mind that Vance’s observations about the white working class in the Rust Belt isn’t an indictment or disloyalty in the form of class betrayal. It is a sympathetic effort to nudge the hillbilly subculture out of the path of self-sabotage through its own agency and enterprise.

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Rock Bottom Blues

“There can be no true despair without romantic love”
My lover (whose verse could make a
troubadour out of a toadstool)
tells me in the same matter-of-fact tone
he’d use to say that –
banality is bothersome
and sincerity is overrated.
He adds
(in words thickly tainted with pragmatism) –
affection waxes and wanes,
and that unconcerned adoration
births indifference.
Rock Bottom blues –
It’s a disruptive (yet) familiar rhythm
Of excesses and immeasurable silences,
Emerging from resentments
that murmur in the fringes

of every withheld statement.

An Open Listicle to Buzzfeed

Dear Buzzfeed,

Last night, while scrolling through my phone, I saw an article that you published about a ‘comedian,’ going on a very “epic” rant about the fact that Cadbury’s gems packets are deceptively empty. I would explain the article further to readers who are not aware of this gross injustice meted out to Gems lovers, but here’s the thing – I think it’s completely fucking irrelevant.

In India, Generation X was the first among the few to start whining about food companies that dupe us by filling nitrogen in Lays packets, but my grandmother always told me to go eat a pazhampori or an unniappam instead of droning on about the lack of potato chips.

Before you dismiss me as a “hater” and go all “WTF”, “OMG” on me. Here is why I think your website is singlehandedly dumbing down all its readers in India by churning out articles that have less than 100 words and more than 50 gifs, in the format that you understand best: AN EPIC LISTICLE.

  1. Where is the original content at, bro?

Apart from the fact that bro is a terrible word to include in your title unless you’re writing for GQ, most of the content that features on Buzzfeed is aggregated from other social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

No, you are not a boon for unmotivated Internet users by benevolently telling us what you find funny. Anyone in India who is Internet literate and has a data plan/Wi-Fi connection can access these websites.

It is a widely accepted fact that you stand to gain revenue by providing traction to the content that you feature. But the lazy rip-offs will always be shoddy, no matter how many Pokemon gifs you bombard me with.

  1. EPIC FAIL: Usage of out-dated terms

We know you like words like YAASS, FAIL and WTF but they became obsolete the moment they entered the Internet lexicon. You alone have managed to condense the vocabulary of an entire generation, into a bunch words that are best used by the likes of fictional high school bullies such as Eric Cartman, who tremble at the sight of a dictionary.

eric_cartman_v2_by_edgotru-d7v0d1f.png

3. A master class on how to extract traffic from a privileged demographic of the country

Recently, you published an article about the perils that a dark skinned woman faces while growing up in a country where Fair & Lovely seems to be the only known anti-dote to a hefty dowry. The women featured in the article are startling sophisticated and come from families that are fairly liberal about the skin-colour of the daughters in the house.

When you highlight the experiences of an urban, upper-middle class woman, you also silently suppress the general oppression faced by women from a more economically vulnerable and unstable background.

When you write about casteism so poignantly and then do not follow up with a single report of the atrocities being faced by Dalits in the country, you are contributing to the narrative that Salman Khan’s crass sexism is more appalling than deaths over a cow-slaughter.

  1. Hiring designers who aren’t punny

No, I don’t watch Game of Thrones. No, I don’t have Pokemon Go on my phone. Maybe, I don’t want to be tugged into time-sucking vortex of cyber reality and your designers should accept that?

Apart from seriously needing to update their Photoshop skills, your designers seem to be hell bent on using puns with cross references to American pop-culture that alienate most people who are yet to accept that liberalisation isn’t the best thing to happen to the country since Savitri Bai Phule.

  1. GIFs aren’t an authentic form of expression

GIFs are a perfectly acceptable response, only when I’m late to work and don’t have the time the type out an elaborate good-morning text to my lover. The fact that most of your lists and reviews of films are choked up with gifs is a tribute to the shallow understanding of the subjects that your website promotes. Should I be complaining about the fact that your website features articles that are short, viral and moderately funny?

Yes, because most times these gifs are easily digestible snippets that are made by talented performers, that you take credit for only because you recognised that someone else’s work was funny.

  1. Your click-bait articles are killing creativity

Buzzfeed has seemingly spawned off a couple of other websites that are hinged on the viral-ity of the content it produces; from endless lists, to personality quizzes and photo essays about mischievous dogs playing with indifferent cats.

Now if you’re wondering why Buzzfeed has managed to have so many copycats, it’s merely because it drills profits out of fillers that are meant to distract the viewer (from an existential dread or) from issues that are of national importance such as the Kashmir conflict. And we should keep in mind that listicles are immensely easy to replicate and produce.

When these websites manage to rake up more than a million views, writers around the world lose incentive to produce content that is thoughtful, provoking and articulate.

In conclusion, here’s a new tag that might help users to better articulate their feelings about a Buzzfeed article: GENERIC.

