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Kick out the Monster Jams
I went to the DCU Center and all I got was this stupid essay
Just getting it out of the way off the top: I’m not coming to you today with any “news” really. Maybe the biggest story this week is the fact that Joe Petty took out papers to run for Harriette Chandler’s senate seat, but we sorta knew that was coming. He’s not been so subtle. More on that later in the post… But it’s been a slow week or so for Worcester news and there’s not a whole lot to dive into. Not even a City Council meeting this week. So what I have for you instead is a very weird little essay about monster trucks.
I went to the DCU Center for the first time in a long time on Saturday for Monster Jam. It was fun to get drunk and scream at the big loud trucks with my lady and realize El Toro Loco is indeed my fuckin boy, as evidenced by this photo.
But the experience also (somehow, despite the multiple 32-ounce Budweisers) got me thinkin’.
I was not raised by Monster Jam people and as such was never exposed to Monster Jam as a child. Saturday was the first time in my life I’d seen monster trucks in real life, and while a past version of me may have scoffed at the idea of it, I totally got the appeal on a visceral level. It’s loud and fun and you get to be obnoxious. Me and the 12-year-old kid in front of me had a blast shouting “zero out of 10!!!” at the monster trucks whose tricks left us unsatisfied. Me and that kid’s dad decided we were the El Toro Loco fan section and that every other truck was, in fact, bullshit. The revving of the engines and the reams of dirt ripping out of the tires and the trucks flipping and getting beat to shit and catching on fire a little bit at one point… it was mindless and carnal and pure entertainment. Like a good action movie, it wasn’t pretending to be anything it wasn’t. There was no takeaway. Nothing to think about. Just show up and yell and scream and try not to swear too much, you know there’s kids around. I had more fun there than I’ve had at plenty of rock shows or movies or at museums or any of the other myriad entertainment options marketed toward my certain set of sensibilities.
The experience reminded me of a Tom Wolfe essay I read years ago about the early days of American motor sports, and I’ve thought about it increasingly since Saturday night—just sort of vaguely, about how there’s a “there” there but I don’t know what it is yet—until eventually I have came around to the idea that maybe writing about Monster Jam is not such a stupid idea. So I went to the library to find a copy of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, the collection which houses the essay, and also, unrelatedly, had this idea…
…which any librarian reading this is free to steal and usher into reality.
The essay is called “The Last American Hero,” and it follows a stock car racer by the name of Junior Johnson competing in early and somewhat DIY iterations of NASCAR races. Johnson came up running moonshine and learned to drive fast by evading federal alcohol tax agents. His subsequent career as a race car driver turned him into a bonafide folk hero in North Carolina, and it's on that point Wolfe focuses most of his essay.
But what stuck out to me when I first read it, and what rings true today, is Wolfe’s characterization of motor sports like NASCAR as a purely American and extremely exciting cultural movement emanating from the South—and a movement which people like Wolfe… the media class, the literati, the urban tastemakers… whatever you want to call them—had at first entirely missed, then subsequently disparaged as gaudy and low class. Wolfe, however, managed to see through his coastal sensibilities and write about the phenomenon in a sympathetic way.
“Stock car racing was something that was welling up out of the lower orders,” Wolfe writes. “From somewhere these country boys and urban proles were getting the money and starting this hellish sport.
When I first read this essay, I was in college, deep in literary pretensions and ambitions that I’ve since mostly abandoned (but maybe not because here I am, still writing after all). I was going deep down rabbit holes in the most pretentious corners of academic writing and poetry and fiction. Real Arthur Rimbaud Hours if you feel me. I thought David Remnick was the coolest guy and I read the New Yorker religiously, hoping to one day see my name atop some 30-page piece of narrative longform journalism for which I would be paid handsomely. On its reputation I would move to Brooklyn and into the ranks of the media elite and it would be lattes all the way down.
In that context, “The Last American Hero” and several others like it in the book—there’s a good one on hot rods as legitimate art and an extremely fun one on an early demolition derby—which stood out to me. In retrospect, I think I’ve held onto it because there was a critique of myself in there that I couldn’t quite come to process but I knew it was there. Perhaps on my third 32-ounce Budweiser Saturday I finally killed the brain cell needed to unlock it. Anway, Wolfe writes:
“Stock car racing was building up a terrific following in the south during the early fifties. Here was a sport not using any abstract devices, any bat and ball, but the same automobile that was changing a man’s own life, his own symbol of liberation, and it didn’t require size, strength and all that, all it required was a taste for speed, and the guts.”
