Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Non-idyllic small towns

with 2 comments

Small-town life is often presented as an idyllic, mutually supportive community, and doubtless some of those exist. But small towns can also be isolated backwaters of prejudice and mob rule. Michael Schaffer takes a look in the New Republic:

Last Sunday, a New York Times reporter visited Maryville, Missouri to report on the existence of a grave threat to the town’s bucolic, Real-America essence: “Ever since The Kansas City Star ran a long article last Sunday raising new questions about the Nodaway County prosecutor’s decision to drop charges against a 17-year-old football player accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl, the simplicity of small-town life here has been complicated by a storm of negative attention.”

Leaving aside the dubious victimology—poor Maryville, battered so cruelly by the dark-hearted Kansas City media and their relentless “negative attention”—the paragraph also represents a great big logical problem for anyone who read the Star story, or even the 20-odd inches of stellar Times copy that followed the clunky lede: The whole point of a story of rape allegations dismissed by a political-prosecutorial complex intimately connected to an accused assaulter’s state-legislative relative is that… Maryville never featured any of that simplicity in the first place!

It’d be easy to beat up on a reporter who was tasked with following a competitor’s story and slipped into cliché. In fact, the reductio ad Rockwell is a common tic of journalistic visits to small towns, especially those put on the map by infamy. And it’s one that really ought to stop. Decades of culture wars have left us with a set of social rules where it is largely OK for rural types to slander their citified co-citizens (cf. Sarah Palin, small-town mayor and “Real America” stalwart) but where urbanites can’t dis the country folks without being deemed elitist (cf. Barack Obama, Chicagoite and “cling” apologizer).

Where that leaves us is with few ways of describing small-town life beyond patronizing clichés about their simplicity. But does anyone actually believe that residents of the hamlets and villages of the republic are simpler or cleaner or more honest than anyone else? Come to think of it, there’s a pretty good case for small towns being a lot more complicated than big cities. Consider Maryville again for a moment. There are two ways the town could have lived up to the Times’ rose-colored description of its status quo ante:

1. Beforehand, by not sexually assaulting ninth-graders, videotaping the incident, and leaving a victim asleep on her front lawn in freezing weather.

2. After the fact, by not ostracizing the victim’s siblings, firing her mom from her job, dropping the case inexplicably, and burning the family’s house down.

Now ask yourself whether either of these scenarios would be more or less likely in a metropolitan area. On option number one, . . .

Continue reading. I like how a large city can in effect dilute the poisons that can become concentrated in a small town.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2013 at 10:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

2 Responses

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  1. Always liked the film “Straw Dogs” (Hoffman version) for its accurate portrayal of country life.



    5 November 2014 at 12:06 am

  2. I recently realized that incidents of mob emotion—independent citizens suddenly united by a common hostility against a person (e.g., “She’s a witch!! Drown her!”) are doubtless a direct affect of our being social animals, the dark side of that being a “social animal reaction” in which a bunch of separate and independent persons will spontaneously cohere into a group driven by a common emotional impulse and energy.



    5 November 2014 at 6:38 am

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