I see someone posted this Rebecca Solnit essay yesterday, and someone else — Pilot Joe, I believe — sneered at it. Hmm, I wonder why? It made a lot of sense to me:
The common denominator of so many of the strange and troubling cultural narratives coming our way is a set of assumptions about who matters, whose story it is, who deserves the pity and the treats and the presumptions of innocence, the kid gloves and the red carpet, and ultimately the kingdom, the power, and the glory. You already know who. It’s white people in general and white men in particular, and especially white Protestant men, some of whom are apparently dismayed to find out that there is going to be, as your mom might have put it, sharing. The history of this country has been written as their story, and the news sometimes still tells it this way—one of the battles of our time is about who the story is about, who matters and who decides.
It is this population we are constantly asked to pay more attention to and forgive even when they hate us or seek to harm us. It is toward them we are all supposed to direct our empathy. The exhortations are everywhere. PBS News Hour featured a quiz by Charles Murray in March that asked “Do You Live in a Bubble?” The questions assumed that if you didn’t know people who drank cheap beer and drove pick-up trucks and worked in factories you lived in an elitist bubble. Among the questions: “Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American community with a population under 50,000 that is not part of a metropolitan area and is not where you went to college? Have you ever walked on a factory floor? Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian?”
The quiz is essentially about whether you are in touch with working-class small-town white Christian America, as though everyone who’s not Joe the Plumber is Maurice the Elitist. We should know them, the logic goes; they do not need to know us. Less than 20 percent of Americans are white evangelicals, only slightly more than are Latino. Most Americans are urban. The quiz delivers, yet again, the message that the 80 percent of us who live in urban areas are not America, treats non-Protestant (including the quarter of this country that is Catholic) and non-white people as not America, treats many kinds of underpaid working people (salespeople, service workers, farmworkers) who are not male industrial workers as not America. More Americans work in museums than work in coal, but coalminers are treated as sacred beings owed huge subsidies and the sacrifice of the climate, and museum workers—well, no one is talking about their jobs as a totem of our national identity.
I’m perfectly willing to step into the shoes of Real America and see the world the way they do; I lived in Indiana for 20-damn years, and think that qualifies as pretty much the capital of Real America. But when was the last time any of these country mice were exhorted to do the same, to suck it up and get an Airbnb in the big city for a week, and take a look around? As Solnit rightly points out, most people in the U.S. live in its urban areas, because that’s where the jobs are. So why is it on us to understand them, but not vice versa? I ask you.
Alan and I drove over to Ann Arbor Tuesday afternoon, to see an installation Kate did for a final project in some interactive media class. It was interesting — a two-person curtained hut with a fabric panel down the middle, separating the occupants. Each person puts one hand on a set of sensors, and one person’s circuit controls music, the other’s lights. When they join their free hands through a hole in the dividing panel, the lights change colors, and if they touch one another in a different place, like an arm or head or whatever and don’t get any filthy ideas, even though the artist’s own mother referred to the opening in the panel as a “glory hole — when they touch in a different way, the lights change colors. It was an interesting exhibit, and in walking around the music building before and after, I spotted a couple of cultural markers that reliably drive at least some of my conservative acquaintances right up the wall. Like the restroom marked “non-gendered,” and even stuff like this:
(Yes, I’ve known conservatives who simply refused to recycle. Because freedom, dammit.)
It was such a…normal interlude. I didn’t see any pervs waiting around the non-gendered toilets to molest little girls, and if you wanted to pee with your own kind, the traditional M/F pair were right down the hall. Why is this stuff so threatening? Any of us can walk into a red-state truck stop, make our way past the MAGA merch to the lunch counter and eat eggs in peace. But I have a friend with a standard-issue Fox News-watching mother. Daughter told mother she and her husband were taking a long weekend in Chicago soon, and mother reacted as though she’d declared they were going to Syria for a little R’n’R.
“Are you sure that’s safe?” mom fretted, having fully swallowed the Fox picture of Chicago as a bullet-strewn battleground from the lake to the suburbs.
On the way home, we stopped at a Culver’s — a regional fast-food chain — for a bathroom break, and I decided to allow myself one of the few milkshakes I consume in a year. There was a video loop playing on a TV behind the counter, with the founder of the chain saying his restaurants wouldn’t be what they were without “family farmers.” Oh, really? How many “family” farms are left in this country, anyway? Five’ll get you 10 that business buys its dairy products from the lowest bidder, which in this part of the country is currently? Anyone?
The mega-retailer opened a 250,000-square-foot dairy operation in Fort Wayne, and it is steadily doing to the family dairy industry what Godzilla does to Tokyo. Of course, milk is dirt-cheap in the Midwest these days, for this very reason.
Real America ™ is circling the drain in many important ways, but they don’t get that the people stripping the wealth from its people are not, by and large, city slickers who don’t turn a hair at a non-gendered bathroom, but their “friends” from Bentonville and other red-state redoubts.
Of course, Hillary was on the Walmart board for a while, so it’s probably all her fault.
Anyway, that’s a good essay. You should read it.
Not much bloggage today, but this: The Toronto van killer is a real piece of work, and of course, part of the men’s rights movement, although admittedly, on its fringes. If he hates women so much, he’s going to the right place to process those feelings.
It’s almost Wednesday. Where do these days go? See you back here in 48 hours or so.