Not just a dead red

BY TAYLOR DASHER

Some folks around here shriek with terror and chain themselves to subway cars at the prospect of being more than a hundred miles from a large coastal city. The election exacerbated their fears and now they can no longer bear to watch “King of the Hill” or “Green Acres” reruns. I must confess that I don’t understand this fear of rural America. I used to think its root was some combination of agoraphobia and bigotry toward livestock, but since the election I have decided it has more to do with a perceived cultural divide. As a longtime denizen of a red state, I’d like to ease anxieties about fly-over country because it’s a shame to be missing such good television. I know some may call it “backwater cousin-copulating country” or “God-fearing God-forsaken Jesusland,” but I call it home. There are real differences between the urban coasts and the rural middle, but there are fake ones too. Allow me to dismiss the sillier notions about us red state people, while introducing the more significant differences.

First, red states are not a homogenous mass. There is not one big field spotted with farmhouses and cows that stretches from coast to coast. There are distinct regions within the red states and it is wise to not confuse them. I personally come from Indiana. If you get it confused with Illinois or Ohio, I can let that slide. All those states start with vowels, they border the Ohio River, and they were part of the Northwest Ordinance. But if you get my state confused with Idaho, I will politely correct you as I quietly conclude you are a complete moron.

Nor is there a homogenous mass within the states themselves. There are cities. There are mountains. There are woods. There is prairie. And, yes, we have minorities too.

We are not all of one mind either. Meeting a Democrat is not like spotting a Red-handed Howler Monkey in Antarctica. There are about as many Democrats as there are Republicans, and there are a lot of people who don’t properly fall under either category. The red states are actually a hotbed of free-thinking Americans. People such as T.S. Eliot, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bob Dylan, William Faulkner, and Ted Kaczynski all hail from red states.

Also, red state people are not any dumber than people on the coasts. Admittedly, this is not a high bar when people all over the country are dumb enough to pay money for an animal that they must legally wait on hand and foot and receive no work from it in return. But at least in rural America, you’ll never see someone walking behind the animal and picking up its feces in order to throw them in the trash. And unlike certain other places, we know rotaries are a bad idea.

Red Americans aren’t ignorant either. We have access to the same media sources, only with less crying about the Red Sox. We also learn about deconstructionism, postmodernism, and nihilism in school too. We’re just more apt to dismiss it as a worthless pile of crap and go drink beer. Now who’s the wiser: the guy happily nursing his sixth Budweiser in front of the television, or the guy sitting in the corner painfully grappling with whether he truly has any identity outside of social constructions?I also submit that the middle of the nation and all lands south of the mid-Atlantic region are not the cultural wastelands many think them to be. Bookstores, theaters, live music venues, and Starbucks coffee may be found there as well. In fact, I contend we are in some ways more cultured. Like blue-staters, red-staters have been to art museums. But how many of the urban coastal folks can say they’ve also appreciated fine cuisine like a deep-fried twinkie while admiring the world’s largest boar at the state fair? If that ain’t an enriching cultural experience, nothing is.

In fact, there are only two big differences I can see between rural America and urban coastal America. The first is that while plenty of people drive Honda Civics in the red lands, we tend to like pickup trucks more than folks do out here. Trucks are big and can pull and carry heavy stuff. For some people, these are necessary qualities in a work vehicle. For others, it’s just cool to have.

But the most significant difference is that most of us don’t think there’s anything wrong with us. We have no shame about our roots. Some may think we should, but we don’t. And we probably don’t care what other people think. When you live in rural area, you may not even know what your neighbor looks like, making it unlikely you’ll care what he thinks. So when you’re talking about the opinion of someone a thousand miles away, there isn’t even a blip on the radar screen.

So let’s not be too harsh on the red states. They’re really not so different, and there’s nothing to fear unless you wander in on a bunch of guys wearing black caps with the number three or red caps with the number eight discussing how Earnhardt was like a brother to them while they spit in faded plastic Gatorade bottles. In that case, you should turn around immediately and seek medical attention before you go into culture shock. And if you find yourself unable to escape, do not under any circumstances mutter the words, “Jeff Gordon.”

Taylor Dasher is not any dumber than people on the coasts.

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