Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Real America: Go On, Move Here Then

main street finalLast week an Awl contributor opined that a boycott was not the answer for Arizona's recent immigration law. The essay posited that the best thing for Arizona's backwardness was for you, the enlightened, liberal person, to visit there, spend your money to boost the economy and engender in its people "new ways of thinking." It added, in conclusion, "if you really want to change Arizona, move there." I will preface my criticism of this idea by saying that, in the larger picture, we're on the same team. But I wholeheartedly disagree with the logic, or lack thereof, behind some of this argument. And I find the tone of so much of this kind of creative-class liberal hand-wringing condescending and dismissive of the great many activities and cultures these communities have. I say this as somebody who did "move there."

For starters, the idea that occasionally interacting with bigots will change their minds is wildly naive. The sociopolitical divisiveness that exists in these hotbeds of reactionary thought can reason its way around anything. When Wisconsin Public Radio's Ben Meren's "At Issue" program covered the recent Gulf oil disaster, one caller posited that it was very possible that environmental activists on the left had dismantled the blow out valve on the well in order to cause an disaster that would force politicians to vote against more off-shore drilling. (That call was days before Limbaugh himself echoed the theory.) Just what kind of mental space does a man need to be in where that is his first explanation? Can you reason with that?

Or how about the numbskull whose Chevrolet Silverado I was behind this week? The one with the sticker reading "My truck was made with wrenches, not chopsticks"? Sanctimony tourism really does more to make liberals feel altruistic than repair entrenched prejudice. So, by all means, visit if you like, spend some money, but don't pretend you're changing anything and making the world a better place in any way.

More reasonable is the idea of foregoing a boycott to assure Arizona's poor don't get poorer. But the truly destitute cannot really get much poorer. Continuing to spend money in the places that already pay them less than a living wage only reinforces the appropriateness of this business behavior while at the same time demonstrating a complete lack of moral support for their quality of life struggles.

The second part of the no-boycott reasoning is that simple economic development goes hand in hand with progressive thinking. There are plenty of states with reactionary, backward policies that boast very robust economies-Texas and North Dakota, just for starters. The latter of those two economically-healthy states openly refuses to recognize the Constitutional rights of a whole group of American citizens, let along immigrants. Where's the left's concerned essays about engagement there? Social progressiveness in communities is tied to "creative class" economic development, which does not include Arizona's resorts, or North Dakota's oil wells. A boycott of Arizona does more than punish just Arizona; it sends a message to all the other states that are right now considering very similar laws, and there are several.

(A side note to all those on either side of this boycott issue: yes, part of the state's recent draconian law has its roots in flat-out racism, but it also has gained much support from reasonable Arizonians who, after seeing a spill-over of drug crimes and no action on the federal level, find this a necessary evil to force the fed's hand. The reasons for that violence are numerous. But if you, in your liberal, coastal community enjoy smoking a little illegal weed, know that you are an actor in the dire circumstances that have brought those less enlightened to the legislative action you now condemn.)

Finally, there is the real-change action of moving there, be it Arizona or some other small-minded bit of America where all policy blossoms from fear. Do this and you will almost certainly fail in your lifetime; but that does not mean you shouldn't.

Any such discussion should begin with Main Street. Not the CNN news ticker "Main Street" of recent battles where "Main Atreet" was a placeholder opposite for "Wall Street," but the Sinclair Lewis novel of the 1920s. In Lewis' tale, an educated, liberal couple moves from the big city to settle in small town Minnesota. The wife, Carol Milford, makes it her crusade to improve the social character and progressive attitude of the town:

"She reverted to her resolution to change the town–awaken it, prod it, "reform" it. What if they were wolves instead of lambs? They'd eat her all the sooner if she was meek to them. Fight or be eaten. It was easier to change the town completely than to conciliate it! She could not take their point of view; it was a negative thing; an intellectual squalor; a swamp of prejudices and fears. She would have to make them take hers. She was not a Vincent de Paul, to govern and mold a people. What of that? The tiniest change in their distrust of beauty would be the beginning of the end; a seed to sprout and some day with thickening roots to crack their wall of mediocrity. If she could not, as she desired, do a great thing nobly and with laughter, yet she need not be content with village nothingness. She would plant one seed in the blank wall.

One seed. Which seed it was did not matter. All knowledge and freedom were one. But she had delayed so long in finding that seed. Could she do something with this Thanatopsis Club? Or should she make her house so charming that it would be an influence?"

It's a disaster. And as she runs into and stumbles over one absurd petty local character after another, her will is finally broken. The conclusion of the book exemplifies why Lewis won a Pulitzer for the work (even though it was later rescinded):

"She looked across the silent fields to the west. She was conscious of an unbroken sweep of land to the Rockies, to Alaska, a dominion which will rise to unexampled greatness when other empires have grown senile. Before that time, she knew, a hundred generations of Carols will aspire and go down in tragedy devoid of palls and solemn chanting, the humdrum inevitable tragedy of struggle against inertia.

