Monday, November 30, 2009

Joe Six Pack is not Joe Six Pack: Carl Sandburg

Is the poem Chicago by Carl Sandburg an excuse for Chicago? Is it an excuse for the behavior’s we here seem to take for granted? It seems so. Sandberg clearly knows that Chicago is a bad place where bad things happen:
“They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is….”
But Sandburg then answers with the idea that Chicago, as a place is also alive and vibrant even if it is shouting curses and letting gunmen go free. The only reason he gives for this is the working class roots that permeate Chicago:
“Hog Butcher for the World,Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;Stormy, husky, brawling,City of the Big Shoulders:”
Is the reason that Chicago is a brutal place because it is filled with working class, or is the reason Chicago attracts the working class that fills it because it is a brutal place? It seems to me that either way, this poem is disparaging of the working classes. It is the equivalent of the “Joe six pack,” line Sarah Palin remarked on during last year’s election.
And that to me is a bit offensive. That to me is saying the working man is incapable of doing anything but going home and having a beer, and perhaps fighting. I have worked many jobs, with many different people. I know box loaders who listen to Mozart, firemen who build toys for their children, and paramedics who write. I know computer techs that play music and pizza drivers that golf.
But the poem makes all blue collar people seem like drunken idiots who fight all the time, and allow their betters to abuse them.

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