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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Narrow-Minded People

One of Sullivan's readers, a Texan, makes this revealing observation after moving from Houston to San Francisco:
Having spent about year here -- in my experience, San Francisco is a gorgeous, historic, exciting city. But it is not an open-minded one.

For all the yuppie/hippie tension, there's really only one mindset, and you wear it like a uniform. Lighting up a cigarette at a party is frowned up. Suggesting that hey, maybe the free market can do things better than the federal government is heresy. And the insularity is shocking: New Yorkers love their city because they think it's the greatest in the world; people in San Francisco seem to love their city because they think everywhere else sucks. . . .

Not that everyone in Houston agrees on everything -- God, no -- but paternalism and condescension were rarely part of the conversation the way it is here. Maybe it's a "Middle America" thing, or maybe for some reason living in a smoggy, flat city just teaches you cultural humility. Either way I'll enjoy spending my 20s here, but when it comes time to raise my kids, I'm definitely buying a house back in Houston.

What I Say:  Texans are proud of their independence; and generally speaking, they respect your right to go your own way.  Your Head Trucker has never been to California, and has no particular desire to go there.  But every once in a while one of those types drifts through here, and they are just as offensive as any fundamentalist.  Your Head Trucker hates being told what he "must" think or how he "must" act; and the only uniforms I like are the ones you play in.

Which just goes to show what human nature is like:  it's entirely possible to be just as much an asshole on the left as on the right.  And all assholes stink.

On a related note, Sullivan publishes numerous excerpts from readers' comments on Southern culture that are very enlightening.  Some of them are written by Yankees, and of course they fail to get it entirely right:  you fellas have been misunderstanding us ever since day one.  But some comments are right on the money, as this excerpt from a Southerner shows:
I was raised Southern Baptist (still practicing, or at least doing my best) in a county that had only one red light (still probably only has about 10 or so). One thing that most people who are not from the South, simply cannot fully appreciate about many parts of the South, is just how deeply religion permeates the culture. I don't mean this in a bad way, it's just that, for many people who live in very rural, small towns, the church, and their church family, is..simply put... a deeply significant part of who these people ARE.

There are no museums or opera houses, concert halls, or live theater in these small towns. Just one generation ago, there were no counselors; the local church provides ALL of these functions. The local church pastor IS the counselor many turn to. The Christmas play is the ONLY "theater" many of these people have ever seen, or care to. This past year's Easter pageant IS the concert outlet for them. Now this is not true everywhere in the South, you will find splendid museums in Nashville, and dozens of music and theater outlets in the megapolis of Atlanta, but small-town, rural areas that make up much of the South's countryside are definitely like this. This is why, criticizing or challenging one's religious beliefs in the South is tantamount to challenging their entire life and culture.
Of course, things are very different now; every home, even the poorest, has color television (I guess that shows my age, when I specify "color" - a thing my family never had till I was 21), and usually an Internet connection; and of course there are movies and cell phones and big-box stores and all the paraphernalia of modern life, even in remote towns like the one I live in. And of course, there are Interstates and automobiles: small-town people do get to the big city for shopping and even for "culture" now, much more often than their grandparents did.  Lots of people here in North Texas work in the Metroplex and commute a hundred miles or more every day back to their home towns.  So they aren't nearly as isolated as they used to be.

But as the writer says, a generation or two ago - down until the time of the Andy Griffith Show, whose Mayberry is really a tribute to a way of life that was vanishing even then - until the 1960's, white anglo-saxon protestant culture in the rural areas of the South, which is to say 90 percent of the region from the Potomac to the Rio Grande - was largely church-centered.  As I heard an Episcopal priest say once, "When you grow up in the South, you end up being half-Baptist whether you want to or not."  Pretty true.  And that attitude, that culture still lingers on down here in the backwaters of the modern world.  Trust me on this one, guys.

The Oral Roberts video I posted yesterday - that stern, uncomprehending, dominating attitude to everything that was not handed down from one's grandfathers - was the way life was when I was growing up.  You had to conform and be like everybody else, in large part; or get your ass out of Dixie, as bumper stickers in the 60's used to warn.

I used to be fiercely proud of my Southern heritage.  You boys from the frozen North don't really understand about having a separate, distinct subnational identity like we do.  It took me till I was past 50 to really and truly see it for what it is; and I'm over it now.  The South is a green and pleasant land, a place of charm and beauty and history:  but built upon centuries of hatred, ignorance, and intolerance that turns my stomach when I think about it.

But in a way, that leaves me as a man without a country, because I still can't identify with being a Yankee (which is different from being an American) - and if y'all heard my Southern drawl, you'd agree wholeheartedly, I tell you what - so who am I now?  Maybe I'll blog more about that sometime.

5 comments:

Ray's Cowboy said...

I love Texas. First time I went to Claf and had a beer and ligth a cigarette. I thought I muder someone. Did not care for it as much. Do not get me wrong Claf is a nice place to visit, but Texas is HOME. Russ I have to agree here.
Ray

Russ Manley said...

There's no place like home, is there Ray. And for all its faults, Texas feels like home to me - if only the population didn't hate us so much.

rptrcub said...

I feel the same way about Georgia. I am really tired of sanctimonious Yankees telling me that all of the South is bad. It's not. And I don't plan on leaving for good anytime soon. It's home.

Heretic Tom said...

As someone who lives in California (L.A.) but was born and raised in Iowa, I often get frustrated out here with how rude people can be. But there are rude people everywhere, just as there are bigots everywhere (even in SF).

What I think is most important is finding a place to live where one feels comfortable and at peace. And what's more important, in my mind, is living somewhere that I don't have to worry about being killed by my neighbors because I'm gay (but in the world we live in, who knows what your neighbors are capable of).

Russ Manley said...

Yeah, well that can happen anywhere, can't it? From Matthew Shephard out in small-town Wyoming to that guy who just got the hell beat out of him in Queens last month.

But it's no good living in fear - we just have to hold our heads up and live our lives, risk or no risk as it may be.

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