'Let's all go to the movies tomorrow night. Awfully exciting film,' said Ethel Clark.

'Well, I was going to read a new book but — All right, let's go,' said Carol."

The backward town of Gopher Prairie, despite Carol's best efforts, is a lost cause. But they're all lost causes for the crusading city idealist who decides to "move there." Lewis knew this 100 years ago.

Lewis was exploding the myth of the idyllic tranquility of wholesome small-town America. Today, thanks in part to Lewis, that stereotype no longer exists. Today, for much of the country, small town America is a whole different stereotype, the punch-line that often ends with the words "meth," "Wal-Mart," or some variation of "married his cousin." To the average modern American sophisticate, small-town America is, at its intellectual worst, a racist beer-swilling brute, and at its intellectual best, Sarah Palin.

brain drain 1

If you do move to one of these places to engender change, you should probably not expect a lot of fun. First, what exactly are you going to do? The kinds of jobs that many coastal progressives excel at are not available. In the places we're talking about, the ones that really need progressive thought, being "creative" is not rewarded monetarily.

Do your interests revolve around poetry? Soccer? Many kinds of food? Are you a vegetarian? A single professional parent? Jewish? Gay? Your life is about to drastically change, especially if you're the last one. This is not to say people with a wide variety of interests, intellectual and otherwise, don't exist in small or conservative communities; it's that they are few. You will be a pronounced minority. But just a minority, not alone.

There are many liberal progressives living amongst all these "bigots." One of them is Jonathan Liu, writer for Wired.com's Geek Dad blog, and self-professed "idealist coastal elite" who is in western Kansas, in part, to "enact change." He says that the idea that large swaths of America are devoid of progressive influence is bunk.

"One of the biggest reasons we chose [here] was that we were surprised with how progressive it was already. I mean, certainly it's a very conservative community and it's quite different from a place like Portland…," he said. "So my assumptions about rural living were proven wrong, at least here, and I was pleasantly surprised. My advantage was that the people here were primed for change."

Liu has had some success engendering change, but he says realistic expectations are key. "I have lofty ideals: for instance, wouldn't it be nice if everyone drove less, or at least didn't leave their cars running while they shopped for groceries? But I can't let myself be discouraged when that doesn't happen right away, and I celebrate the small successes. We had a 'Don't Drive Day' but we had to accept that folks who lived outside of town were going to drive to work. [Yet] it was a pleasant surprise to see that a lot of folks were out walking downtown."

Finally, he cautions about the approach a liberal idealist should take: "You'll get a lot farther if people know that you're acting out of a real love for the community, rather than a more paternalistic 'I know what's best for you.'"

One more consideration before you move: are you ready to see your gains go up in smoke in a short period of time? Should you find a job and settle down to the business of changing minds for the better, it may not be long-lived. Your child will almost certainly have to attend the local public school where his or her academic achievement, socially enlightened views and aims at a greater life elsewhere, a result of your influence, will probably result in him or her being at least moderately ostracized. This will likely drive him or her to go off to college elsewhere and never return. All the child's engendering of change will happen on vacations, which means it won't happen. And this is the most crippling element of a plan to "move there." Such change can only happen over a couple generations' worth of influence and that won't happen because of brain drain.

The brain drain subject, especially in light of last week's plea, is especially important. Maybe you are from one of these places.

Patrick Carr, Rutgers University associate professor and author of the spectacular book about America's brain drain, "Hollowing out the Middle," told me: "There is plenty of blame to go around and I believe that many Achievers, as we call them, feel ambivalent at best and remorseful at worst about leaving."

The community that you may find (at least in part) repugnant spent a considerable amount of its resources, maybe even a disproportionate amount, making sure you could achieve. Then you left. So, let's be honest; when you talk about going back to some Godforsaken place to save it from its intellectually regressive nincompoops, you're talking about fixing what you're partly responsible for to begin with. Those who leave are part of a phenomenon that has done a great deal to create the wild incongruity of modern America, where the reactionaries and the progressives huddle in their respective zones and fling invective back and forth.

A final piece of personal advice: If you do plan to "move there," it's a good idea not to write an essay in which you call most of those you aim to "help" ignorant, poor, racist, or any other things one might expect a person to not like being called. Boycott, or come on in and spend your money and "engender change," whichever you prefer. One thing these communities certainly don't need more of? The paternalistic expressions Liu mentioned, the kind that wonder aloud "Oh, what's to be done about them?" as if our communities are handicapped children. If only because it makes it harder for those of us actually here generally failing, but still trying hard, to engender change.

Abe Sauer lives in your flyover country.

114 Comments / Post A Comment

Telegram Sam (#3,847)

So, you're saying we totally need to legalize it?

Telegram Sam (#3,847)

Apologies for being so flip. This was extremely well written, presented multiple viewpoints and was insightful. Really.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Actually, yes, I would argue that.

