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"Real" America

Let me second Belle Waring's last point about The Washington Post's series "Young and Gay in Real America" (one two) -- nothing pisses me off more than the implication that some parts of the country are more "really" America than others (though the forthcoming four part feature "Young and Straight in Fake America" about my misspent youth in the Village is sure to be a knockout) -- we're none of us masquerading pseudoamericans here. Indeed, it's bizarre that the Northeastern part of the country -- the part that was settled first, the part that led the Revolution, the part that led the nation to victory in the Civil War -- has somehow acquired a reputation as less authentically American than a lot of Johnny-come-lately squarish ersatz states and a big swathe of the southeast that decided one time to launch a violent, treasonous effort to maintain the institution of chattel slavery and turn North America into a British sphere of influence.

September 27, 2004 | Permalink


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» The Saint Louis Hegelians and the Metaphysically Essential Center of the United States of America from The Fly Bottle
Matt is whining about the implication that the Northeast isn't "real" America. I can't imagine why he's so defensive about it. He so wrong that he should just quietly let it go. The core of real America is, of course,... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 27, 2004 2:34:48 PM

» Real America, Real World from The Cardinal Collective
Matthew Yglesias and Belle Waring make the same reasonable point about a Washington Post article about "Being Gay in the Real America". Oklahoma is neither more nor less "real America" than Greenwich Village. This is the same point as the... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 28, 2004 3:44:12 AM

» Real America, Real World from The Cardinal Collective
Matthew Yglesias and Belle Waring make the same reasonable point about a Washington Post article about "Being Gay in the Real America". Oklahoma is neither more nor less "real America" than Greenwich Village. This is the same point as the... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 28, 2004 3:56:26 AM

» Swingin' in Real America from Three Guys
While Yglesias and Waldman do a good job of not playing tit-for-tat with the Republicans' un-American regionalism, I think a lot of Dems see the South as... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 31, 2004 3:28:15 PM


You'd think "real America" would get targeted by terrorists more often.

Posted by: digamma | Sep 27, 2004 10:09:09 AM

Right on, Matt. This happens on a smaller scale, too. Many people are under the impression that you can't know anything about the world unless you are from their home town. For some reason the media has decided that Alabama or Kansas is the country's home town.

Posted by: Mark Golden | Sep 27, 2004 10:16:22 AM

Indeed, it's bizarre that the Northeastern part of the country -- the part that was settled first, the part that led the Revolution, the part that led the nation to victory in the Civil War.

It's also the part that burned "witches." So perhaps that's why some attribute or compare the current perceived "values" of "red staters" to "real" America.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Sep 27, 2004 10:21:06 AM

I resent what you say about squarish states. North Dakota is among the top five or ten best states for high literacy, low crime, low unemployment, and long life expectancy. And you can buy a livable house there for $3,000 or less.

North Dakota also leads the nation in outmigration. I would call that a pretty stunning revealed prference.

Posted by: Zizka | Sep 27, 2004 10:22:40 AM

P.S. I'm not going to read the article, but Billings Montana has a substantial gay community. You heard it here first.

Posted by: Zizka | Sep 27, 2004 10:24:01 AM

Matt: now why do you have to ruin a perfectly good storyline?
It also strikes me that those down home southern values our media promotes are generally exemplified by *white* southerners. Odd how these things work out. Let's hear a little more about collard greens.

Posted by: John Isbell | Sep 27, 2004 10:27:23 AM

The Post's treatment is more even-handed, but the Times in particular is really terrible at this sort of coverage. The entire world outside the New York metro area is covered as if it were a different planet inhabited by some other species. As a displaced Southerner I find it really grating.

Is that figure really $3,000 ? You sure you didn't mean $30,000, which is still absurdly low?

Posted by: niq | Sep 27, 2004 10:28:03 AM

I don't think you're giving serious enough treatment to an interesting subject.

I think what the Post means by "Real America" is "the majority of America that people in the east and west coast bubbles tend to ignore most of the time." Clearly they're not any more "real" than you or I, but they're important. If anything, I think the headline writer/author is trying to point out that often we don't think they're real. In other words, we often think of them as Bush-voting, God-fearing, gun-toting redneck robots, and not living, breathing, educated Americans.

