Hard Hats, Rednecks, and Macho Men: Class in 1970s American Cinema

By Derek Nystrom | Go to book overview

AFTERWORD
Hard Hats Revisited: The Labor of 9/11

My interest in the professional-managerial class’s complicated relationship to representations of the working class during the 1970s was initially spurred by the many layers of complexity that attended the May 1970 hard hat riots. The main participants of those riots—at least, before the Wall Street office workers joined in—were men who were building the World Trade Center towers. It is perhaps fitting, then, to close with a brief consideration of how the working-class rescue and clean-up crews that labored in the ruins of those towers have come to be represented, cinematically and otherwise. For the representations of the 9/11 firefighters, policemen and women, and construction clean-up workers have been structured by many of the PMC fantasies of the working class that I have traced in the American cinema of the 1970s. These fantasies, then and now, are often informed by the notion that one kind of labor is simple, but also more “real” or “authentic,” while another is more sophisticated, but also parasitic and maybe even gratuitous. My aim in tracing this (often heavily gendered) logic, and its persistence into our present situation, is to explode it. But another way of thinking about labor emanates from these accounts as well—one that socialists and others who wish to abolish class hierarchies must recognize and, in their (necessary) critical labors, nourish.

Just as the hard hat riots and related events led to a “discovery” of the working class, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon also disclosed a hitherto overlooked population. Describing, in the New York Times Magazine, the construction workers cleaning up the 9/11 site, Verlyn Klinkenborg suggested that a “city of unsoiled and unroughened hands has learned to love a class of laborers it once tried hard not to notice.”1 And, as with the earlier discovery, the working class was again taken to represent more traditional values that an implicitly middle-class nation has ignored or forgotten.

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