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Monday, May 19, 2014

American Pastoral

Posted by on Mon, May 19, 2014 at 8:37 AM

Grant Wood's famous painting meant nothing to me until seeing this photograph. The modern models (who can easily be pictured as the inhabitants of Case Study House #22) next to this fantasy of farmers and their home with the Gothic window. The farmers did not come from the mass-produced frame house behind them, but the other way around. Wikipedia:
Wood decided to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house."He recruited his sister Nan (1899–1990) to model the woman, dressing her in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th-century Americana. The man is modeled on Wood's dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867–1950) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The three-pronged hay fork is echoed in the stitching of the man's overalls, the Gothic window of the house, and the structure of the man's face.

But the thing that this photograph and the account on Wikipedia make clear is how the rural can only be as real as the farmers in the painting. The only problem is that this fiction, which persists to this day, turns out have real political effects. I read a novel a long time ago (forgot its name and author—which can only mean it wasn't that good) whose characters slowly began to realize that their world is a fiction created by someone in the real world. In American society, those who inhabit the only real world of density and shared transportation find their lives, their bus services, their tax system influenced by fictional characters in fictions of rural areas and suburbs.


Comments (26) RSS

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Other way around, Chucky.

Without the real Americans the political lunacy of urban cores can't exist. Without farmers, orchardists and generally those who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty you can't sit at your cluttered desk and contemplate your own navel.

You, and other wastrel burdens on society like you, desperately need to pretend your worthless urban lives have some significance. So you run down and belittle and create idiotic social and political nonsense to discredit those who create and work and produce.

Crawl back under your rock, Chucky, and leave the adults to their work, will ya?
Posted by Seattleblues on May 19, 2014 at 8:49 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 2
Charles AND SB both hint at some truths, and both bury them under purposely offensive and inflammatory language.

There IS a false pastoral ideal that holds sway over America. It's been there for as long as the "closing" of the frontier, and its roots as a real ideal go back to the settlement of America. Perhaps it goes back to England and what was lost during Enclosure. But it is the truth that the ideal of simple rural folks getting along independently is all but gone, and its endurance in our national psyche has to do with a backwards yearning for a "simpler time." A time which never truly existed.

The truth under SB's retort is that cities are indeed not self sustaining. If you tried to live exclusively on food raised within urban areas, you'd go hungry pretty quickly. Even if all the lawns and flower gardens were turned into vegetable gardens and mini pastures for chickens and goats, and all the trees grew fruit, you'd still likely have to bring in food from the rural regions.

Of course cities are the economic engines of civilization, and not the farms and small towns. And of course there's nothing about a bunch of homogenized superstitious teabaggers to make them more "real" than urban dwellers, which is where SB falls flat on his ignorant face for the 10,000th time on Slog. But it's a symbiotic relationship.
Posted by Matt from Denver on May 19, 2014 at 9:17 AM · Report this
treacle 3
And yet, paradoxically, living in the city means living in a completely constructed environment. Living in something that wasn't here before we humans imagined and built it. Living inside a machine.

And the machine's tentacles reach out into the wild areas too... ribbons of asphalt & rail cut through the mountains, fabricated trails are constructed along rivers & between trees so that humans can experience "nature", in a way that does not irrevocably destroy what little wild nature we have left, "untouched by man". Even our perceptions of "wild" "nature" are artificial and caricatures. We have less than 5% of of untouched Old Growth forest left in this country, everything else has been manipulated in some way by humankind.

There's artifice and simulacrum everywhere you look... not just in a thrown up "urbal-rural" dichotomy. How about "urban-aquatic" to address the (false?) sailors and the fishermen who mine the seas for food and resources? How about the "urban-wild" dichotomy? Is that not more significant for human consciousness?

And yeah, our food does have to come from somewhere...

