“Working Class Hero”
by John Lennon
from the album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
A-side Imagine
Released 11 October 1971 (US)
24 October 1975 (UK)
Format 7″ vinyl, 12″ vinyl
Recorded 26 September – 9 October 1970
Genre Folk blues
Length 3:48
Label Apple
Writer John Lennon
Producer John Lennon, Yoko OnoPhil Spector

Lyrics

As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be
When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be

There’s room at the top they’re telling you still But first you must learn how to smile as you kill If you want to be like the folks on the hill

A working class hero is something to be

If you want to be a hero well just follow me

 

Background

Working Class Hero” is a song from John Lennon‘s first post-Beatles solo album, 1970’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, a commentary/criticism on social classes in Western societies. It tells the story of everyman growing up in the working class being processed into the “machine.”
The central argument is put forth in the fourth verse, which states:
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see

The verse stings, and the sting is achieved through the use of the 2nd person “you’re,” pointing squarely at the listener, putting them on the defensive.

For me as a young listener, the song seemed an edgy if hyperbolic ideological everyman morality tale. It appeared to warn of a probability that I felt  I could rise above. Surely, I was aware enough to avoid the trap of being dumbed down to become oblivious to my place in, or complascent with the larger socioeconomic context? Or was I?

Yesterday’s Impressions Vs. Today’s Understanding

The product of an American education, I still had a deeply instilled faith in the American economic model. It was the 1970s and the model seemed to working. My parents had risen from the Great Depression to the enjoy a middle class affluence that their own parents did not. There was a sense of things progressing in all spheres of life in America. But that was before President Reagan undertook the task of reversing middle class progress and redistributing wealth upward through a strange, technically impossible proposition known as “supply side economics.”

Today, as a more mature and analytical individual, the verse takes on a larger socioeconomic significance. Gone are the expectations that each generation can do better than the next. Today Americans are awakening to a new economic reality.

The song goads us to awaken, but the nature of that awakening is different. Back then, the song appealed to visceral,  ideological urges and adolescent angst. Today, it can be understood in the context of a brave new world of facts and figures that confirm the shrinking of the middle class dream.

Beyond “Class Warfare” – American Wage Slavery

There is now a clearly established record of facts that point to increasing income disparity, an economic and political landscape in which we are processed into mindless consumer drones living from paycheck to paycheck to paycheck and dreaming of paying off that runaway credit balance.

The objective of the majority shareholders that hold a controlling interest in the most influential conglamorates has become increasingly clear.  This graphic lays it out:

Wal-Mart

The graphic summarizes how influential economic groups have come to use the media, government and the courts to effect a restructuring of the economy into a form of wage slavery in which the workers shoulder the economic burden for their financial windfall.

Living Just Enough For The Shareholders

Today, the workers pay the taxes, consume the products, and are paid diminished wages and benefits. The government in turn is expected to use these working class taxes to parcel out Medicaid and Food Stamps to help them maintain a basic subsistence standard of living similar to that of the chattel slaves of early America.

What, then did the Civil War accomplish?

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