Friday, November 12, 2004

Red v Blue

I've read a lot lately on the left showing indignation over the idea that we are denigrating to the conservatives in middle America and that is why they have turned against us so strongly. And some of this talk has good merit. After all, Kerry never once said that people in Alabama were a bunch of racist Klan members or that the major pastime in Nebraska was tipping cows. On the other hand, conservatives are open in their contempt for California, New York, and Massachusetts with that Catholic sinner Ted Kennedy. Conservatives have taken a public stand on the culture wars and places such as Seattle, Portland, Santa Fe, and Boston are places that they see as evil and aren't afraid to say so.

But I say to the left--come on and be honest. We do denigrate red states. We do denigrate their culture. And sometimes it's for good reason. In the latest issue of Harper's there's an excerpt of a Christ-centered math textbook that is taught at Bob Jones University. A lot of people are comfortable with that. It is absurd and deserves to be made fun of. So does the teaching of creationism. So does homophobia, Bible-thumping preachers, racism, big hair, people who still listen to Def Leppard and Poison, etc. We denigrate that stuff and mostly for a damn good reason. There is a culture war and we need to confront it.

However, there are also a lot of damn good people out there in red states that are offended when we gratuitously make fun of them. And Hollywood, TV, comics, etc. do make fun of Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, etc. a damn lot. Let's take a quiz, readers. How many of you would never live in the South? If you would, how many highly educated people do you know who wouldn't live in the South? I have lived in the South (Tennessee and, briefly, Georgia) and would again. But a lot of people, even educated people who've never been to the South wouldn't. Why? Because they hold cultural stereotypes about people they've never seen and never want to see. To be honest, Southern and rural stereotypes are almost as bad as racist stereotypes--perhaps there's less history behind them but they come from the same dark spot in our hearts.

So while there are many things about red state culture that we can and should denigrate, there's a lot of good people out there too that we should meet and be happy to have them as allies. I suggest 3 ideas to help us make these connections.

1. Be honest with ourselves about how we feel about red state culture and be honest with the world about it too.

2. Try to visit red states and get to know people in those places if you don't already. And if you live in, say, Seattle and know only liberals and lefties, take a weekend and go out to Dayton, Pomeroy, or Clarkston. It's not that bad. Well, maybe Clarkston is.

3. Attack the bad parts about rural culture. At the same time, attack the condescending parts of urban culture toward rural culture. Rural people have a point. We need to recognize this and try to bridge the gap.