 

 

BONUS: Check out this website which is a parody of Buzzfeed, making it glaringly obvious that we’re all investing too much time in journalism that mimics a trashy tabloid.

 

 

Place: In a feedback circle

The women here are

unbelievably vibrant and profusely silent.

 

They tell tales of a unique moral geography;

where gods and ghosts

birds and animals

death and love

live together in a strange amity.

 

They trample on notions of

‘dignified suffering’ and ‘respectability.’

Their muses are queens who lust after their gods

(first a Lover then a god)

shamelessly.

 

Their anecdotes are dotted with

characters who are by now

permanent citizens of my imagination;

the spineless father, the clueless boyfriend, (the secret girlfriend)

and the overbearing mother.

 

They stress and fret and giggle until

they create their elliptical language

for defining meaning without confining it,

for expressing what is possible before realising it.

 

They speak in tongues thick

with their language

and cut with the questions.

Place: between the lines of The Hindu

‘Impossibly thin
Enviably engineered’
declares a Hewlett Packard
laptop advertisement
Deepika Padukone;
Carmelite Alumnus
Sweetheart of India
gazes seductively at me
with her impossibly thin arm placed
on her enviably engineered butt.

Warren Buffet
smug as ever
is quoted
in a real estate ad —
“Never depend on a single income
make an investment
to create a second source”
the ambassador of the entrepreneurial spirit,
espousing propaganda of greed.

Darshan,
(Sandalwood actor)
son of Kannadarashtra
has a public feud
with his wife on Television.
‘He is news again
for his offscreen performance,’
A versatile actor
switches and shows seamlessly
his virility
in all media.

The tiny articles
are packed with information
to churn your intestines
(and your conscience)—

A lov(n)ely lady
(recently separated from her husband)
“falls off” her hostel terrace–
the sound of a bag of meat and bones
(and hopes and desperation);
recognised by it’s dull thud
against the concrete pavement.

A bag stuffed
with the mutilated lower half
of a human body
is discovered near Hebbal
recognisable only
by the male genitalia

(Hon’ble Chief Minister —
Siddarmiah reminds all the readers
“A responsible citizen
always segregates his waste)

I flip the flyaway pages shut
& ask you why
a newspaper is the only piece of literature
consumed so devotedly;
it’s unfolding, a ritual for so many

You reply,
the holy light of the smartphone screen
lighting up your smirk
“It makes you feel like could (have) be(en)
Buffet, Padukone or
(gods forbid)
Darshan.”

The human desire for
escape and tragedy
all compressed
in 24 sheets.

The Delusional Bubble

HE: How do you know when you are in Love?

 

In Airlines

where Banyan tree vines push through

grey cement and tickle butts

SHE : Is it when large clumsy adorations

exit your mouth like loud burps

after a large meal?

 

In Chin Lung

Plastic skull like tables

under blue gloom tarpaulin

HE: Is it when tiny butterflies and dull moths

escape your lips

after crawling in your gut for an eternity?

 

On a Cold Bench

Beside bleating stuffed toy lambs

and broken-armed 5-year olds

SHE: Is it when being held

in arms scrawny and strong

is as good as a wooden cradle?

 

On a Futon

where a biscuit smelling back

is kissed with sour spit

SHE: Is it when sniffing his scent

on the space between his hungry lips

and bulbous nose makes you bite harder?

 

In Pecos

loud classic rock, head-spinning booms

he lays on her lap and kisses a finger

HE: Is it when my impatient heart

hungry as always

thumps in my head

but with your touch is quiet?

 

In an Ola Cab,

stuck in thick trickling traffic

a moan escapes her mouth

SHE: It’s when

after a night that feels like a place more than time

saying goodbye

is like the hard light of the morning.

 

Leaving a Lover

You treat him like a mother would a child. Press him close to your chest, clutch his hair and brush your lips across his cheeks.
He is especially silent tonight?

You push his blonde fringe out of the way & lick his lips. He bites you back, half-heartedly. His kisses are lazy. They are no longer curious; tongues press but don’t probe.
He holds your hair back but doesn’t tangle his fingers in them or push a curl aside to bite your neck.
His sleep is heavy; he is especially silent tonight?

His silence interrupted only by snorting.
His body has been still for the past 2 hours the only movement — his small chest heaving.
The back of your head hurts, the nape of your neck is stiff, your nose is stuffed and hair is greasy.
You pick up a pen because She listens.
The silence spins louder than the ceiling fan.
He leaves you feeling empty like a bad habit.
He is especially silent tonight?

Morning comes around, a pink faced child runs up to us —
“Hi Aunty! Hi Uncle!”
“Hi Cuteness!”
“She just called you Aunty”

He skips down the stairs, happy to hear the morning birds.
You skip, miss a step and tumble down to a silence.
A silence that lasts the auto-ride-of-shame.
You feel like a wife; the disagreeable half in a relationship that leaves a lot unsaid.
You catch his eye as he looks at himself in the rearview mirror.
You give him a small embarrassed smile.
He smiles back, you look away.
He is especially silent.