Long story short, the point here is it’s badass and if you don’t think it’s badass you should ask yourself why, and keep asking and if you stick at it long enough, might the answer boil down to you feeling like you’re better than those people? And do you really honestly believe that?
Wolfe’s critique of the media’s perception of early motorsports is what sucked me into writing this weird little essay. The following passage was written in the early ‘60s but much of it rings entirely true 60 years later.
“The newspapers in the South didn’t seem to catch onto what was happening until late in the game. Of course, newspapers all over the country have looked backward over the tremendous rise in automobile sports, now the second-biggest type of sport in the country in terms of attendance. The sports pages generally have an inexorable lower-middle-class outlook. The sportswriter’s ‘zest for life’ usually amounts, in the end, to some sort of gruff Mom’s Pie sentimentality at a hideously cozy bar somewhere. The sportswriters caught onto Grand Prix racing first because it had ‘tone,’ a touch of defrocked European nobility about it, what with a few counts racing here and there, although, in fact, it is the least popular form of racing in the United States. What finally put stock car racing onto the sports pages in the South was the intervention of the Detroit automobile firms. Detroit began putting so much money into the sport that it took on a kind of massive economic respectability and thereby, in the lower-middle-class brain, status.”
The “inexorable lower-middle-class outlook” of your average media person. The Grand Prix is cool because it has status. European royals! But NASCAR is wack because the hill people invented it. Oh, but wait, the automobile industry is taking the sport seriously? There’s ad revenue to be made? Oh, ok, in that case… Now it’s legitimized. Now it has some sort of status. Now I feel safe in my writing about it. It’s a very cucked mindset, if you think about it. You’re lower middle class just like everyone participating in NASCAR, but unlike them you’re waiting for some rich person to tell you what’s cool and what you can enjoy.
Wolfe’s critique of newspaper sportswriters in the ‘60s holds entirely true for political writers over the past decade. Remember in 2016 after Trump won the election and there was all this hand-wringing in the newspapers and on the cable shows? Everyone ~in media~ had egg on their face? They were saying ‘oh, how could we have missed this?’ And they had absolutely no idea how. And they started paying lip service to the idea of putting more reporters in “flyover country” but sort of abandoned that idea once everyone calmed down and focused on redefining fascism to fit the prevailing narrative and we spent pretty much four whole years focusing on “Russia Gate,” a conspiracy theory as insane, if not more so, than QAnon?
Now that I’m thinking about it, even the term “flyover country” has baked into it a potent condescension but still we use it freely.
There are deep problems in the mindset of our media class here in America and its mostly liberal base of consumers, but not a whole lot of will to identify or solve them. How are you supposed to feel smug enough to laugh at the Daily Show if you’re honestly interrogating why hicks, rednecks and hill people are presented as the cultural foil against which you are allowed to feel superior and in the right? You might begin to realize that perhaps there may be a business model in cultivating this sense of cultural superiority, same as the transparent business model of convincing these hicks that the globalist elites are going to take the guns and eat your babies.
It’s easy to look at a clip of some corn-fed white lady with a Southern drawl screaming about critical race theory at the local school board meeting and see that lady as an obvious mark. It’s not so easy to see how you yourself may be a mark as well.
The media missed Trump in 2015 like it missed NASCAR in the 1960s and short of any reckoning it is going to miss Trump Part 2, and believe me, Trump Part 2 is going to be a whole hell of a lot worse than Drumpf Covfefe.
I don’t know if you saw it, but Senator Rick Scott just unveiled an “11-point plan” for the Republican Party that is horrifying. Point 2: “We are going to eliminate race politics in America.” Point 7 is putting an end to “left-wing election rigging.” Point 9 is “Men are men. Women are women. Babies are babies.” Point 11 is “We are Americans. Not Globalists.”
It’s cartoonishly evil stuff. Post-QAnon, this the ascendant face of the Republican Party. This is also the Republican Party that the media missed in 2015 and will miss again. This is the party that’s probably going to do a lot of damage in the midterms and the party that is taking whole swathes of people off the freakin deep end, and why should they see a viable alternative in the Democratic party and its attendant media apparati, which has reliably used them as heel or comedic relief depending on the situation?
It’s only natural that people would resent the institutions that condescend and belittle them, and more natural still that they would be blind to the nefarious intentions of the institutions that don’t. I mean just look at Turtleboy Sports. That guy is an obvious shithead who revels in human misery. But he’s their shithead.