I wonder if it would work. There are pockets here in Missouri that would definitely be in favor and other pockets that would be vehemently against. But it would genuinely be such a huge lift to the area's self esteem.

There are areas in MO where even the county government is considered government intrusion.

Yes… it is a grand part of the state's tradition.

toadvine (#1,698)

Anything that takes some of the blood off the weed is a good idea. Not to mention, a welcome boon to organic farming!

roboloki (#1,724)

think global. smoke local.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Legalization would be a boom for local farmers who are struggling now, and in many cases killing themselves http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2010/04/23/120920/Subsidy-delays-39driving-farmers-to-suicide39.htm

laurel (#4,035)

Which is better on a tshirt: "grow your own" or "smoke local"?

NinetyNine (#98)

So this is a post lecturing me on why I should move somewhere and why? Does small town America not understand irony? TEACH ME, MR. SALT-OF-THE-EARTH!

Abe Sauer (#148)

Oh, it gets irony. Sarcasm, not so much.

saythatscool (#101)

@99: You're a small man.

BoHan (#29)

Pretty much true of Texas as well, especially for the gays. You engender real change really just by being there, making no secret of your lifestyle, but really just leaving it at that. Once they figure out you're a nice person and that they really do know a gay person, you've won 90% of the battle. That's pretty much how Houston got a gay mayor, by having a community of gays that didn't scare the crap out of the small-minded. Anyway, it's only a small victory, and life would be a helluva better on the Coasts, but sometimes you just take the small wins and move on.

logovisual (#3,256)

See, that line "life would be better on the coasts" just clinches it for me. As a gay man who is NOT welcome in most of America, why the hell should I feel guilty for writing the rest of America off? This is a serious question. I grew up in suburban Florida, and I loved it there and would love to raise my family there, but (a.) the state legally constrains me from adopting and (b.) I'll be DAMNED if I'll raise children in an environment of casual bigotry. So I made my choice — to live in urban America, where my life is frankly a lot easier — and I don't really think I owe much of anything to communities that don't want me. I don't feel guilty at all for whatever condition those places are in, because I didn't put them there. It's not "brain drain" if you're actively driven out — it's just a toxic community.

As far as moving back there to change their minds goes — I'm sorry, but America's been given MORE than enough evidence that homosexuality is not going to drag the country kicking and screaming into hell. It is simply not my fault that so many people can't do that math and make the realization for themselves.

I'd be perfectly willing to let any community be whatever it wants — I don't care if you go to church every day, I don't care if your favorite pastimes involve deadly weapons, and I don't care if I think your food is gross. It's when those people don't do me the same courtesy of "live and let live" that I get angry.

Mar (#2,357)

More essays about Sinclair Lewis, please.

johnpseudonym (#1,452)

Excellent use of Sinclair Lewis, bravo. Babbit could have been used to illustrate how those who move there end up regressing to the mean.

toadvine (#1,698)

People can make trucks with chopsticks? Is the entire truck made of chopsticks? It seems like it would be lighter than one made completely of wrenches, right?

But seriously. Many people in big cities are bigots too. The percentages probably aren't even all that different. That's kind of depressing, I know, but if you live in a place where all kinds of people can AFFORD to live, then you will live, inevitably, around the kind of people without the education and life experience necessary to transcend the bigotry with which they were raised. BoHan is right that exposure is the best cure — it just takes awhile.

Zack (#2,609)

Good stuff. You spent some time on that, huh? It comes through. The paternalism-driven social change is a great point. It holds true for any time of change, from inner city community building to international development; if it's about "I know what's good for you and that's 'x'" people are going to be less likely to accept it. It sorta runs contrary to the principals of the liberty one is endorsing.

I reject the notion that these places struggled to raise enlightened children. Any enlightenment was most likely the child's struggle against what they were being taught.

There are many fine people everywhere. The rest of them? Let them wallow in their own filth. Who cares what/how they think, or think about? I'm even inclined to say that if an adult has come to certain opinions, let him or her keep them. I wouldn't want some evangelist trying to convince me that I should abandon my beliefs for his, not matter how sincerely he believed I would be better off for all his help. Why would I think anyone would welcome my evangelizing?

Abe Sauer (#148)

Oh, in many cases I totally agree. In fact, I would say anyone over 40 is probably a lost cause so don;t bother. But, as Toadvine and Bohan noted above, one doesn't need to evangelize, just "be." In fact, part of the point is an intention to evangelize dooms almost any effort.

Here, I think I'll disagree. The key difference is between paternalism and evangelism. Paternalism is, sure, doomed. But evangelism is the common currency of flyover country (veteran Northwest Territories branch). Everyone had some issue, some cause they wanted you to join. If you weren't evangelical about your cause, you were bound to be disappointed.

