David Brooks, New York Times op-ed columnist, wrote an anti-Borat piece in yesterday’s NYT. (I would link to it but it’s behind the Times Select firewall.) In his column Brooks repeats what has become the conventional wisdom—indeed, John Teirney wrote a similar column in last week’s NYT—about the Borat movie: Funny, sure, but it’s unseemly when urban elites sneer at rural and southern rubes.
It’s also, as some have pointed out, bad politics. When urbanites sneer at the rubes in, say, Kansas, the rubes turn around and vote for Republicans. Why? Because Republicans pay ‘em compliments. It doesn’t seem to matter to the rubes that these same Republicans, once elected, enact fiscal and social policies that harm rural rubes and actively block programs that would help American families regardless of where they live.
It doesn’t matter to the rural rubes that Democrats, by backing programs like family leave to national health care to an increased minimum wage, demonstrate that they actually value families, and don’t just pay lip-service to “family values.” What matters to the rubes, it seems, is voting for people they want to have a beer with—even if, at the end of the legislative session, they can’t actually afford to buy a beer.
In this week’s Stranger, author and journalist Brian Mann writes about this urban/rural divide and its impact on last week’s election. Mann is the author of the new book Welcome to the Homeland, a book that’s bracing and infuriating in roughly equal measures. Mann’s book and Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, Mann’s book is required reading for the fall. Buy and read both books.
Mann’s book focuses on his relationship with his brother Allen. Mann’s a “metro,” one of those urban sophisticates. His brother—despite being raised in the same home and have similar life experiences—is a mega-church-going, straight-Republican-ticket-voting rural, uh, rube. And like so many rural rubes, Allen has a towering persecution complex. Like so many rural rubes, Mann’s brother thinks the urban elite looks down at him and are hostile to him and he takes his revenge in the voting booth.
Mann’s brother says he feels uncomfortable in urban areas because he’s a hunter, and you know how we urbanites look down on hunters. “Living where I live I don’t have to be careful about what I say,” Allen says, “about my enjoyment of hunting or owning firearms, for example. Those things are really important to me.” Puh-leeze. It’s a fuck of a lot riskier for me to discuss the things that mean a lot to me—like, oh, sucking off my boyfriend or having a boyfriend at all—in rural America than it is for Mann’s brother to discuss hunting in urban America. (You can talk about it with Brendan anytime you like, Allen—and the owner of this here urban sophisticate paper is a hunter!)
This whining, the sense of being put upon, this feeling of being oppressed—it’s such bullshit. And we have a right call the Allens of the world on it, and we have a right to ridicule them for it. Because they are ridiculous.
And they’re hypocrites.
In addition to walking us through just how stacked our political system is against Dems and progressives (a lot of anti-democratic elements are hard-wired into our democracy, from the Electoral College to the disproportionate representation that rural states have in the U.S. Senate), Mann pounds home the point that rubes don’t like being disrespected and looked down on. But in an alarming scene in the book Mann’s brother jokes with his young children about shooting liberals. Liberals, his brother maintains, are like deer. Too many of us, oughta be picked off one by one, shot. Like vermin.
Hm. Despite being a member of the urban elite—ooh, smell me!—I don’t teach my kid to think of rural folks as animals, nor do I joke with him killing people like Allen and his children. I may marvel at Allen’s gullibility come election time. Still, we make sure our son sees the folks we meet on our annual cross-red-America road trip as human beings, even if they refuse to see us that way.
Which brings us to something that sticks in my craw about this sneering-urban-elites vs. angry-rural-rubes thing. The rubes run around screaming their rube heads off about all the godless heathens in the cities and how we’ve destroyed their country—”theirs,” mind you, not “ours.” According to the Allens, we urbanites are a pack of latte-sipping sodomites, sophisticates, softies. We’re also open America-haters and closeted Osama bin Laden fans. Unlike rubes, we have no values. No respect. No faith.
So… uh… who exactly is sneering at whom?
How come one ever calls the rubes on just how disrespectful they are of their fellow Americans? And, really, do they have a right to complain when the folks they’ve insulted and denigrated and refused to accept as “real” Americans for—what?—the last 40 fucking years don’t hold them in the highest regard? Contemptuous and backwards, the American rube wields disproportionate, un-democractic power over all of us— they hold the country back—and yet we’re the nasties when we make fun of them?
Weren’t we all taught that respect is a two-way street?
I, for one, am sick of being told I have to be polite to people who insist that I’m a sinful abomination and seek to make my life miserable. I’m not one of those pansies that wants to argue with religious folks about their beliefs. Hey, the fundies think I’m going to hell—great, fine, whatever. I’m going to hell with the Catholics, the yoga instructors, the adulterers, and the atheists. Shouldn’t that be enough? Eternal punishment? But somehow it’s not enough for folks like Mann’s brother. They have to punish me here on earth too.
At bottom it’s really not about respect for their values. It’s about insisting that everyone adopt their values. When we say, “We hear you, homelanders, but we think you’re wrong,” that’s makes ‘em mad. That’s what kills ‘em. That’s so insecure that they take our rejection of their oppressive, retrograde political agenda as somehow personally disrespectful—particularly of their religious beliefs. They only way to appease an Allen is to live like one. Not gonna happen.
Yes, yes: It’s bad politics to be openly dismissive of the homelanders, as they wield disproportionate political power, thanks to stacked Senate and the Electoral College. But we should call the rubes on their hypocrisy, their ignorance, and their fear. And mockery is one way to do it. If it makes the Allens angry, good. Maybe the anger will make him think.
God bless Borat.