Bourgeois Vultures
I promised a patron I'd write this and then forgot!  So here it is—belated and short, but what can you do.

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"Michael Keaton's Vulture is a world-class bad guy – and a working-class stiff who feels like he's been shafted by society," Rolling Stone  declared.  The article for which that's the subhead goes on to praise the perspicacity of Spider Man:Homecoming for presenting an up-to-the-minute portrait of the working-class Trump voter who feels dumped on by  uncaring do-gooder elites, like the multimillionionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) 

Some folks on social media (including some leftists) expressed sympathy for Keaton's critique of capital and power. "Keaton also gives the film a rare jolt of class consciousness as he  tells Peter, “The rich and the powerful, like Stark, they don’t care  about us," Jackson McHenry declares at Vulture. The Marvel universe, filled with the one percenters, deities, and military brass, has finally found a voice for the little guy.

Except for one thing. Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture, isn't working-class. And the fact that people see him as working class shows just how fucked up class politics in this country are.

Toomes is the owner of a quite successful small business. He obtained the contract to clean up a section of New York after the giant fight with aliens that concluded the first Avengers film. Tony Stark's company took the contract from him to secure alien tech, which is why Toomes is pissed at Stark. But this isn't the anger of the worker at the boss who's exploiting him. This is the anger of the small businessman at the guy with better connections.

Toomes steals some of the alien tech, and goes into business selling weaponry to robbers (an unimaginative use of alien technology...but the plot has to do its plot thing, so there you go.) At this point, Toomes is very successful; his house is solidly upper middle class at least. At one point, when an employee decides to leave him, Toomes semi-accidentally kills the guy. Not only is he not working class, he's an exploitive employer by any reasonable definition.

So, if Toomes is a petty bourgeois capitalist shit trying to move up, why do people see him as some sort of authentic avatar of the working class? I think there are a couple reasons. First, Americans tend to associate "working class" with particular industries, rather than with actual jobs. Blue-collar factory work still dominates Americans sense of working classness, even though for the most part working class people today have job in the service industry, or as secretaries or support staff in office buildings. We've convinced ourselves that owners of coal mines are more authentically working class than the people who serve food in the cafeteria at Microsoft. Toomes walks around on the factory floor and even does some welding. So he's working class, even though he owns the floor he's walking on and takes home what by the look of things is probably a six figure salary.

The other reason Toomes is working class is that he's a white guy. The Rolling Stone article, which links Toome's working classness with the age of Trump, is the giveaway. Trump voters were richer overall than Clinton's, and of course white men as a group are way more well off than, black women, who voted for Clinton at a rate of about 94%. But white men were the ones who had those factory jobs back in the good old days when racism and sexism meant that white men were the only ones who could get those factory jobs. 

White working class men so dominate our cultural vision of the working class that people misread Vulture as working class because he's a white guy standing near industrial equipment. Toomes appeal for the little guy is read by some as an actual critique of elites, rather than as a quite rich guy pissing and moaning because he's not richer. Take this logic far enough, and a multimillionaire shithead can be an avatar of the working class as long as he's white and male and angry because he doesn't have more stuff. Toomes isn't working class. He's just another asshole boss.



 

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