We saved some electric trollies that way (evanescent coalition, etc.). The trout fishermen had finally had it with the Army Corps and got some dams busted. We managed to keep an arthouse cinema up and going. The food pantries always ran through the churches, even if the patrons didn't. But no one did it to go to heaven. They did the work because, well "C'mon, it'll be fun;" "join us at the social." "You know, I could use a hand." The key to all of these was infectious enthusiasm and discourse. I'm sure my parents were over 40 before they had close gay friends.

Sure, the baseline for all social organization was Jesus-evangelism, but there was also a robust union culture. Put together, and it looked like something better might be coming.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I concur. In cases of specific causes where you have a goal (such as Jonathan's 'no drive day') evangelism is an excellent approach, as long as its respectful (being funny helps). But in cases of individual politics, it find it a waste.

Kevin (#2,559)

Yes, I started plotting my exit at around age 10. That may have something to do with my gayness coupled with a severe allergy to country music and line dancing. The tight jeans were nice though.

joeclark (#651)

Krugan, "Northwest Territories" of what? I don't associate American Jews of your ilk with, say, the urban politics of Yellowknife.

joeclark (#651)


roboloki (#1,724)

nice. thanks abe.

Cord_Jefferson (#2,111)

I'll be brief, as it's pretty obvious how I feel (http://www.theawl.com/2010/04/im-going-back-to-arizona-and-you-should-probably-come-too). Though I will say that, for all this talk of "paternalistic expression," I'm seeing an awful lot of sentences like "Can you reason with that [stupid and far gone of a person]?" and "…it's a good idea not to write an essay in which you call most of those you aim to 'help' ignorant, poor, racist…"

Don't like being called "handicapped children" (which I don't think I did, but…)? Fine, then no whining when someone accurately says, "Hey, you're a goddamn ignorant racist."

All my friends in Brooklyn are poor. Not some, not most, but all. And they don't mind being called that.

Abe Sauer (#148)

The fact that you see any similarity between the "poorness" of your Brooklyn friends and the working poor of Arizona attests to just how unfortunately off you are on this subject.

Mar (#2,357)

Good point (although Abe had quite a few good points as well.) Maybe we just need to start treating small-town neocon evangelicals with the same consideration we'd extend to any other foreign culture? After all, we don't interfere with the Sambia tribe's ritual gang-rape "manhood" rites (http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/fiske/135b/sambia.htm), so why worry about forcing people to start eating organically; understanding basic science, history, and economic principles; and rejecting their sky god?

Abe Sauer (#148)

Also, I don't think it's paternalistic to say it is near impossible to change some people's minds, so don't bother.

paco (#2,190)

I don't understand anything Cord just wrote in comment #2111 above. I would argue that's because the comment makes no sense.

Abe Sauer (#148)

@Paco: I understood your overly-passionate contrarianism last week; but now you're just hating without basis.

paco (#2,190)

Abe: You're right. I take it back. I'm just not a fan of Kris Kobach's fans. Going to let it go now.

dham (#4,652)

This is an excellent and needed response to the other article, but now I feel guilty about draining my brains from the Midwest. On the other hand, they probably have no shortage of administrative assistants in Indiana.

wb (#2,214)

This left me feeling the same way, but about Iowa rather than Indiana.

Bittersweet (#765)

I can't feel bad about contributing to the Northern Virginia brain drain, since most likely 5 Indianans and Iowans took my place as soon as I left…

kneetoe (#1,881)

I think east Tennessee is getting along fine without me. (DAMN, does that mean I don't have brains?)

whateverlolawants (#19,108)

@dham I'm still here in Indiana, and while it would be nice to have you folks back, I don't blame you for leaving. I think of it myself often. At least I'm in a city…

HiredGoons (#603)

You know what else was made with wrenches?

The Railroad.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Ha ha. I don't think Mr. Silverado would appreciate that.

toadvine (#1,698)

Also, woks. Or at least the handles.

saythatscool (#101)

And that's why I shoot chinamen for them.

HiredGoons (#603)

"Do your interests revolve around poetry? Soccer? Many kinds of food? Are you a vegetarian? A single professional parent? Jewish? Gay? Your life is about to drastically change, especially if you're the last one"

See that's the thing; I have little to no interest in changing these places. What irks me is the touting 'America is teh BEST' that more-oft comes from places where being any of these things is a liability.

Having cake / eating it too, etc.

riggssm (#760)

America wasn't invented in the heartland, it was invented in Boston and Philadelphia. – Bill Maher

wb (#2,214)

Is there really this mini-movement to foment change in middle America? That really does underline the massively over-generalized opinion the coasts have of the rest of the country because, really, not everyone living in a non-seaboard state is a right wing, racist, biggoted idiot. Sure, there are PLENTY of examples to support that theory, but consider my home state, Iowa, which, you know ALLOWS GAYS TO MARRY, unlike certain coastal states (like California, where I live now). Sure, we have Rep. Steve King and Senator Chuck Grassley to help maintain the cliched status quo, but their xenophobia is pretty well balanced out by Senator Harkin, if we're looking from an elected-offical perspective.

