Calvin, Lola Beltran, and Mahalia Jackson
We Didn't Really Need Calvin
I have concocted a theory that does wonders to explain American politics: We are ruled by history’s most boring people. This is a seminal political idea, up there with Plato’s invention of Stalinism in The Republic.
I refer of course to those thunderously bland people, the white middle-class Protestants, or Hagvacas (House and garden variety Caucasians). Just typing the words makes my fingers want to sleep. In all things that distinguish mankind from a loaf of store-bought bread, Hagvaca score zero. Unless it involves transistors or regulations. These they can do.
Consider music, the soul of a society. Caucaso-prots of the middle class barely have any. From early on blacks have been the main force driving American music, starting with whatever Ledbelly and his contemporaries did, through blues, first in those silent, hot, humid fields in Mississippi where time dripped slow as Karo syrup on cracked china, and later in a thousand hopping gin mills in places in Chicago where whites didn’t go. Gospel, which Elvis understood but Yankees can’t, and then jazz, and rock, to today’s hiphop and rap—all have more black roots than an inattentive bottle blonde. French Catholics in the swamps of Louisiana invented Cajun while side-stepping alligators in black water lumpy with cypress knees, and blacks improved it into Zydeco. Presley, a poor white from Mississippi, managed to turn black music into something whites would listen to. The South has always been more musically fecund than other regions, being poor, idiosyncratic, and not giving a damn. Rockabilly was the music of poor whites, as were C&W and bluegrass. Jews have been thick on the ground in show music and what passes for classical, or almost (Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein), and in, well, just about everything.
Middle-class albinobaptists have been…a catastrophe. Boring. Horribly boring. They remain so.
In fact they are so bad that other groups have had to condescend to them. Blacks for example have usually regarded Hagvacas as disguised elevators, and written music for them that they wouldn’t inflict on living people.
Yes, there are exceptions. And yes, I understand that Prots can do some things well. With a lot of Jewish help, they have put golf carts on Mars, which is an historic feat up there with anything up there. Why they thought anyone on Mars wanted to play golf is another matter. I guess they are better at engineering than market research, but the technology was lovely. They can do organization, and therefore government. Note that the entire continent was one country by 1865, though parts didn’t want to be; Europe is still a collection of tiny geographical curiosities. Albinoprots are good at industry, and therefore at industrial war. But that’s pretty much it.
Permit me an example, with which I am intimately familiar, since I grew up in it: The small-town Southern lower middle class. These folk are often described as “the salt of the earth,” and in a sense they are, though maybe “starch of the earth” could catch them better. But god they are boring. They explain much about the United States.
OK, some jackleg sociology: The great fear of the lower middle class is that of falling back into the actual low class, from which most of them have scrambled like crabs from a bucket. The desire to distinguish themselves from those below drives their whole being, and makes them exciting as drywall. This is Middle America—though with increased prosperity America has become a lower middle-class country with an upper middle-class income, which is why it dominates.
These people live in nice but boring houses, never shacks but never anything unusual. They drive boring cars, Chevies or Fords, but new and carefully washed and waxed. No old Merc’ up on blocks for them, and no Maserati. It’s not that a Maserati costs too much, though it does, but that it is…unusual. They wear good clothes from Sears, carefully cleaned. Respectability, respectability, respectability, but no imagination, and a zero boogey factor. No style either. They produce Republican women with helmet hair, who constitute the Bermuda Triangle of style. A Puerto Rican girl in jeans and a really colorful sweater comes much closer.
Small-town Hagvacas have great respect for education, but no interest in it. (This is why the schools have deteriorated; the Chinese, Jews, or Koreans would never have let it happen.) They were the prey of the encyclopedia salesman. A set of the Britannica in the living room, or even the Great Books (never read) showed that they were lettered people, and they prided themselves on looking things up occasionally. Very common were what I think of as Museum Rooms, usually the living room: unpleasantly clean, nicely but tediously furnished, and never used. It was to impress the bridge club.
They were scrupulously honest, worked hard, and made good neighbors. They prized civic responsibility, good manners, and good grammar, because the lower class didn’t.
But they didn’t dance, never read anything wilder than Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, didn’t care for music, and generally made Mormon missionaries look like party animals.
Decent, stiff, productive, and colorless, traits they passed on to their somewhat richer cousins in the suburbs today, they are the country’s dominant class. At the very least they think they ought to be. Isn’t it their country? Didn’t a bunch of Hagvacas in Virginia start it?
It’s not just music they stultify, but architecture. A Protestant church is a square brick box with a squatty pointed tower on one end. In any Mexican town, you find distinctive churches, often gorgeous, alive with color. Latins. They dance, have great sprawling town-wide fiestas, live in houses that don’t all look like each other. Catholics have class. Not too good on organization, though.
All of this horrifies serious Hagvacas. Those…people…they’re all brown and those gaudy awful churches and music with those horrible horns and there’s no orderliness (there sure isn’t) and….
It’s all because Calvin didn’t dance.
In a rare case of Lamarkian evolution, boringness has become embedded in the genes like a tick in a dog’s ear. One does not readily imagine Hillary twirling through a fast Texas two-step, quick-quick sloow-sloow, skirt flying, in some converted barn outside Austin in ’72.
It’s not fixable. A friend of mine said of blacks, “They burn at a higher emotional temperature than we do.” Latins too, in spades (so to speak). Middle-class Prots? They are wild as potted plants. There isn’t enough cocaine to change them.
A bit of guy wisdom used to be to get a Republican to run your bank, but date Democratic girls. Yep. Today America looks like Sweden ruling over Rio during Carnival. Same principle, somehow. You’ll excuse me. I have a date with Padre Kino and Lola Beltran, channeled through good speakers.