Of course, the darker meaining of "real America," (which I hope was not the intention) could be a reference to high immigration levels in the Northeast cities and on the west coast. Go to Iowa, and you'll be hard-pressed to find non-natives. In NYC, you'll be hard-pressed to avoid us.

Some minor points against your silly northeast bias:

1) Virginia was settled before Massachusetts or New York. Florida was settled by the Spanish even earlier. The entire Southeast was explored decades before the pilgrims got lost and wound up in Plymouth.

2) New York City was wildly opposed to fighting the civil war and seriously considered seceding in 1863.

3) Not really a minor point, and perhaps not worth getting into, but the South didn't secede to preserve chattel slavery (nor did the North invade to eliminate it). The South seceded because of the superior, dominating attitude of northerners that this post is representative of, that wanted to trample states rights as it was then understood. After the war, the meaning of "states rights" has been completely redefined (absolutely for the better, mind you), but at the time what the North wanted to do was entirely outside the bounds of political norms. Saying the North sacrificed millions of its soldiers to rid the nation of slavery is an abominable case of looking at history through rose-colored glasses.

Posted by: right | Sep 27, 2004 10:28:44 AM

"[E]ach national variant of fascism draws its legitimacy, as we shall see, not from some universal scripture but from what it considers the most authentic elements of its own community identity. Religion, for example, would certainly play a much larger role in an authentic fascism in the United States than in the first European fascisms, which were pagan for contingent historical reasons." Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism emphasis added, via David Neiwert

Part 2

If "exceptionalism", religious fundamentalism(and Millenialism), and sexual repression ( for examples) are characteristics more common in Americans than in Europeans than it might be said that there is an "American Character" or "Real America" defined as the marginal differences from other Western societies. Just as there are charcteristics of Japanese Western society that define it as Japanese.

That these may have at one time existed in the Northeast (Cotton Mather & Scarlet Letter) and may still be there in isolated minorities does not negate the fact that whatever might be meant as "American" is not more evident in OK and Alabama.

Other countries like freedom and religious tolerance. But very few have a half-dozen 24 hour evangelical cable stations.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 27, 2004 10:34:30 AM

You mean latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading freakshows are "real Americans?" What fun is that. I may as well go back to 7-11 coffee, USA Today, and a pickup truck.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Sep 27, 2004 10:43:01 AM

"The South seceded because of the superior, dominating attitude of northerners that this post is representative of, that wanted to trample states rights as it was then understood."

The South wanted to keep their slaves, pure and simple. Read the various articles of secession for Christ's sake.

"New York City was wildly opposed to fighting the civil war and seriously considered seceding in 1863."

You're attacking the north for not respecting states rights, but, at the same time, its a bad thing that the Democratic party at the time really didn't want war but, nevertheless, wanted to preserve the union?

Posted by: heh | Sep 27, 2004 10:44:12 AM

Speaking from that "big swath of the southeast" (which did indeed secede to preserve chattel slavery, btw--where do these fantasists come from?), it's always seemed to me that the South is not "real America" either, in the media's mind. When the evening news talks to Southerners, we're representative of "the South," that quaint region. The "real Americans" appear to dwell in Ohio and Iowa, for the most part, and possibly eastern Kansas.

As a parallel to that "geographic center of the U.S.", someone needs to give us a map showing the Metaphysically Essential Center of the U.S. Then, when Peter Jennings wants to know what "real Americans" think, ABC can just send a reporter there and ask them. In fact, we could abolish this whole election nonsense and just hold a straw poll in the designated suburb.

Posted by: Anderson | Sep 27, 2004 10:44:30 AM

As a Virginian by migration, it is true that settlers established colonies in Virginia (and actually North Carolina even earlier) before Massachusetts. It's also true that almost everybody in these colonies died, and therefore the first enduring, permanent settlement was in Massachusetts.

Posted by: Barbara | Sep 27, 2004 10:50:58 AM

A couple of things about this:

1.) My home of Boston (and also New York and DC and other communist cities where welfare queens supposedly live off the hard work of real America) is made up of predominantly blue-collar, working-class people. Sure, we have more elitist eggheads than most places, but they are certainly not the entire population.