Wisconsin is a similarly progressive state, even more so than Iowa, I would say, in many ways which a East or West coast-centric liberal wouldn't begin to realize. So yeah, also take into consideration that many of those people who people like Liu are hoping to somehow enlighten don't really need it.

And its not like their aren't racist, bigots and right wing idiots in California. Or in New York, Oregon, Washington, wherever.

HiredGoons (#603)


wb (#2,214)

Oh, and: meth, married her cousin, Wal-Mart.

HiredGoons (#603)

Nuance? I daresay you're un-American!

wb (#2,214)

I was just trying to help with SEO, really.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Actually, yes there is, but it is weakly communicated and very much intertwined with other movements that use rural-ish spaces (like the local food movement).

You;re right. It is not a "state" issue as much as a community issue. The Arizona law happened despite Phoenix hardly being some backwater of reactionaries. And, as many noted in the original, Tuscon is hardly a dinky nowhere hicksville. Wisconsin, which is a great example, has pockets in Milwaukee and Madison that are majority progressive and democratic. But the rest of the state is very big and made up of smaller communities that are largely conservative. The balance is almost PERFECT which is why nobody ever really knows how WI will go in almost any election until the last minute. (If anyone wants to watch a great tea-party-interests race this election season, go for Sean "Real World" Duffy on the right running against David Obey up north.) So I think "coastal" (which now that I think of it was an unwise descriptor on my part) is not totally relevant as much as "creative professional economy" communities.

And yes, I was going to ask why liberals are suddenly getting all call-into-NPRy over the Arizona thing when a liberal state like Cali passed a REFERENDUM vote on Prop 8…. but…you know… where do you stop?

As for them " not really needing it." True but they do in one sense for sure. In some places., one of the FIRST influences you will have as a resident is as a voter. But not for the sexy, prime-time types that the media give too much attention to. They don;t matter anyway on a day to day level. What you will be able to vote for and influence is local sheriff elections and school boards. The school board election where I am just had a tie 150/150 votes (in a 1,3400 person community!). One vote would have decided that. Sheriffs, as Arizona is discovering, are wildly important when it comes to legislative decisions (for enforcement). And then there are judges. Holy shit are local judicial elections important. Too bad few care.

ANYWAY, If anyone — especially those who 'brain drained' their communities – want to read two great complimentary books about this, pick up "Hollowing out the Middle" and "The Rise of the Creative Class."
(typos for sure, but…)

wb (#2,214)

Are you a Wisconsin native, Abe?

I do feel somewhat bad about brain draining my state, although I did try to run a "creative class" business while living there, and was never as politically active as my idealist self thinks I should be. But you know? I actually do believe in some of those so-called Midwestern "values" and whatnot–and thoroughly identify as a Midwesterner–now that I live in CA. But not in a "marriage is between a man and woman sense." That's more of a California value now. So from an optimist stand point, maybe if we could stop preaching at everyone, we could all learn from each other?

"Hollowing out the Middle" looks very interesting. Thanks for the rec.

propertius (#361)

The Proposition 8 was all down to outside, Mormon infiltrators, you know.

propertius (#361)

"8 business", i.e.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I am. Dairy farm.

There's nothing wrong, in my opinion, with "brain draining" where you're from. Who should say that just because you were born in a place, you're responsible for it? This is especially true if you're gay or will somehow be forced to be miserable for most of your life by staying. But you're right about the knee-jerk preaching aspect. When you leave the place that raised you, and went off and become enlightened etc., I think it's pretty shitty to, from afar, run it down and call it out for its lack of sophistication.

Abe Sauer (#148)

@propertius: You're saying non-California residents voted for prop 8 and that's what passed it?

propertius (#361)

No, it has been popular around SF to blame Mormon funding and activism. Kind of a joke in my opinion.

wb (#2,214)

Mormon funding definitely played a role and helped form and deliver the oppositions argument that gay marriage is an affront on heterosexual couples and a threat to children. They were able to make a LOT more ad buys thanks to the folks in Utah pumping in cash.

HiredGoons (#603)

I am gay but grew in a place fairly tolerant of gays, but still left because being gay in ANY smallish community still kind of sucks (not like that).


Basically I'm of the opinion that broad generalizations of any kind suck and ultimately do a disservice to those who apply them and those they are applied to.

HiredGoons (#603)

@HiredGoons: Except women, am I right guys?

*(ducks flying lemon square)

But we did vote for chickens to have bigger cages. So not all was lost.

HiredGoons (#603)


I coin the term Mad Chicken Disease here. and. now.