It doesn’t matter one hoot whether you think you’re better than any of these people. It would matter immensely, however, if we started honestly interrogating how we’re not, and where we might find some common ground, and might that common ground be that monster trucks are fuckin’ sick?
Just kidding haha... unless?
I’ll conclude this little essay with this passage from Wolfe which deftly captures how I felt while yelling at the big trucks Saturday.
“And then suddenly, on a signal, thirty stock car engines start up where they are lined up in front of the stands. The roar of these engines is impossible to describe. They have a simultaneous rasp, thunder and rumble that goes right through a body and fills the whole bowl witha noise of internal combustion. Then they start around on two build-up runs, just to build speed, and then they come around the fourth turn and onto the straightaway in front of the stands at—here, 130 miles an hour, in Atlana, 160 miles an hour, at Daytona, 180 miles an hour—and the flag goes down and everybody in the infield and in the stands is up on their feet going mad, and suddenly here is a bowl that is one great orgy of everything in the way of excitement and liberation the automobile has meant to Americans. An orgy!”
While there’s common ground to be found with most people it should be said that there are some people with whom we cannot, and the incident at the Providence book store the other day should remind us of that. A reading of the Communist Manifesto at the Red Ink Community Library was crashed by a Neo-Nazi group with deep Worcester ties called the National Socialist Club 131. They carried a flag bearing a Swastika and banged on the doors and shouted at the attendees inside about how communists must die.
Really scary stuff. These are the same people who you may remember hung up that white power banner over 190 last January.
These people deserve nothing short of having their lives ruined. What they did in Providence this week was much bolder than what they’ve done historically. But it’s important to keep in mind they’re just a small group of nerds and losers, as I wrote last year.
So what we have here is a handful of lonely, disaffected men who have unfortunately fallen into the grasp of an ideology that history has proven to be all too seductive to those who feel they’re owed something by a society that the society is not providing. But they do not in and of themselves represent any real threat. They’re nerds and we should treat them as such. It’s not in anyone’s best interest to be spreading any undue panic. While certainly a narrative that tracks in these nightmare times, we need to remember that without significant numbers these guys can’t really do anything. And right now, as AntiFash explained to us, they’re afraid to even hang out at each other’s houses.
Here’s to hoping this unusually bold display in Providence bears repercussions that send them further into hiding, internal chaos and increasing self-loathing.
And as I promised at the top of the post, a little on Joe Petty’s state senate run. I don’t know who runs this Twitter account but I appreciate the way they characterize this news!
Petty filing with the Office of Campaign Finance is the most official declaration we’ve had so far that he’s going to run for the seat, but we’ve pretty much known about it for at least a month now. Harriette Chandler’s decision to retire leaves a power vacuum and Petty is a natural choice to fill it in the context of who holds what power among the local Dems. Personally I’d really like to see just about anyone else take that seat, but it looks like the party might be deciding that it does not want a heated race. State Rep. David LeBoeuf, who signaled his intention for the seat on the same day that Chandler announced her retirement, has backed down. Yesterday he officially announced his re-election campaign to the 17th Worcester District State Rep. seat.
“I certainly intend to follow the Senate race with keen interest, and I look forward to partnering with our next state senator, whomever that may be, in the best interests of Central Mass.”
Methinks LeBoeuf may have gotten a stern talking to from someone in party leadership!
Petty’s only challenger as it stands right now is Robyn Kennedy of YWCA Central Massachusetts. Per OCPF filings, Petty’s got just shy of $50,000 in his warchest, and Kennedy has just $1,000. Not, as it stands, the fairest of fights.
In other Worcester news the annual report of city employee earnings came out and as is the case every year, the only people making more money than cops are the city manager and the superintendent. Thirty four of the 36 people who made more than $200,000 a year working for the city in 2020 were police officers. Neat!
If you missed it, there’s a new episode of Worcester’s Good But Hurts out! It’s up on our Patreon page and available on most of the common apps, like Spotify and Apple Podcasts. It’s a fun companion to the newsletter, and Dan (@danielfritztattoos on Instagram) is a great co-host. This week we talk about the Lake Quinsig poop situation and the Board of Health and also my application to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Urban Forestry Commission.
I was posting all the episodes on here, but I think I might just let it live on the Patreon and keep this feed focused on my actual writing. What do you think? Podcast in the feed or no? Leave it in the comments.
And as always, if you enjoy what I do, please consider a paid subscription. This publication is 100-percent reader supported. It wouldn’t exist without you! I’d be working at the post office or something.