2.) Most of the people (i.e., right-wing bloggers) who claim to reside in "real" America are most likely middle-to-upper-class yuppies who live in the suburbs, or worse, planned gated communities. Let's face it: not many farmers in Iowa have the time to sit at their laptops and write "Indeed" after every Jeff Jarvis post.

3.) Liberals/Progressives DO need to overcome their class predjudices (as Mr. Sawicky constantly reminds us). On WFNX's "1-in-10" last night (a local radio show dealing with "gay"-themed issues), one of the hosts derided Bush supporters as frequent Wal-Mart shoppers. This only reinforces the image of city-dwellers as latte-sipping snobs. Bad, bad, bad.

Posted by: Brad Reed | Sep 27, 2004 10:51:17 AM

In response to the comment by "right", I think it's important to point out that the single most important "state right" that the south fought to preserve was the right to own other human beings as property.

The debate over that "right" had dominated national politics from the beginning - from the vile Three-Fifths Comprimise in the constitution, to the Missouri Compromise, to the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act, to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, to the Civil War itself, slave-owning states did whatever they could, including trampling on the "rights" of other states, to ensure the continuation of their privilege.

The south left the union when Lincoln, of the anti-slavery Republican Party, won the presidency. Lincoln might have been fighting to preserve the union, but the south was certainly fighting to preserve chattel slavery.

Posted by: Blogtheist | Sep 27, 2004 10:52:42 AM

And there are so many layers of irony here that you couldn't peel 'em with a knife. I come from the part of the South that supported the Union cause in that 'ol War, mainly becaouse chattel slavery was uncommon in the Southern Mountains, and whose people were stigmatized as hillybillies or worse. The result of this sort of marginalization is, unfortunately, Zell Miller.
And the whole deal with this 'real American' crap is marginalization of someone.

Posted by: Mr. Bill | Sep 27, 2004 10:56:32 AM

Matthew, just ignore the trolls who are trying to defend the Southern traitors. The fact that the South committed treason against the United States is less important than the fact that it is still so popular in the South to hang the flag of Treason (ie the Confederate Flag) in an official governmental role. These traitor sympathizers shouldn't be trusted to ever work for the government let alone run the government.

Posted by: Dan the Man | Sep 27, 2004 10:59:50 AM

Man, I checked into comments just to agree wholeheartedly with Matt's original statement -- the Northeast is just as real as any other part of the country. And I say that as a transplanted midwesterner (Ohio and Wisconsin) now living in Massachusetts.

But comments have gotten pretty far afield -- origins of the Civil War, whether New England or Virginia came first -- and it's pretty hard for a high school history teacher to stay out of the fray.

About an hour ago, I was talking to my sophomores about the Fugitive Slave Act and the Compromise of 1850. Just where in God's holy Earth do the southerners come off as the defenders of states' rights? I mean, here you got the federal government coming into northern states who have sovereignly determined that runaway slaves can freely transit their territories and telling them that those laws have no standing and that citizens who obey those state laws are subject to arrest and fines by federal agents.

Certainly from the Compromise of 1850 on, the southerners are blatantly and nakedly using the power of the federal government to impose slavery on the north. The epitome of it is the Dred Scott decision.

(BTW, Virginia was viable, despite the ongoing high death rate, by about 1611. I believe that was before the founding of Plymouth...)

Posted by: litho | Sep 27, 2004 11:05:55 AM

Living Dolls:The Making of a Child Beauty Queen

Great documentary, a revelation to me when I watched it on HBO. About the Little Junior Miss or whatever scene, 6 yr-old girls in adult sexy dresses with full makeup and hair. A very Red-State activity, would be my guess, and yet all the coaches and personal stylists were gay males.
Completely accepted within that context.

Points: Flyover country (and I live there) is more complex than metropolitan America would guess.
2) Red-state America (which is not completely geographical) despite its complexity remains a steaming swamp of permanently diseased instincts.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 27, 2004 11:09:20 AM

From what I have seen in my cobbled-together year and a half living on the road in this country, one part of America is no longer significantly different than any other part, outside of topography. Most places have a Wal-Mart and a corporate strip. Most places have liberals and conservatives. Most places would consider themselves part of America, from Caribou, ME to Manhattan to Birmingham to Columbus to Walsenburg, CO to Yachats, OR to San Diego.