NinetyNine (#98)

Normally I wouldn't think this is relevant, but where exactly are you bringing the funk? Madison? Does that really count as a get for the Librul Re-education Program? Normally I don't cotton to the notion of essentialism when arguing about issues of identity or place (that leads to rampant NIMBYism of all stripes), but you have a chip on your shoulder the size of the Dells about how every single person on the Awl save you knows anything about life west of the Hudson. So it's a little important to me. Not that that matters much, but if you are going to be the voice of progressive realism around here, knowing you are doing it from Lake Wobegon takes some of the sharp edge off.

Goons they won't be mad for long. Arnie is going to let them smoke at the beach.

wb (#2,214)

10 points for Wisconsin Dells reference!

Abe Sauer (#148)

@99: Am I the voice of progressive idealism "around here?" Christ, I hope not. There is a tremendous supply of authors here who seem to ONLY write about progressive idealism. Me? I've just written, for months and months and months now (without the sarcasm I know you love) about issues that impact people in places that generally don;t get large-scale media attention. So, because my sincere work has not been link bait for Manhattan-based media-fame hopefuls, I have to endure your particular unhappiness? Well, go fuck yourself.

Do I have a chip on my shoulder? I do. But it's not about what any Awl readers think about life "west of the hudson." The Awl readers living "west of the hudson" are plentiful and they comment often. No, it's about YOU and your gang of cronies and boobs whose artificial from-far-away compassion for the vast majority makes me ill. As I have made clear, go fuck yourself.

Finally: I don;t think I need to identify the community I am in to somebody who chooses, so bravely, to comment anonymously. It's not Madison or Milwaukee, or any city in Wisconsin with a population over 20K, asshole.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

The Awl readers living "west of the hudson" are plentiful and they comment often.

Hi there!

laurel (#4,035)

I moved to flyover country from the West coast because I thought I might learn something from middle America. Results have been mixed. I've re-affirmed a lot of the assumptions I had when I lived in San Francisco (people who seem stupid generally are; not getting out much doesn't make you thoughtful, if something doesn't appeal to you, there may be a legitimate reason, etc.) but I'm so much less bored. When Cat Power plays in my town, I *fucking* go to that show and enjoy the hell out of it.

NinetyNine (#98)

Careful dude, your slip is showing. You're still in Daum territory, so dial back the sanctimony please.

NinetyNine (#98)

Also, I said progressive realism. But let's not split hairs, something clearly evinced by your lumping of disparate groups of people into a totemic and fearful Other. Oh, wait, that's what 'we' do, right?

But it must be Real. You said 'go fuck yourself.' Maybe you should say I'm ugly too! That's right from the self aggrandizing comment playbook.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Daum? Not sure what that means. That link? Since you can embed a link you should be able to do a page source and see that was updated, most recently, loooooong ago. You, as well as anyone, should know that things online aren't always relevant to current employment realities:

And Nic, you're only ugly on the inside.

NinetyNine (#98)

Meghan Daum, who moved to Nebraska in 1999 — way before it was, you know, cool — squeezed her book out of it, and decamped back from the coast. Allowing that you didn't need to me in MPLS to work in advertising means you might have been planting alfalfa and all the while, but if your lecturing to me about coastal superiority and the rest of the country because you've been there, what, a year and a half?

So it's my fault you don't update your website? Or was that jobs you hoped to have 18 months ago?

I don't understand your Brand Channel link. Was it because you wanted people to know my name? This would have been more useful.


Abe Sauer (#148)

Is it NOW cool to move to Nebraska?!

And just because there is a Minneapolis HQ doesn't mean anything; look at Jonathan Liu, above, who writes for Wired, a pub not based in Kansas the last time I checked. Anyway, what's the timeline you judge worthy of respect? A decade? Two? Three? You have no idea what you're talking about. Again, go fuck yourself.

And no, it's not your fault I don't rush to update my crummy website. But it is your fault that you're a spectre of sarcastic negativity in everything you comment upon.

NinetyNine (#98)

Just tryin' to position the mirror correctly.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I think you should just use the one you're used to jerking yourself in front of.

NinetyNine (#98)

What exactly do you fancy yourself as? A muckracker? Mencken-esque? How do you write 1000+ words doing something that is exactly the same thing you accuse others as doing that claim is so reprehensible and pat yourself on the back as being, what? Benign? Avuncular?

The thing that is very earnestly, very honestly interesting to me is that you are so often little more than blindly reactionary and hateful in response to others' posts (Katie, Foster, the Matt Cherette post — or, I dunno, Cord Jefferson?), but if anyone responds to your writing in a similar fashion, all of sudden you're, what, Leo Buscaglia in a Carhartt coveralls?

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Yes, this. Yes we do.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

sorry: @pete.

bb (#295)

oh god abe, don't stoop to his level. I mean, you're not that high up anyway but this dude seems to be the bottom of the ladder (from a total outsidery perspective).

biggyshorty (#4,492)

in other words, to hell with good intentions (http://www.swaraj.org/illich_hell.htm)

biggyshorty (#4,492)

well, fuck, here it is again: http://www.swaraj.org/illich_hell.htm

shostakobitch (#1,692)

Dreiser knew what the fuck was up: You can sell Shitkick, Indiana to the big city but you can't sell the big city to Shitkick. Pro wrestling doesn't have an ironic lens through which to view McSweeney's. Both this and last week's post are basically telling us the same thing, but instead of Dreiser's heavy museum-grade prose we get the coddled liberal virtue of the internet.

