Maybe you have already been told this countless times, but I have to say it anyway. I am so thankful to know that my husband and I are not the only people to have returned to their hometown as a sort of stranger. I just finished reading Deer Hunting with Jesus and could not help but read out loud most of the book to my husband each time a parallel to our lives popped up.
We have recently moved back to east Texas after 13 years way, eight of which were spent in the blue liberal heaven of Seattle. We told ourselves countless times that we would never go back, never, not ever. And here we are, back with our Billy Graham-loving, two-pack-a-day-smoking, always broke families that, for some reason, we love even though we have no clue why they make the decisions that they do. We came back for many reasons, one of which was to be closer to our family, and we are, for the most part, content with our decision (though we miss bookstores on every corner instead of churches) to return home.
It has not been easy, though, to say the least. We are the only educated members of our family and we (especially me) have had to learn to keep our mouths shut, to not hand out advice that would never be followed. I am learning how to feign approval at poor decision-making skills instead of trying to be the voice of reason as I watch my 24-year-old brother, who dropped out in ninth grade and makes $11 an hour at a truck part store, shell out most of his $5,000 tax refund on a leather sofa that won't fit in the apartment he shares with his 21-year-old girlfriend and their infant daughter while he borrows food stamp money from my sister. I am learning to stand back and watch and hope for the best, though I know better. But, I have to say that my tongue is sore from all of the biting that I have had to do.
What struck me most about your book was the idea of liberal elitism, that liberals have a tendency to discount the message from poor rednecks, such as the case with Dottie as she referred to her doctor as a "towel head". I think that you are completely right, and until I read those words, I don't think that I had ever thought of it like that before. My own family has experienced poor medical treatment by a wide variety of bad doctors, all because of their social and economic status. Most of them have worked their whole lives, never making enough to stay above water, much less save two pennies to rub together.
When talking about this and other issues prevalent in the South with friends in Seattle, all of which are well-meaning good-hearted people who have never been without anything in their lives, the majority of them asked the same question, Why don't they leave? They asked the same question about the Katrina victims. None of them had ever visited the South, had never seen families living in tar paper shacks, had never gone hungry until pay day, had never had friends that were beat day after day by their alcoholic daddies. They were entirely ignorant of this alternate American reality. The South to them was "Gone with the Wind" and "Steel Magnolias." Why these people would not call their local representatives and explain their dilemmas, or call a rich uncle to rescue them away to some utopian save haven, was a mystery to my friends.
And this, I imagine, is part of the South's problem. We are the ugly step-children hidden away when company comes, that no one wants to talk about because talking about it will only make it real. As a liberal in the South, I am lost as to how to make it better for "my people," as you refer to them in your book. I am trying to learn though, and I will keep hoping for the best.
The media, particularly television is literally the software, the operating instructions of American society, including American liberals. Maybe especially liberals, given their love of "popular culture," a media bullshit term if ever there was one.
But as aggravated as I get with "easy liberalism," and its misinformed, stereotyped view of our people, in some ways it's not entirely their fault, I don't blame them for not having the language to inquire about a world they've never lived in. A world that happens to be the majority experience for Americans — the true working class experience in the heartland. You'll find it from Springfield Oregon, to Rome, New York, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Plummer, Idaho, Kansas and, well, everywhere outside the metro areas.
As to the Southern version, few cultures in America are as complex the Southern one, particularly regarding its relationship with the rest of the nation. We have been America's "sin eaters" — as in the old primitive fundamentalist churches where people once handled snakes and had sin eaters. It is as if all of greater America's unacknowledged sins, it's darkest ideations, about blacks, about sex, about the rube folly of America's provincialism, and especially the darkness of ignorance, wash down the Mississippi River and spread out into a swamp of the national unconsciousness called the American South. However elegantly rendered, such as by Faulkner, or insulting and cartoonish, such as the "Beverly Hillbillies," or the ridiculously over simplified self-congratulation of urban audiences served by the pathetic drivel of so many of those "civil rights era" dramas — on the yokel or gothic projections of our people — America has feasts, grown bulimic on the gumbo of its own worst inner fears. Including we Southerners, now that we are all subjected to the same national media generated hallucinations of the theater state.
In any case, all types of ignorance rot the soul from within. Even that of soft urbane liberals whose notion of some of their fellow humans, fellow citizens is defined by "My Name Is Earl."
I was going to close with: "It's their loss of humanness, not ours." But when I think about it, any individual's loss of sensitivity to humanity is one more barrier universal brotherhood, thus a loss to all of us.
In art and labor,