Also, I second what Matt from Denver says.
Posted by treacle on May 19, 2014 at 9:44 AM · Report this
lark 4
Good Morning Charles,
I really like Grant Wood's "American Gothic" (1930). I've seen it a few times. It resides as a part of the permanent (?) collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. It is not an idle boast to say it is an American masterpiece by an American artist. Seriously, should you get to Chicago, check it out. A long time ago art critic, Sister Wendy a British nun who had an art criticism TV show on PBS gave it a wonderful examination. View that as well.
Posted by lark on May 19, 2014 at 10:02 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 5
BTW Charles, I had to go looking and I think I get what you were hinting with case house #22. Clever. (The wikipedia entry on that house lists several movies and tv programs that filmed there, but it didn't include "Mulholland Drive" which I believe uses that house as Adam Kesher's home.)
Posted by Matt from Denver on May 19, 2014 at 10:12 AM · Report this
NaFun 6
@3 - read 1491 by Charles Mann, and realize that a huge amount of the "nature" of the Western Hemisphere was directly and intentionally shaped by humans.
Posted by NaFun on May 19, 2014 at 10:16 AM · Report this
about half of the people living in the NW dont give a shit about where they live. we should arrange jobs for them in LA and NYC and put them on trains. Those remaining should piss or get off the pot; secede and burn the suburbs to the ground.
Posted by carsten coolage on May 19, 2014 at 10:35 AM · Report this

All right Mile High.

Try this thought experiment to get to basics.

Take away electrical and sewer and water utilities. Take away deliveries of staples, gas stations, and artificial heating. Take away police and fire protection.

Now, which do you think will survive in their homes? City pansies or rural men and women with tools, land with gardens and room for livestock, and the common sense entirely lacking from any urban denizen. Whole the rural person is figuring out what to do the
effete urban yahoo will still be lamenting the lack of a perfect espresso or that soothing mani-pedi or hot yoga session.

I don't think such a scenario either likely or desirable but it does eliminate the bs and get down to which, rural or urban, needs the other.
Posted by Seattleblues on May 19, 2014 at 10:38 AM · Report this
@1, so your idea of real Americans is the illegal immigrants who do all the farm work?

Are we supposed to believe you yourself are some kind of farmer?
Posted by GermanSausage on May 19, 2014 at 10:41 AM · Report this

Come on out to my suburb, pal. You do realize your silk scarf and Gucci shoes that just compliment the scarf, while it makes you look just fabulous, is no match for my and my neighbors firearms though, don't you?

No? Well hell, this oughta be entertaining!
Posted by Seattleblues on May 19, 2014 at 10:43 AM · Report this
Few years back they found the woman who was the model for that famous Rosie the Riveter "We Can Do It" propaganda poster. I think she was a NOW activist or something, and still flexing her muscles.
Posted by GermanSausage on May 19, 2014 at 10:45 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 12
@ 8, it's so cute when you think you're contradicting me. Maybe you should reread my comment until you comprehend what I'm saying.
Posted by Matt from Denver on May 19, 2014 at 10:48 AM · Report this
@ 10 If your architecture is exceptional I will suggest its preservation for the constant hiking and hunting expeditions that will become commonplace for our urban citizens. It sounds like you have a deep love for the land, perhaps we can use your skills and passion at the re-education centers.
Posted by carsten coolage on May 19, 2014 at 10:55 AM · Report this
I live on a farm in the Skagit valley. I assure you it is not an "imaginary" place. Matt from Denver says cities are the economic engines of civilization, but agriculture in all its forms is a huge sector of the economy. We need to build well-designed urban areas with good mass transit and support systems that take the environment into account. We obviously need both vibrant cities and productive farms.
Posted by S. Kelley on May 19, 2014 at 10:56 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 15
I DO have to laugh at the notion of rural dwellers doing a lot better in your inane scenario, though. (Again, it has nothing to do with what I said at all, but just for laughs I'll deign to address it.) Rural dwellers are the same electricity using, running water having, reality TV watching couch potatoes urban dwellers are. Now, I would guess that on average they are slightly more likely to be prepared for a short term power outage or interruption of some other service. But your caricature of a rural population of modern day Grizzly Adamses with MacGyver-level abilities to adapt are as absurd as your use of the phrase "common sense."
Posted by Matt from Denver on May 19, 2014 at 10:57 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 16
@ 14, absolutely.
Posted by Matt from Denver on May 19, 2014 at 10:58 AM · Report this
Pridge Wessea 17
@10 - I'm sorry about your penis.
Posted by Pridge Wessea on May 19, 2014 at 11:04 AM · Report this
@14 , 16 We dont need those archaic farms you speak of. Grubs and greens can be grown in stacked high-rises and on rooftops. The deep wilderness and canals that will immediately surround our city will be flush with wild game and delectable foragables.
Posted by carsten coolage on May 19, 2014 at 11:08 AM · Report this
Switzerland on acid
Posted by carsten coolage on May 19, 2014 at 11:10 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 20
Seattleblues is only capable of understanding the world through laughably flat stereotypes.

