Book Review: Deer Hunting with Jesus (2007)

Guns, votes, debt, and delusion in redneck America
by Joe Bageant
Review by Brian Wright

Deer Hunting with JesusNot for the faint of heart or addled of brain; a redneck native son returns to his roots after years seeking out the American Dream—and at least finding a means of sustenance that gratifies him. Bageant is not a ‘liberal’ in the sense of, say, a quiche-eating, latte-sipping, urban townhouse-dwelling, suit-and-tie-wearing promoter of indiscriminate government spending for ‘those in need.’ In fact, such are a goodly part of his intended audience. He nonetheless manifests a genuine concern for ‘the other’ and an awareness of the engines of ignorance and vulture capitalism that tend to grind these many others of the redneck persuasion into fine dust. Right here in the good ol’ US of A, yup. Trick is: they’ve been brainwashed into liking it.

Bageant’s book is a masterpiece, reminiscent of the more coherent works of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson—Bageant’s prose lacks the snap, crackle, and pop of Mr. ‘Fear and Loathing,’ but he compensates by being an order of magnitude more informative. The author’s phrasings are uniformly poetic, comic, and occasionally brilliant; everyone needs to read this book. Bageant completely nails the American blind obedience to authority crowd—the sine qua non of the deepest crimes of the megacorporate ‘merican state… as well as the wellspring of their undoing. In the author’s own words:

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“Welcome to my world! Here in my hometown, Winchester, VA, it is impossible to avoid the America that carried George W. Bush to victory in 2004 (and would again elect someone else just as unsavory even if they turn on Bush like feral dogs in these last days of his attempted imperial reign, even if he is hauled out of the Oval Office in custody)… The area is solidly fundamentalist Christian and neoconservative, steeped in the gloomy ultra-Protestant assumption that man is an evil, worthless thing from birth and goes downhill from there….” p2

American Serfs: Inside the white ghetto of the working poor

“Members of the business class, that legion of little Rotary Club spark plugs, are vital to the American corporate and political machine. They are where the institutionalized ripoff of working-class people by the rich corporations finds its footing at the grassroots level…. Serving on every local governmental body, this mob of Kiwanis and Rotarians has connections. It can get that hundred acres rezoned for Wal-Mart or a sewer line to that two-thousand-unit housing development at taxpayer expense… They are God’s gift to the big nonunion companies and the chip plants looking for a fresh river to piss cadmium into….” p45

Republican by Default: Pride and fear in an age of outsourcing

“Much of the ongoing battle for America’s soul is about healing the souls of these Americans and rousing them from the stupefying glut of commodity and spectacle. It is about making sure that they—and we—refuse to accept torture as the act of heroes and babies deformed by depleted uranium as the ‘price of freedom.’ Caught up in the great self-referential hologram of imperial America, force-fed goods and hubris like fattened steers, working people like World Championship Wrestling and Confederate flags and flat-screen televisions and the idea of an American empire…. ‘The people’ don’t give a rat’s bunghole about the world’s poor or the planets or animals or anything else. ‘The people’ like chasing post-Thanksgiving Day Christmas sales. And if fascism comes, they will like that too if the cost of gas isn’t too high and Comcast comes through with a 24-hour NFL channel.” p91

The Deep-Fried, Double-Wide Lifestyle: The mortgage racket

“The reality is that our economy now consists of driving 250 million vehicles around the suburbs and malls and eating fried chicken. We don’t manufacture much. We just burn up ever-scarcer petroleum in the ever-expanding suburbs with mortgage money lent to people who haven’t a clue….” p110

Valley of the Gun: Black powder/buckskin in heartland America

“Across rural and small-town America any kind of gun control is seen as an attempt to take away citizens’ rights to protect home and hearth from the crazies and, increasingly, from an authoritarian government…. With the CIA now licensed to secretly detain American citizens indefinitely, and with the current administration legalizing torture, the proper question to ask an NRA member these days may be, ‘What kind of assault rifle do you think I can get for three hundred bucks, and how many rounds of ammo does it take to stop a two-hundred-pound born-again Homeland Security zombie from putting me in a camp?’ Which would you prefer, 40 million gun-owning Americans on your side or theirs?” p133

The Covert Kingdom: The blood of Jesus for a theocratic state

“The rejection of ‘fancy learnin’ has been a feature of American fundamentalism since the backwoods-stump church days, and it continues to provide the nation with charismatic literalists whose analytical abilities are minimal. If you combine that with more than thirty years of Christian school growth, and millions of fundamentalist Christian students in the schools nationally, you can understand why so many states find themselves revamping their educational systems so that the teachings of Darwin can be replaced by the fables of Adam and Eve….” p163

Lynddie England: One foot in Ulster, the other in Iraq

“Said meanness [of us Borderer Ulster-Scots descendants] is polished to a high gloss of murderous piety most useful to the military establishment. Thus, by the time we are of military age , we are capable of doing a Lynddie England on any type of human being unfamiliar to us. Sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, most of us, given the nod and enough stress, seem capable of torturing ‘the other’ as mindlessly as a cat plays with a mouse. That we can do so readily and without remorse is one of the darkest secrets underlying the ‘heroes’ mythology the culture machine is so fervently ginning up about the wars ….” p219

Authorized Place to Die: American healthcare on life support

“In the US someone files for bankruptcy every thirty seconds in the aftermath of a serious health problem. But here’s the real irony: 68% of those filing for bankruptcy have health insurance. Premiums, deductibles, and uncovered expenses are so high now that the insurance working people get through their employers does not necessarily save them from financial ruin, especially as they near retirement and experience the health problems that come with age.” p234

American Hologram: The Apocalypse will be televised

“We live in an age of corporate dominion just as we once lived in an age of domination by royal families, kings, and warlords. [In debt bondage, to survive we must pay tribute….] We must trade liberty and privacy in increments for comfort and perceived security. That has been the Devil’s bargain from the beginning. If middle-class Americans do not feel threatened by the slow encroachment of the police state or the Patriot Act, it is because they live comfortably enough and exercise their liberties very lightly, never testing the boundaries. You never know you are in prison unless you try the door.” p263

Written in 2006, Deer Hunting is proving prophetic. Bageant doesn’t seem to see the liberty movement as a solution worth commenting on, but as a liberal he presents an exceptionally thorough and effective case against gun control.

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