04 September 2008

Palin, Regional Culture and Small Towns

I've started 3 posts about Sarah Palin in the whirlwind 4 days since her debut on the national stage, and I have to say, I am glad I have not published any of them.... In vain, I will attempt again to make a relevant connection between her and the subject of this blog.

I have been thinking about how important "place" is. And since my business is architecture, I've mostly been thinking about how this affects what kind of buildings we construct. And I will probably post more about this next week.

I've also been thinking of the uniqueness of Cincinnati, and I definitely want to follow up the thoughts that Visualingual posted last month: Cincinnati is the cincinnatiest.

But today, I've also been thinking about how different places produce different people. Even in our wide country, which sometimes seems in danger of being overrun with strip-mall and fast-food sameness, and in which network television has almost eliminated speech idiosyncrasies and accents, we have fascinating regions that we fail to appreciate. Or almost worse, we like the idea of them, but pave them over with suburban development crap. The odd result is that the undeveloped backwoods are the only places that seem to retain strong individual characteristics. Think places like Harlan Kentucky, or Over-the-Rhine, or you name the place...before it gets gentrified.

One strong example of local culture is the Palin Family. They are distinctly Alaskan. Maybe even distinctly Wasillian, I wouldn't know. Look at her family photos, her accent. From her husband's goatee to her names of her kids (van palin referencing, Van Halen). She is total Americana, albeit Alaskan style.
And I readily admit, that I like it. Very open, brash...But part of what I like is the similarities to my adolescence in suburban Cincinnati. This family looks a lot like people I grew up with, and apparently even likes the same 1980's rock music. In my childhood, I can't remember too many grandmothers and daughters pregnant in the same year or many people who snow-machined, but the attitude is definitely familiar.

That said, I am tired of the meme that rural/small town America is The Real America. Take for example the hypocrisy of Guiliani last night mocking Obama as a "cosmopolitan". Wasn't Guiliani mayor of the most Cosmopolitan city in the world?

I don't like the divide, but if it is going to be there, it is time for the urbanites to have one of their own in the White House. When was the last time we had a president that called a a big city home? Was it FDR? JFK?

OTR is America. So is Harlan County KY. So is south side Chicago. The suburbs and the small towns, the hunters and the oil workers don;t have the corner on Americanism or patriotism. When they act like they do, it is demeaning and maybe even elitist...


Radarman said...

Brilliant post. Brilliant.

VisuaLingual said...

Have you seen her office? Regional quirkiness to the max!

I actually felt pretty threatened while watching RNC coverage last night. Regardless of the truth, the rhetoric seemed to have a level of emotional resonance and internal consistency that, I imagine, will connect with voters, maybe because they're Republican, or not urban, or don't feel comfortable with the idea of a black man in office. I think Palin did a pretty good job of explaining that her Alaskan frontier experience isn't exotic or unique but represents everyday people in the everyday US.

That Giuliani, the quintessentially smarmy, ever-aggro New Yorker, had the gall to call out Obama's cosmopolitanism, was a laughable and shocking moment indeed, and yet it provided the perfect set-up for Palin's folksy, relatable "townie talk."

I wish I knew some of those "us" who were referred to last night, so that I could ask them whether all this divisive, derisive baloney was as effective as I suspect it was.

5chw4r7z said...

Great post.
I keep thinking the same things over the past few day. I saw tons of her high school pictures and thought, I freakin dated her!
But then she is my age so looks like every girl I went to school with.
Does this mean I'm officially old that I'm the same age as politicians?
Her one daughter is named Willow. Is she a Buffy fan?
I was going to write in Fred Thompson for president, but I'm voting for Palin and who ever that old guy is shes running with.

Unknown said...

First it's who would you rather have a beer with--George Bush or John Kerry to be the deciding factor in your vote for president. Now it's who is the most "just normal." I like my presidents a little on the "Extra Smart" side of the bell curve. Shame on America for lowering the bar so low. Elitist?? It's frightening how afraid "middle America" is of intelligence and thoughtfulness.
As for Ms. Palin's folksy accent--it sure sounds very similiar to the ones you can hear in the Delhi/Bridgetown area. I grew up there and spoke the same way. Love the office photo. Thanks, Visualingual,always looking for a new look:>)

CityKin said...

As a follow up, here is a good take on the elite label and who they are really talking about:

"But in whatever sense snowmobiling is a "working class" hobby — and I'll agree it doesn't have vast appeal to big city sophisticates — it's not a cheap pursuit, and I'm sure Todd Palin could have bought a ton of arugula with the money he spent on his snowmobile instead. He just chose not to, which is fine. But that's what these culture wars are all about — relatively prosperous cultural conservatives fighting with relatively prosperous cultural liberals about "postmaterial" political issues and using lifestyle cues as proxies for those battles — they're not about poor people mobilizing themselves on behalf of the GOP."

Anonymous said...


Snowmobiling is big business in northern Michigan. The tourism dollars brought to the region from the Detroit area, as well as from Ohio and Indiana residents is astounding. Think of all the hotels, restaurants, mechanic labor, parts and grociery stores that benefit from the cash flow on the weekends. It is a modern day caravan to see all these folks arrive with their trailers and snowmobiles just for the weekend. And what a clash of cultures it is for us locals to experience, positive and negative effect all around.

The higher gas prices the last few winters has been a drag on the number of visitors or the frequency with which the "regulars" visit. In the past it was only the poor snow conditions that would keep the die hards away.

Anonymous said...

The thing I forgot to mention above is that you are seeing more professionals snowmobiling in the past few years and less working class on the weekends. It is an expensive hobby, just as the Harley Davidson motorcycle riders pay big expenses to tool around on two wheels. An excessive display of status over practicality.