You know, I just realized how many errant Google hits that title is going to bring. Creepy.
This will just break Neil's heart, as he does see me as a champion of fighting regionalism, but this CNN piece (from over at Atrios) is the sort of thing that, Jesus H*. Christ on a crutch, gives me a headache. They send a reporter to literally Middle America, and surprise, discover that they don't much care for them Hollywood movies. Suuuurrr-prise!
But one chunk of this report, to me, is symptomatic of a larger issue that grinds my molars.
ANDERSON: We stopped by the Lebanon [Kansas -- ed.] hotspot, Ladow's Market, where one local told us Hollywood just can't relate to a farming way of life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've never been back in here to know what it's like to actually have to make a living doing this.
You know what, Unidentified Male? You're right. I don't know what it's like to have to make a living farming. NOBODY DOES.
For chrissake, only 17% of Americans live in rural settings anymore. Only 2 million of those people work on farms or ranches (USDA figures). Hell, only ten percent of the average farm family's income even comes from farming anymore (did you know that? I didn't. Funky). The median age of the United States is 37. I am more than willing to point out that the agriculture industry is a crucial, nay vital part of the American economic infrastructure generating a sizable amount of the GDP. But why in the name of John Deere's Blood-Soaked Wood-Chipper Gears, every time I hear a news report on what "real Americans" think do I wind up watching some farmer in their fifties and sixties bitch as they survey the blasted plains landscape behind them, and not only that, somehow their cultural observations are assumed to have more relevance than anyone else's?
This is only half-rant. The honest question is, what in the American character keeps us returning to this completely false self-image? Seriously, how did we get to a point where this report may as well have started: "Hi there, Carol, we're about to talk to people twenty years older than the average American living a lifestyle less than one in five average Americans live ... to find out what the average American thinks" and somehow nobody blinks an eye?
There are four times as many Americans living in urban than rural areas. There are four times as many people sucking back coffee in New York city alone than make a living farming. According to the Burea of Labor, there are just as many people employed in Architecture and Engineering as farming, hell, 3 million people working in Computer and Mathematical jobs. But when one of these "What does America think about culture" pieces comes on, do I ever see a mid-30's software engineer onscreen bitching about having to download BitTorrents of "The IT Crowd"? Fuck and no.
Four million people in the US play World of Warcraft. And yet, do I ever hear:
ANDERSON: We stopped by the gates of Ogrimmar in Durotar, on the east coast of Kalimdor, where one local told us Hollywood just can't relate to the level-grinding life.
UNIDENTIFIED ORC: They've never been back here, questing Razormane or Drygulch Ravine, y'know ... or farming for Peacebloom and Silverleaf. They're out of touch.
No. No I do not.
This is not Fuck the South, or for that matter a betrayal of issues I raise in "Ain't" -- that essay is about understanding crowd dynamics and communication in any context, not just rural (althogh many people mistake it for that). This is a cultural/economic issue, not a geographic one, athough there are geographic factors.
The rural life, specifically, the agricultural industry, is a massive, important part of our nation's economic well-being. And yes, yes, I've read Kunstler's Long Emergency, and I know that one catastrophic afternoon in the near future, I will rue the day my grandfather gave up the sod to become a cop in the New World. For some people the rural life is an incredibly rewarding way of life. They should be very proud of the fact they have held on to this great tradition of commerce and, one might argue service, in the face of corporate farming. But that life is not holy, it does not bless one with special insight into the intent of the Framers of the goddam Consitution or what America "should" be like. Have I lost some sort of sacred connection with the land? Maybe. But the last time I checked, the land was dirt, same dirt as the rest of the world, and several generations of my family went broke farming other people's dirt, interrupted only when easily annoyed Englishmenwould occassionally show up and burn all their shit down. Pardon me for enjoying my goddam latte.
Hell, I grew up in Massachusetts, and we didn't go around nodding and saying "This is the very birthplace of America both geographically and ideologically, those idiots in Kansas have no idea what being a real American is, like we Commonwealth bastards." One would be considered insane. Whatever connection people in rural America have to the "idea" of America is the exact same as mine -- the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They are public documents, accessible by all (well, for now), and last time I checked the versions printed in textbooks in Kansas didn't have special magical ink and secret clauses not included in the versions handed out in the Northeast urban great city of Philadelphia where, if we remember, the damn things were actually written.
To be clear, I have not shied away from calling some of my fellow Americans "fuckwits". But that's because of what they say and do, not because of where they live. I believe in the democratic principles of idiocy. This is a nation of self-made people, where you know a man by his actions. Just, sometimes, those actions prove him a fuckwit. Sorry.
I am just, I guess, well and truly tired of being told what "Middle America" wants, when Middle America is my age and lives in a goddam city, just like I have for my entire life.
(* The H stands for "haploid", by the way)