Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dear Red States

I don't think you should bother to read this.  I'm just ranting and wanted to get it on the page.

This old thing was sent to me by my uncle.  I wanted to articulate why I thought it was not merely lacking in humor, but the sort of discourse that is bigoted and damaging to the country. The rant under discussion is intentionally linked farther down, after I have made much of my point.

There is a continuum of group criticsm and the offense that it gives.  At one end are the friendly rivalries in which people who have actual affection tease one another. The Americans and the British criticising each other’s food, language, and forms of government usually fits into this category, as do many of the regional stereotypes Americans send back and forth among siblings and friends in other areas.  You are crazy to live in that weather, you people talk funny, etc.  Dear Vermonters, you still have too many cows and your skiing is overpriced.  All you can make successfully are ice cream, designer beer labels, and cheddar cheese. There might be some actual aggression buried in those, giving the needle under the guise of humor, but generally, it’s good fun.

At the other end of this spectrum is Dear Niggers:  We produced Benjamin Franklin, you produced Al Sharpton.  You suck. Which is clearly offensive and not exchanged in emails among decent people.  (I admit there are probably comedians who could get away with that somehow, but I sure wouldn’t try.)

There are keys which tell us which is in play, Dear Vermonter or Dear Niggers. Is there actual affection underneath it all?  Garrison Keillor makes fun of both Minnesotans and New Yorkers, but there are things he clearly likes about both.  He seems to genuinely dislike Southerners, however, except perhaps certain ones. Are the barbs delivered the sort of thing people might say about themselves with a wry smile?  This one aspect may cover all.

That in turn may be detected by what is being criticised.  If culturally important qualities such as intelligence, honesty, and attractiveness are coming under the microscope, you can pretty much count on others to take offense.  If one has great skill, one can make even those work, but it’s dicey.  PJ O’Rourke can say “I don’t know why anyone would want to see an Irish girl in a bikini,” because he’s Irish, and everyone knows that there actually are plenty of Irish girls who look fine in them.  He’s just ragging on the general type of attractiveness that is favored – likely the freckles, pasty-whiteness, or something. 

Humor can come from exaggeration, and you don’t expect it to be even-handed, or it’s not funny. But when you get it wrong, then you really are hanging out in the breeze.  Ben Franklin may have been wiser than Al Sharpton, but he’s also wiser than the majority of white people, so he’s an unfair example.  OTOH, the majority of black people are not as irritating as Shaprton -not near, so he’s also a bad example.  Someone is taking unfair credit or assigning unfair blame by implying they are typical. It's the stuff you read in the fever swamps of racialism.

All of this is why, on the continuum of making fun, Dear RedStates is a lot closer to Dear Niggers than it is to Dear Vermonters. There's no affection, no chance those criticised would say this about themselves.  It’s high-school insult stuff.  Calling it humor, and pretending it is more like the gentle regional or difference-between-men-and-women stuff (though that can be pretty bigoted as well) is deceitful.  Nothing of the kind is intended here.  It is all “we are smart, you are stoooopid; we get it, you don’t; blue states rule, red states drool” stuff.  When you play to those stereotypes you enter the world of being refuted by facts – if anyone wants to bother.

I will bother only briefly.
All states are purple.  Perhaps DC qualifies as fully blue. Liberals are far more likely to make a big cultural deal about this Red State/Blue State stuff, because they like to disguise that they aren’t really 50% of the country – they are about 16% of the country, leaders of a coalition of government union, African-American, and single-parent voters.  Also, it is evidence that they are culturally rather than intellectually moved, just as I have long claimed.

There are lots of fine schools in the supposedly Red States: Rice, Duke, (yeah, William & Mary), Vanderbilt, Davidson, UVA, Chapel Hill – and plenty of joke colleges in the “Blue” ones.  In fact, I note that the country’s worst highschools, highest crime areas, etc are in the supposedly favored areas. Strange this wasn’t mentioned.

Just because the world’s finest universities are near you doesn’t mean you aren’t numb as a hake yourself.  Taking credit for other people’s accomplishments by trying to show how much you are like them because they live near you and you identify with their culture is just lame.

The remaining statistics, which you find so telling, are similarly flawed.  I occasionally get forwarded stuff like this with a rightist perspective.  I don't forward it and I usually send back a comment to the sender explaining why.  But somehow, it is considered within the bounds of decent conversation to receive it from the left.


Sam L. said...

Keillor used to be funny pretty nearly all the time. Then he started ragging on Republicans, and that developed into full-on Bush Derangement Syndrome. He only seems a bit better now because Bush is home at the ranch. He's as bitter as Angostura. Or more.

Sam L. said...

Ooooooh. Starts with a Peace Symbol, otherwise know as The Footprint Of The American Chicken.

Beyond that, well it was 7 years ago, before the Blue Model Crash (TM WR Mead).

As the Canadian Jews say: "Voy, eh?"

james said...

Nasty indeed.

Keillor took a year off, and when he came back his humor seemed more cruel than before. I didn't like it much anymore, and never got back into the habit of blocking out time on Saturday night. I've heard snippets from time to time since, and Sam L's description of his disintegration seems to fit.

Gringo said...

I am not in the mood right now for verbalizing regional conflict, so I will introduce some regional videos, starting off with 802 Vermont Rap, followed by Miles and Miles of Texas. Certainly there is some hip hop song related to Texas, but there is a limit to my tolerance of hip hop: two minutes every 6 months. Hip hop, rap, whatever.

Then there is Ray Wylie Hubbard's Screw You, We're From Texas.Actually, Ray Wylie Hubbard was born and raised on the other side of the Red River Curtain. Yep, Ray Wylie is an Okie. [Bear in mind that in the MusicFog video version of this song, Ray Wylie says about this song, "The problem with irony- not everyone gets it."]

A sense of humor is helpful in both Vermont and Texas. Don't know how Aggie Jokes go over in Vermont. Just part of a family feud in TX, where one sibling may go to UT and another may go to A&M.

ChicagoBoyz had an interesting take on the current divisions in the US: The Phobia(s) That May Destroy America.

I haven't listened to PHC in over 10 years. I got tired of the reruns, and didn't understand why they couldn't play 20 year old shows in stead of recent reruns. Apparently since I stopped listening to PHC, ol' Garrison got a bit snarky.

Sam L. said...

He went to NYC, as I recall.

Texan99 said...

I used to be a member of a New York law firm. I got my fill of uncritical assumptions about the hinterlands. Bunch of provincials, they were, and less than gracious as hosts.

Good lawyers, though.