Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On the Efficiency of Stereotypes

We come to analyze rednecks, not to praise them.

In a culture that lauds multiculturalism, one culture remains not just vulnerable to but overtly sentenced to negative stereotyping. Call these folks Cletus and Brandy Mae--the trailer-trash, redneck, hillbilly, rural-pale folk whose church is a gun show, whose national anthem is by Lee Greenwood, whose symbol of attainment is moving the double-wide to forty acres in Idaho, and whose diet would make Dr. Atkins' arteries harden in an instant.

Disclaimer: Our formative experience of multiculturalism was coming of age in a 7-12 high school that was roughly 3/4 rural whites and 1/4 suburban whites. As the skinny kid who wore turtlenecks, packed lunches with whole grains, played in the youth symphony and actually understood Milton and Euclid, we were . . . well . . . noticed . . . with such things as basketballs heaved into our ear while swimming in phys ed and compound-participle epithets articulated in our direction as we walked through the halls or sat on the bus.

In a culture increasingly urban, nonwhite and globally savvy, redbilly trash are increasingly at the margins. They can therefore be caricatured with impunity. Too few to respond in force, too scorned to be championed by others, too distasteful in their speech and dress and habitat and entertainments, redbilly trash are the Philistines against whom all other subgroups can unite as the Chosen People. They're the easy objects of disdain for those restrained from expressing their disdain for other groups.

So yesterday's raid on a "Christian militia" group presently numbered at nine members can soon epitomize all the disgust that sophisticates (and that includes just about everyone except members of the aforementioned subculture) feel for redbilly trash. The raid is an "I told you so" moment for an administration led by someone who has remarked that such folk cling to guns and religion when frustrated. That moment is shared by folk who want permission to ridicule such people or even to fear them.

So nine "working class whites" with a ramshackle trailer, fanciful names for their "organization" and its "ranks," illegitimate appropriation of religious symbols, and a nutty notion of their future are in the news. What to do with that?

First, don't defend them. They're kooks. The world has its share in all demographics. Nobody's kooks are better or worse, fewer or more. By definition, kooks don't belong. They aren't "created" by someone non-kook's actions. There are plenty of people with pickups and trailers and guns and extensive country music collections and right-wing political views who raise their kids and pay their taxes and help their neighbors and make it from cradle to grave without upsetting the social order or even committing a misdemeanor, let alone a felony.

Second, don't fear them. They're so marginal and impotent that they can't even organize a cleanup of their trailer lot. One photo is all one needs to see that.

Third, don't use them as a symbol of victimization to shame the administration or a symbol of irrationality to vilify its opponents. For some reason, folks agree that the trust-fund babies who spend their time flying around the world to economic summits to riot in favor of anti-trade anarchy are not effective symbols of the left. These folks aren't effective symbols of the right, either. Extremes meet somewhere about 180 degrees removed from the political center, in a fantasy world inhabited by Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Dennis Kucinich and other failed politicians who hold onto a rabid niche of demographic marginalization. Let 'em all stay there, while we carry on the fruitful conversation someplace else.

Finally, Christians ought not complain about the media's leading with the ersatz religious affiliation of these folk. Get used to it, believers: such false characterizations are pretty ancient in the narrative of our faith. The best and only response is to follow the advice of 1 Peter--living cross-shaped lives that over time expose the lies that mischaracterize the faith. This is no more the opening salvo in the Left's War Against Christians than was the Branch Davidian raid of the previous Democratic President's administration. The real apocalyptic war is fought on other fronts--and has been for centuries.


Tom said...

Great post.

As George Bernard Shaw once said - probably after having read 1 Peter - “Christianity might be a good thing, if anyone ever tried it”. We need to focus on our own behaviors and not the cranks in the tails of the bell-shaped curve.

The SWNID is correct - if we live our faith everyday, there will be nothing to say in the long run.

Anonymous said...

wow I never realized you were such a culture snob - yikes!