Any nuance at all completely confuses him to the point of not even understanding what is being discussed, which is why to him everyone living in a city is a stereotypical effeminate gay guy, and everyone living outside of a city is a mixture of Bear Grylls and MacGyver.

So naive, so inexperienced. Almost like a child, really.
Posted by Theodore Gorath on May 19, 2014 at 11:31 AM · Report this
blip 21
Does anyone else find it hilarious as I do that miss thing here @10 thinks she's Jeremiah Johnson because she lives in the suburbs?
Posted by blip on May 19, 2014 at 11:41 AM · Report this
@SeattleBlues, suburbs are for the soft. Urban and rural dwellers deal with reality. You live in some fake place where lawns are your major strife. No wonder you make no sense, you've never had to face a challenge. You're just an armchair no-nothing who's grown soft hiding away in his little safe world, while the rest of us actually work.
Posted by CbytheSea on May 19, 2014 at 11:45 AM · Report this
venomlash 23
@1: Excuse me, the cities are where working people actually do get their hands dirty. For instance, I just pulled seven hours pushing product from warehouse to shelves, and a third of that time was spent slinging freight off the back of a truck. I sure wish we had a proper loading dock, but we're all burly and resourceful college-educated men on the stock team, so we get it done. Even more so than I do, the cities are the centers of manufacturing and other heavy industry.
Farming has been heavily mechanized and the family farm has been replaced by hectare upon hectare of corporate-owned land churning out monocultures, entirely dependent on heavy application of herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers. It bears more resemblance to assembly-line work than any sort of large-scale gardening such as it is descended from.

@8: It is the city, not the countryside, that generates electricity. It is the city, not the countryside, that pumps fresh water and processes wastewater. It is the city, not the countryside, that produces the vehicles and heavy equipment that you need to make a living in rural areas: trucks, tractors, harvesters, ATVs, generators, et cetera. It is the city, not the countryside, that devises new medicines and produces them en masse, that hosts proper hospitals, and that mobilizes emergency response in the case of natural disaster. There's a reason that the advance of human civilization, the increase in the quality of life and the standard of living, has come with increasingly large human settlements.

In a world without the advances of civilization, rural citizens would be better-equipped to survive, sure. Is that what you want, though? Should we refuse to avail ourselves of all of humanity's progress throughout the past few thousands of years so that we will be better-equipped to function without these aids? By your logic, I might argue that I am better-suited than you, since I have trained with a longbow while you are used to a firearm; in the event that we be cast into the wilderness without our choice of equipment, I would be able to fashion usable weapons from the limbs of certain trees but you would have no replacement for your armament of choice.

We city-dwellers aren't what you think we are, either. I've spent weeks at a time camping out in high-altitude scrub and badlands, a long hike away from civilization. It's the same old sour grapes out of you as with the whole college-education thing. You haven't gone to college and you don't live in any sort of metropolis, so you bash those who have and do to make yourself feel better about it.
Posted by venomlash on May 19, 2014 at 12:05 PM · Report this
tabletop_joe 24
Give me the urban center or give me the sticks. I love them both. Everything in between is a sad and drooping strip mall.
Posted by tabletop_joe on May 19, 2014 at 12:43 PM · Report this
As NaFun says @6, "1491" (Charles C. Mann) is good for seeing how Native Americans shaped the continents before European contact.

"Nature's Metropolis" by William Cronon is a great look at the interaction between urban core and hinterlands, using Chicago as an example. Very detailed and fascinating.

"Emerald City" (Matthew Klingle) looks at the ecological history of Seattle.

"Flight Plan" by Jenny Price and "Crow Planet" by Lyanda Lynn Haupt both look at the false dichotomy of city and wilderness.
Posted by LMcGuff on May 19, 2014 at 1:04 PM · Report this
treacle 26
@6 - I am actually aware of that. :) Only we live in even more of a constructed environment, and more distinctly a giant machine than anyone did in 1300AD Americas.

@8 - SB doesn't even realize how his own statement deconstructs and invalidates itself. Hilarious! Keep it up SB, you are funnier than most of the schmos on here :D

@25 - Thanks for the excellent book suggestions I.McG!
Posted by treacle on May 19, 2014 at 4:24 PM · Report this

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