Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cultural Elitism And Its Discontents

I came across this little blurb from some yahoo named Megan McArdle, courtesy of alicublog:
Let's be honest, coastal folks: when you meet someone with a thick southern accent who likes NASCAR and attends a bible church, do you think, "hey, maybe this is a cool person"? And when you encounter someone who went to Eastern Iowa State, do you accord them the same respect you give your friends from Williams? It's okay--there's no one here but us chickens. You don't.

Now, Roy Edroso addresses this kind of thing quite well, and since I, on a much smaller scale, have had this same kind of crap tossed at me, I thought I'd pass some information along.

First, to call us "poor" when I was growing up would be correct. To call us "one hour away from finding ourselves looking for a place to lay our heads" would also be accurate. When I was a baby, we had the heat turned off in our house on Christmas Day. I rarely ate lunch at school because my parents couldn't afford the then exorbitant cost of 50 cents every once in a while. My father was a public school teacher in New York State, which pays not quite slave wages. My mother was a stay-at-home Mom until I was in sixth grade, when she went back to work as a Home Health Aide, again, hardly the roots of riches.

Yet, our house was filled with books, intelligent talk, and more important than anything, a lot of activity and love. With five kids, roughly spanning eleven years in age, "activity" is a nice euphemism for near-chaos. Both my parents were college educated, thoughtful, well-read, and the five of us were all smart, funny, and garrulous. I never noticed it until after I was married, when my wife commented that sitting at the dinner table with my whole family was a dizzying affair, because there were as many conversations going on as there were people, with everyone participating in all the conversations at the same time. Growing up, I never thought this was strange.

Even though we were poor, between help from our parents and help from the state and federal government, all five of us went to college. Two of us, my brother and me, went to private universities, when the cost should have been prohibitive. My sister and I have advanced degrees, managing the maze of academe to a Master's Degree (me) and a Doctorate (my sister).

For all that, when Lisa and I married, we made a decision to put her career first, because of the odd demands of the United Methodist ministry. I have worked as a hotel clerk, a convenience store clerk, a truck driver, and am currently an employee at the Wal-Mart in Belvidere, IL. For those of you who may not know what a third-shift employee at WM does - I stock shelves. The people I have worked beside in my life have been some of the best, smartest, funniest people in the world. I have yet to work with anyone who has the educational background I do. Yet, these men and women I have counted my friends - people with criminal records; single Moms or those who are essentially single Moms; active or recovering alcoholics and drug addicts; NASCAR fans; football fans; right-wing Republicans; left-wing Democrats. I have known women who have had abortions. I have known men who are dead-beat Dads. I have worked with people from all races, immigrants from Mexico, Bosnia, Japan, Poland, Vietnam, Thailand, and Great Britain. Some of the best and most intelligent insights I have ever had did not come from professors in classes, but the people with whom I have worked. I have been challenged and rewarded so often I can't begin to count.

As someone who lives on the rolling prairies of northern Illinois, which turns, just a few miles north, in to the rolling hills of Wisconsin, I can tell Megan McArdle that here in the American heartland there are people who would read her pap and laugh out loud. As someone who grew up in one of the original thirteen colonies, I can tell Megan McArdle that we have a genuine NASCAR veteran from my hometown, a couple in fact - the Bodine brothers. Geoff Bodine graduated from HS with my cousin Peggy. Brett would not have graduated from HS or passed physics (which he hardly needed to do considering his chosen career path) if not for my brother's help.

The kind of nonsense those on the right peddle about cultural elitism is so much bullshit. Just like John McCain's entire campaign thus far. I realize it plays well to certain elements of the Republican base, but so what? I think it is long past time for people to stand up and shout, with Barack Obama, "Enough!"

Virtual Tin Cup

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