A "Rivethead" is a name tacked onto someone working any number of assembly line jobs, mainly in car factories, originating in the working-class culture about 40 or 50 years ago, and was subsequently picked up by the mainstream media. The nickname has its roots in the 1940's and 1950's era character Rosie the Riveter, used in wartime propaganda to describe the women who were taking over men's jobs in the factories during World War II. Rivets are the large lugnuts or bolts used to hold pieces of metal together. Riveting was known as one of the more challenging jobs on the assembly line, as one had to use a large rivet gun which was tough to master and took quite a bit of strength.
The book Rivethead was released by HarperCollins. It is the autobiography written by Ben Hamper, following his gradutation from high school up through many factory jobs. He outlines the life of a Rivethead, from the music, to the jobs, to factory closings, to the drunken binges, to his own family trials and tribulations.
This extremely humorous book is also extremely well-written and is an easy read as well, despite Hamper's lack of formal education. When looking past Rivethead's biting sarcasm, it is apparent that many factory jobs are, in fact, quite horrible. While many times glorified ironically in the book, Hamper would probably rather recount the good times than the bad times. He touches on the down times briefly a few instances, but does not dwell on them. Criticism of General Motors is a common topic, and is stressed throughout the book.
When looking at capitalism outright for the first time (p. 29), Hamper describes it as helpful. He does not realize that some people get much more out of capitalism than he can even dream of. The working man’s idea of riches is the best booze, drugs, stereos, and “digs”. Hamper also believes he will be able to get to these riches through the factory. This is highly unlikely, if not thoroughly impossible. Those that are hiring him do not wish to give up any of their wealth, hence the hiring, firing, and rehiring pattern that the factories employ in order to gaurd them from having to provide benefits, promotions, or wage increases. Any factory workers reading Hamper’s book would connect with this aspect of their jobs: when their product is in surplus or unneeded, they will be fired. When the factory swings back into gear, they will be rehired. This prevents workers from getting benefits or any perks of being a longstanding employee. It also leads to depression and drinking, something Hamper believes is not necessary, but is a central part of most working-class lives. Many people in Flint, Michigan read this book, and many connected it to their own lives. Some liked it and some hated it, just as people loved or hated Hamper's friend, comrade, and fellow Flint rabble-rouser Michael Moore. When Hamper’s writing went national, it started a blue-collar worker/writer fad that Ben noticed immediately.
The largest national impact this book made had to do with temporary stardom and the people’s yearning for fads. Hamper became a national celebrity, with his face on the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. He was called up for TV shows and interviews. In a couple of months, though, he was gone. Not that he minded one bit (Hamper was never great in the spotlight, exemplified by his utter self-destruction during interviews). It shows the need that Americans feel for being part of a fad. There were numerous blue-collar artists in the journal article, all of whom were forgotten a couple months after the story. Hamper got another small shot because of this book and some other works of his that became published. He was popular because people were interested, and the companies found the market. Why this need for fads, I wonder? For example, our new found American patriotism is a fad; it will not last. The flags will come down, people will forget about the war as soon as the papers find something more money-making to promote. The American public loves being a part of something, but they have a tendency to have an extremely short attention span. Thus, the art of selling fads becomes very prosperous and profitable.
The last thing this book helped communicate (albeit not single-handedly), was introducing the average American to the average working-class American. Moore's movie “Roger and Me” was a hit, even though it was tough to promote or publicize (all those corporate types seem to stick together, especially when they are being attacked, unless the attack can help them make an extra buck). Even though the 80’s was so prosperous, celebrities (e.g. Farm-Aid, Live-Aid) and others were occasionally showing up to show people that there were still folks suffering. This helped keep America mildly level-headed, even though we have seemed to forget about it in the 90’s and beyond.