Multiphasic (#411)

@Propertius, re: Prop 8 and the Mormon vote.

I did a little quick and dirty research after Prop 8 passed, and came to the conclusion that its success was entirely due to the smug lazy arrogance of California progressives. I've now forgotten the exact numbers, but I looked up the voter turnouts for San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles counties, and the numbers there were far-like 15–20 points-below the state turnout.

Basically, the liberals in both Northern and Southern California didn't believe strongly enough in their own values to actually be alarmed by a concentrated (out-of-stater-led) effort to mobilize the conservative base and strip a group of people of their civil rights. They just assumed history or morality or Sean fucking Penn was on their side and just passed it off to their neighbors to go about voting Prop 8 down. Bleah.

biggyshorty (#4,492)

to be fair, though, the question is not about smugness or otherwise – lets not glorify the shitty right and assume they aren't smug, that they are merely unironic hard-working amish types, surrounded by well-made furniture. rather, i think "progressives" (and i use this word quite harshly) think about participation in a public sphere differently than "conservatives". the former assume that individual belief corresponds to official pronououncement, whereas the latter quite correctly understands the hard work involved in making this happen. i dont think progressives are worse, per se, just their understanding of commitment to place is quite different…

Abe Sauer (#148)

This guy!

biggyshorty (#4,492)

lets "to be fair" again – you ARE kinda smug and ironic for posturing as nonsmug and nonironic, non?

Multi, the Mormons used their ad dollars to target historically homophobic groups with a massive propaganda campaign. I don't know if the anti 8s were smug but they were most certainly blind sided by the money against them.

Multiphasic (#411)

@biggyshorty Me? Abe? Who? What? I am generally smug and ironic and insufferable, but am quite capable of being horrified by evidence of it in others.

@kitten Blindsided or not, the urban constituents–and, presumably, the urban left–in California voted at below the state and national average. I'm sure it's a little unfair to just blanket-label everyone as "smug." But I think it's legitimate to question the manner in which (and as a former San Franciscan and Santa Barbarian, I'm talking My People here) we espoused and defended our beliefs in that instance. For whatever reason, despite a major civil rights challenge to the LGBT community and the possibility of voting in the nation's first non-white CIC, we were less arsed to vote than most of our fellow Americans. There was a lot of complicity in that blindsiding.

Multi, Most likely the community was lulled into complicity whilst living in areas where they were not faced with open hostility on a daily basis. Thereby not being aware of the vast sectors of the CA voting population living in the outlying areas into which the Mormons were able to tap and manipulate. They had ads saying the gays were going to force school children on gay field trips and parents could do nothing about it. The ads were ludicrous to any sane person.

Multiphasic (#411)

True. But I still think that hides or forgives a more basic pathology, which is that "lulled into complicity" shouldn't necessarily equal "didn't vote."

propertius (#361)

Sure, gays in SF like to joke that the Castro boys are just too busy living it up to worry about marriage politics. As in "Who me, marry?"

Cardinal Mahony may well find the obsessing over Mormons rather amusing and much to his purpose, since if he has his way, it will be permanently impossible to pass gay marriage in California, and it won't have anything to do with the Mormons.

Kevin Dugan (#4,521)

I'm pretty sure that Sinclair Lewis won the Pulitzer for Arrowsmith, and that it wasn't rescinded, but that he refused it.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Yes! Because he's a BADASS ROCKSTAR!

MatthewGallaway (#1,239)

I was interested to note how many of these themes could apply equally well to an analysis of the urban ghetto.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Oh Man, whole other "in the weeds" column there. GO FOR IT!

gotham (#1,572)

ah, delicious reading. while I enjoy some light fare to flick thru during a boring work day, its also nice to have some weighty fare to sink your teeth into. thanks Abe. thanks Awl for being pretty balanced btwn lite and serious.

JKJV (#1,068)

I really liked this article, Abe. Very thoughtful. I appreciate all of your articles set here in "flyover" country.

johnmurray (#4,569)

As some one who also 'moved there', I appreciate this article immensely. Also, as someone who lives in Arizona, I thought that while the previous article Abe started of referring to here was good, it really did very little to take into consideration why such a law might have been passed. A lot of that has to do with federal agendas being focused on an east-coaster's view of an issue like illegal immigration: hasn't affected me for the past decade. Meanwhile, a state like Arizona deals with it every day, and yet everyone rushes to judge them immediately, while looking through a complete different lens. Easy for a New Yorker to say Arizonans are just plain crazy, they're not the ones having their family dog poisoned by human and drug smugglers because it barks too much in the backyard at night. Not justifying this fascist law at all, but states truly are the laboratory of policy, so what did everyone expect? We talk about how reactionary conservatives are, but are the educated liberals really any better in that department? At least this gets a conversation started.