Posted by: Oliver | Sep 27, 2004 11:10:55 AM

The North fought the Civil War to preserve the Union. like it or not, you're stuck with us Southrons. Assertion of cultural superiority will only make the polarization worse. Some dumbasses use the Comfederate battle jack to show racism, and some just to say, 'I'm from here." Battles over symbols are a substitute for avoiding the real issues of economic and racial division.
There are many Souths, as many as Southerners. Avoid making it harder for beleagured Southern Progressives by asserting some sort of regional superiority, and marginalizing all persons of any region. I mean, I've been to South Boston....
(should have been 'hillbillies' in previous post.)

Posted by: Mr. Bill | Sep 27, 2004 11:13:38 AM

The first member of my family to reach this continent got here in the 1640s and is buried in the Old North Church graveyard (he was expleed from Harvard for drunkeness!!). I have ancestors who were at Bunker Hill and Antietam.
My nice hi-tech, higher ed suburb is very Demoratic. The folks who run it are the ones who coach Little League, are active in their church, organize charities, and like that.
In other words, it's just like a suburb of Atlanta, except it's Democrats instead of Republicans.
I'm tired of being demonized for no cause. If it looks like Kerry's going to lose come Halloween, I hope he goes down as follows.
"Gay marriage? I'm proud to come from a state where constitutional liberty was upheld over religious bigotry!

Posted by: JMG | Sep 27, 2004 11:16:12 AM


New England had a semi-permanent population of thousands of European fishermen decades before any serious attempts at colonization were made, and perhaps even before the voyages of Columbus - Mark Kurlansky's epic little book Cod fingers the Basques as the true "discoverers" of America.

And then there's Maine (= Massachusetts until 1820) which shows signs in its archaeological record of possible Viking exploration and settlement along its coast.

Unless Virginia was a Carthaginian colony or settled by Odysseus on his final voyage, you folks are going to have to dig deep to beat either of those.

I'll leave the "states rights" mantra of yours alone, except to ask you this question: if the right of the States at issue had been anything other than slavery, do you think that the South would have had been able to engineer the secession of half the existing Union?

Everyone Else,

The problem with "real America" is that it thinks it's the only America. Somehow I'm able to envision a country that includes blue liberal coastal cities, red conservative flyover country, and all sorts of shades of purple in between that nevertheless remains "American" wherever you go. I happen to like it that way, too. It would never occur to me to think of a person from Crawford, Texas as not being part of "real America", and yet there is apparently a whole demographic out there that feels such antipathy towards me.

Besides, anyone who thinks that New England is a liberal bastion should drive for an hour in any direction from downtown Boston...

Posted by: oodja | Sep 27, 2004 11:16:18 AM

It's also the part that burned "witches." So perhaps that's why some attribute or compare the current perceived "values" of "red staters" to "real" America.

Were you taking yourself seriously when you wrote this, or were you just looking for a snappy comeback? Let me lay it out on the line-- You, SoCalJusice, are full of crap. I, for one, have yet to hear people from the "heartland" claim that the northeast is corrupt because of the Salem witch trials. You were just trying to come up with a senseless attack rather than address this bizarre bigoted perception some people have about being "real americans."

That always reminds me of this quote from Suck.com:

[Some people's sense of] "importance" is that they're born and raised AMERICANS, from America's HEARTLAND - as if hailing from Missouri is some sort of an accomplishment, to hold over the head of someone who made the "mistake" of being born in a sh*thole like Cambodia.

Posted by: Constantine | Sep 27, 2004 11:21:42 AM

"right" writes: ...the South didn't secede to preserve chattel slavery...

That's a lie that Southerners have been telling themselves since Reconstruction. Slavery was the most important issue in the country in the mid-1800s, and the Republican Party was founded by those who would rollback slavery (the first Presidential candidate, Fremont. Of course, Abraham Lincoln originally wanted to gradually phase out slavery in the US, but it was clear that ending slavery was his ultimate goal, and the South knew it. That was the only reason for secession. Everything else was rationalization.

... (nor did the North invade to eliminate

That's true---the North invaded to preserve the union.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough | Sep 27, 2004 11:22:41 AM

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