REAL 'MERICA

Posted in Rants on April 1st, 2013 by Ed

Using this type of data in a lot of my research, I'm a sucker for the periodic feature stories about extreme points of the Census; you know, America's richest / poorest / least populous / etc places. CNN had one recently about Franklin County, Mississippi. It's the place where, according to the Census, no one is gay. That's right. Statistically, it is 100% gay-free. It's some sort of Mormon/evangelical paradise!

Of course the premise of the story is not to be taken literally; there are gay people in Franklin County even if they do not report it on the Census. More accurately, Franklin County is the place where no one admits to being gay, even if the neighbors know.

Franklin County is, as the data and the author's description reveal, a shit hole. Let me put it this way. If your idea of heaven is the dead space between Natchez and Brookhaven, MS then you're in for a treat. Otherwise, I hope you like unbearable heat, poverty, and isolation!

franklin

And yes, that is the "Homochitto National Forest." Why? Because life is beautiful, that's why.

This is a good illustration of a dilemma I've been mulling over since adolescence. Why is it that we're always pining over "Real America" as a society when it's such a crappy place? These are rural communities where there is nothing to do, full of planted fields, white people, and humorless Christians. Their levels of poverty and ignorance give the most dilapidated urban areas a run for their money. Please remind me why we're supposed to want the rest of the country to be more like these places.

Seriously, does Franklin County sound like the kind of place you would live willingly in the deepest reaches of your nightmares? It has 8,000 people. It's in the middle of nowhere. The residents (all caveats about Southern hospitality and politeness to strangers aside) sound like the kind of people you would go far out of your way to avoid having to spend the rest of your life around.

Conservatives can't even pull the Liberal Elitism card here, because they don't want to live in these places either. That's why they're flocking to the suburbs over the last 30-plus years. This isn't about gay people being welcome or not welcome in rural Mississippi (hint: they're not) but rather why anyone wants to live in these places. Everyone who has the financial and professional means to leave these places does so. So why is it that every four years the media waxes eloquent about Real 'Merica and Hillary Clinton's "Hard Working Americans" (uneducated white people) and other symbols of the Norman Rockwell 1940s America that no longer exists, if indeed it ever did.

As Garrison Keillor wrote many years ago:

People who want to take a swing at San Francisco should think twice. Yes, the Irish coffee at Fisherman's Wharf is overpriced, and the bus tour of Haight-Ashbury is disappointing (Where are the hippies?), but the Bay Area is the cradle of the computer and software industry, which continues to create jobs for our children. The iPod was not developed by Baptists in Waco, Texas. There may be a reason for this. Creative people thrive in a climate of openness and tolerance, since some great ideas start out sounding ridiculous. Creativity is a key to economic progress. Authoritarianism is stifling. I don't believe that Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard were gay, but what's important is: In San Francisco, it doesn't matter so much. When the cultural Sturmbannfuhrers try to marshal everyone into straight lines, it has consequences for the economic future of this country.

Franklin County, MS sounds like a horrible place and I hope never to screw up badly enough at life to get marooned there. The lack of (Census-recorded) gay people there is not damning evidence in itself, but is a symptom of the larger problem with our cultural emphasis on the virtues of small, rural America. No thanks. Hell, I'll take supposed nightmare places like Detroit or Cleveland over the rural Land That Time Forgot. Whether you personally like living in one of these places is not relevant here; the point is that the country would do well to work at being less like these places, not more.