There are dogs getting hurt in this business now?!?!

The few lines in this article about the law put it in a new light for me. I have familial ties to Mexico and I cannot see Mexicans as an other or a "problem" for which there is a "solution". But those few lines immediately tied into the work you have produced here and I can start to see why a law like this would make sense to some. Reacting to this issue in black and white terms will solve nothing and help no one.

bb (#295)

what a great piece and comments. I would just add that, overall, for many coastal (or non-coastal) cosmopolitan/blue state types, the question is not just "boycott or not" (or move there or not) but "be horrified and alienated by these Other Places or not" – and I especially enjoy the confessions of brain-drainers on this list. I wonder if the unsophisticated "middle" is for our generation what the south was for upwardly-mobile southerners a generation ago? My dad did not explicitly leave the south because of its racism, but I think the backwater racist story that stuck so hard to the deep south did contribute to the region's inability to attract tourism and migration (the good kind that is). If AZ ends up as the poster child for borderlands racism, it could indeed find itself with the tourist appeal of Alabama.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

@bb: Well, yes, Alabama isn't one of those states that bursts at the seams with tourist attractions, sure. Arizona, though? They have that that beautiful desertscape/grand canyon/natural wonders-of-the-world/Taliesin thing happening for them. People will still want to travel from far-and-wide to see those things.

toadvine (#1,698)

Well, sweet tea is delicious.

bb (#295)

true. but there is a civil rights museum in Birmingham, and I don't think many people outside of the south go to the non-New Orleans gulf coast, aka the "redneck riviera," for beach vacations – lots of different reasons why, but this is one of them no? (this point is moot given that the redneck riviera is about to become the oilslick riviera, but still).

sigerson (#179)

Hey, Abe! How do you manage to walk with that huge chip on your shoulder?

Sara Padilla (#3,547)

Thanks for responding so reasonably and sensibly to that awful post. I abandoned my own response to it when I realized it could best be described as "spittle-flecked invective."
I have a little cousin who's graduating from ASU with two double majors this month. She's hauling out of there for grad school. It makes me sad that my grandpa, who is dark skinned, speaks with a slight accent, born in El Paso, and was an engineer who worked for Sandia Labs, doesn't feel safe going to her graduation ceremony. The original poster's friend is frustrated, but so are we. We're afraid of being harassed, afraid of being shamed, afraid of being told that in spite of a lifetime of citizenship, that we don't really belong here.

tampopo (#4,736)

"…it's a good idea not to write an essay in which you call most of those you aim to "help" ignorant, poor, racist, or any other things one might expect a person to not like being called. Boycott, or come on in and spend your money and "engender change," whichever you prefer. One thing these communities certainly don't need more of? The paternalistic expressions Liu mentioned, the kind that wonder aloud "Oh, what's to be done about them?" as if our communities are handicapped children."

I think the exact same advice can be given to people who want to talk about bringing about change in other countries – especially the developing world and cultures that are deeply religious. And in that context, this kind of paternalistic attitude is even more of a problem, because it immediately brings to mind colonialist attempts to 'civilise' people.

Cyrus (#4,759)

"But if you, in your liberal, coastal community enjoy smoking a little illegal weed, know that you are an actor in the dire circumstances that have brought those less enlightened to the legislative action you now condemn."

What's with people like you saying things like this without, you know, knowing anything about what you're talking about?

Weed is fueling the Mexican drug cartels? Really?

We grow our own weed here. Cocaine not so much. And like, no one's perfect, but can Arizona stop blaiming all of its problems on California now? It's not our fault that your state sucks, OK?

Oona (#2,994)

But, Abe – Carol doesn't at all move to the small town because she wants to be a crusading city idealist? She leaves her job as a librarian in Minneapolis because the man she marries (later in life, in complete terror of becoming an old maid) insists that they move to the small town where he grew up. The first passage you quote above is her – admittedly naïvely, but to my mind, also very poignantly – attempting to spark a little cultural life in the small town, where she is not allowed to work and has no children – basically, has nothing else to do. As you note: she fails, spectacularly.

(Growing up in Indiana, I read Main Street as a feminist cautionary tale. It left quite an impression.)

Abe Sauer (#148)

Indeed. And unless I'm missing something, I don't believe I stated that she moved there for that sole reason. Many who move back or to conservative communities do so for a number of reasons, with the idea of actively being a progressive influence on of their goals.

And yes, the book has all kinds of other messages.

Oona (#2,994)

But she didn't move there for that reason at all? She was following her husband?

I guess I just read her as incredibly constrained by social and economic circumstances, and her attempts to be a progressive influence as futile, lonely reactions to those circumstances, rather than the proactive crusader for change that you describe.

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