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Monday, 23 July 2007

Lake Woebegone

I just started getting the podcast to the American radio show "A Prarie Home Companion". It's patriotic Americana for the left wing. Or rather, the slightly less right wing. People who theoretically favor rights for gay people and women and immigrants, but want to dream of the midwestern heartland, populated by lonely Norweigan farmers and their foibles and aren't we all struggling in this together, all of us straight, white, christian liberals?

I remember listening to a christmas episode and they were talking about the town Christmas pageant and the kids dressed as Mary and Joseph and the lights and the feeling of community and it made me feel terribly lonely. Because this community was not for me. I didn't know the word "heteronormative" yet then, but I knew this imperfect paradise of essentialist americanism was not for me.

And my patience for it and longing for it has since been replaced by annoyance. What makes white, heterosxual christians more american than black people or gay people or atheists or costal people or queer, atheist costal black people?

I'm really tired of Americannes being defined regionally such that minority populations are more likely to be excluded. If we stop and think for a moment, we know that Lake Woebegone is not only inhabitted by white, straight christians. People migrate within the US. Even people born to Christian families drop the ID. 10% of the kids will be queer. But the continuing refernces to Norweigan farmers implicitly excludes atheists and queers and explicitly excludes jews, latinos, black people etc. Garrison Keeler's America is not so different than Rush Limbaugh's America. Except in Rush's America, the enemies are at the gate. In Keeler's, the same people Rush calls enemies just don't exist at all.

And this is the choice for us in America. We can be normative and blend in, we can be invisible or we can be reviled. This kind of "choice" eats into you (and by "you" I mean "me") even if you try to reject it. Square peg, round hole. Trying to make your identity fit into the grid provided for it. Being a queer alone is suxxor, because you just don't exist. You have no mirror to reflect your existance. Affinity groups are essential for maintaining sanity, imo. Also, NPR sucks. Can we stop calling essentialist erasism "liberal?" Because it's not, and I'm tired of it.


Anonymous said...

You're going after the wrong target. Keillor writes about the culture he knows, one just as valid and just as part of the cultural landscape as your own. True, it's mostly white and christian, but Lake Wobegone, over the years, has had a good share of residents and visitors from other religious and ethnic groups, and yes, even people with other sexual identities. Expecting Keillor to do more than that is asking him to be dishonest. Keillor's approach to a more inclusive US may be slower than you like, but it's an important one in a first-past-the-post political system requiring coalitions in order to get anything accomplished.

The rightwing in America would like to have a monopoly on one large chunk of traditional culture and values. Simply ceding them those traditions and values is exclusionary and politically irresponsible.

Les said...

That would be fine if Lake Woebegone existed in a vacuum, but it doesn't. When Ken Burns documents "America," he documents the same people in the same region. There is a cultural idea of "heartland." To be fair, every culture has this idea. In France, the heart is around Tours and the Loire. In America, it's the Northern Midwest. Ethnicity is always implict in these sorts of definitions.

I understand that it's important to claim traditions for the left and not just leave them for the right, but I know what I feel when I listen to Lake Woebegone and other idealized portraits of America. It's the same thing that many POC feel.

Claiming totems for the left is fine, but us non-totemic folk are left unclaimed. The red headed stepchild of the "real" America. If you want America to be inclusive, expand the ideals. It's not mutually exclusive.

sfmike said...

Are you just waking up to how horrible NPR is? Really, Les, I expected more of you?

With affection.

Les said...

Hey, c'mon sfmike, I live in Europe.

I sometimes hear rumors of Sarah Cahill or Rchrd having radio shows on the non-suck NPR SF station. It's easy to forget that NPR is not like RFI.