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White Hot Trash!

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Clinton's mom, Virginia Kelley, married four times, wagered furiously at the track, and worshiped Elvis—the white-trash icon. The president's stepfather Roger, known as Dude, was an abusive alcoholic. The president's ex-cokehead half-brother, another Roger and a dude in his own right, parlayed his demi-genetic serendipity into roles in such films as Pumpkinhead 2: Blood Wings and commercials for Comedy Central set in a mock-Oval Office with a faux-leopard-skin chair.

And Howard Stern—Howard Stern—ran a bizarre, abortive race for governor of New York.

Then, again, there is Paula Corbin Jones. "Paula asked me, 'What would be a good drink that would cost a lot?' " Mark Brown says. "I said, 'Amaretto on the rocks, water back.' You can get a good buzz off it, but mainly it's for women. I said to her later, 'What the hell you wanting to know all this shit for?' And she said, 'I got to find out if somebody's got money or not, if he can pay for this.' "

"She told Mark and myself many times that she would marry somebody with money," Charlotte Brown says. "She has very expensive tastes. She had known him [Steve Jones, now her husband] barely a week and he bought her a leather couch; he bought her an amethyst ring, a real expensive purse—it's called a Gucci bag—and a matching wallet. She told me they cost $250 apiece." Paula had also sniffed the lingering musk of Elvis: Steve Jones had played Presley's ghost in the Jim Jarmusch movie Mystery Train. According to People, Paula boasted to a friend, "He looks just like Elvis, and talks like him." (The marriage of Elvis's daughter, Lisa Marie, to alleged child-fancier and white-guy-wannabe Michael Jackson is, in trash terms, the whitest shade of pale. It's also just plain weird.)

Candy-apple lipstick, chipped cherry-red nail polish, fishnet stockings, rhinestone earrings, Candie's mules, tattoos.

Jones has denied the Browns' portrait of her as a loose woman and declared that "some American people have put in their minds that I'm a liar, a lowlife come out of l'il ol' Lonoke, Arkansas." Well, yes. Jones recently accepted $50,000 from No Excuses jeans, apparently unaware of the company's previous campaigns with Marla Maples and Donna Rice. (Tonya Harding is so trashy even No Excuses turned her down.) When Clinton's lawyer Robert Bennett wanted to disparage Jones's suit, he called it "tabloid trash"—but everyone knew what he meant.

The curious thing about the Browns, the point almost lost in the media fix on them as the skeptics, is that they do believe that Jones and Governor Clinton had some kind of involvement in the Excelsior Hotel. "She talked to me about that day in 1991," Charlotte says, "told me that Governor Clinton had dropped his pants in the hotel room, asked her to perform oral sex, and she'd refused. But how she said it, it was like it was flattering."

How did we get to such a pitch of low expectation about our fellow citizens' behavior that this lurid scenario barely registers as a distraction from the O. J. Simpson case? Where we idly watch as the disputed facts are gummed to a gooey cud in the media maw? Jones might not have filed suit if Clinton had prevailed upon his friend the producer Harry Thomason to give her a job in Hollywood. Now, in revenge, we can expect her to sell her story for a movie of the week—perhaps Kiss It: The Paula Corbin Jones Story.

In 1916, hobo and Wobblies agitator Harry Kirby McLintock predicted in his "Hymn of Hate": "And The Day shall come, with a red, red dawn;/ And you in your gilded halls,/ Shall taste the wrath and vengeance of the men in overalls." The Day is at hand. Yet the men in overalls have triumphed not because of the puissance of organized labor but because when it comes to behavior, America is wearing Osh Kosh B'Gosh. Like the urbanities in Deliverance, we have found ourselves in the grinning clutches of sexually predatory backwoodsmen. White-trash culture commands us to "squeal like a pig!" And we're oinking.

Since the first rawboned indentured servants came to America from Europe, a white underclass has simmered on our back burner. These are the Snopeses who live on the poorest land in the South, in Appalachia, in Oklahoma, the ones for whom the certified check of American promise always bounces. "Fierce craving boys," Nelson Algren called them, the ones "with a feeling of having been cheated." "The white world's vermin and filth . . ." W.E.B. Du Bois said, more angrily and less specifically, those "shameless breeders of bastards,/ drunk with the greed of gold,/ . . . bearing the white man's burden/ of liquor and lust and lies!"


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  • Archive: “Features
  • From the Aug 22, 1994 issue of New York
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