I just finished reading The Hunger Games because I got tired of waiting for the fourth movie and we had it on the shelf (my son read it last year). I read the whole series because I’m crazy that way.
One of the things that struck me was that all the districts were rural areas that had been subjugated by the ever-so-clever capital. That’s a common narrative, actually. It’s sort of the universal shorthand of epic adventure movies and dystopian literature. The good guys are simple folks from the countryside while the bad guys are decadent tyrants from the city. Star War exemplifies this, but that’s only the most obvious example. The theme expresses itself in various ways – primitive versus advanced, tough versus delicate, masculine versus feminine, poor versus rich, pure versus decadent, traditional versus freakish. It’s really just code for rural versus urban.
It is a divide that really exists and writers are tapping into that tension. We see it in the Red and Blue States Map when converted to the county level. Look at a map from 2012 and it looks like Obama’s blue party is a fringe political faction. Of course, the blue parts are more densely populated. We call these cities. These are blue islands in an ocean of red. The cities are less than 4 percent of the land mass, but 62 percent of the population. They dominate the popular culture — all of our movies, television, songs and news issue from those blue islands.
Which stinks for those who live in the red ocean. The whole world revolves around the “blue” people. The Walking Dead aside, TV shows are about LA or New York, occasionally Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia or Detroit. When they do make a show about the country folks, they depict us as idiots or creeps. This is about what Alaskans thought of Northern Exposure’s depiction of us. If you’re from the country, you know what I mean about urban arrogance.
Katniss quickly identified that nothing outside the city mattered to the capital denizens, with the possible exception of her fashion designer. They were blissfully unaware of where their food was grown and their energy were mined.
We see this today in how people talk about how Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans while completely ignoring that 238 people died in rural Mississippi, which experienced $125 BILLION in damage. By the way, if you try to bring this up to a city dweller, they will usually dismiss you. Who cares about a bunch of hillbillies? New Orleans is culturally important. Nobody cares that Seward, Valdez and several other Alaska communities were wiped off the map by the Good Friday Earthquake (the official name of the big quake that hit coastal Alaska in 1964). To most people elsewhere, it’s the “Anchorage Earthquake” because Anchorage is all that matters. And, Anchorage dwellers tend to agree.
Now, the city dwellers will insist that what really motivates these hayseeds (their word, not mine) is ingrown racism. They hate the cities because brown people live in the cities. I live in the second-largest city in second most racially diverse state in the union. Only Hawaii outdoes Alaska in that department. Trump won here. I’m not saying my fellow Alaskans voted wisely. I’m simply explaining that this phenomena has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the different life priorities that come with living a more rural existence.
The statistics back up the fact that we inhabit parallel universes. People living in the countryside are twice as likely to own a gun, about half as likely to die by gun-related homicide, and will probably get married younger. People in the urban “blue” areas talk faster, walk faster and stand closer, according to the sociologists. They are more likely to be drug abusers but less likely to be alcoholics. The blues are less likely to own land and they’re less likely to attend church regularly. In small towns, this often gets expressed as “They [city dwellers] don’t share our values.” My husband’s high school friends would scoff and retort “Like illiteracy and homophobia?” But, really, it doesn’t come down to those difference. The differences are much broader than that.
Not here in Alaska, which is more secular than any area of the country outside the Northeast, but in most rural places in the Lower 48, church is the nexus of the community. It’s where you make your friends, meet your future spouse, network for jobs, get social support. It’s the place where the poor get food and clothing, where couples get marriage counseling, where addicts go to try and get clean. And that was pretty much all of American until the 1970s. As we’ve seen a startling decline in evangelical Christianity among the general population in the cities, we’ve seen a rise in divorce rates and poverty, an increase in addiction and crime. The fabric of society is breaking down and rural Americans, watching it via the 24-hour news cycle, see that mess flowing their way.
The cities have ethnic riots, Muslims setting car bombs, gays spreading AIDS, Mexican cartels kidnapping children, atheists tearing down Christmas trees … but they have the audacity to say that white Christians are the real problem because they don’t want men to use the women’s bathroom. Seriously, which is more important — that chickens be allowed to be “free range” or that somewhere in the world terrorists are beheading children and abortionists are reaching into wombs and killing babies?
Basic, obvious truths that have gone unquestioned for thousands of years now get laughed at and shouted down — ideas like hard work is better than dependence on government … children do better with both parents in the picture … peace is better than rioting … a strict moral code is better than blithe hedonism … humans tend to value things they’ve earned more than what they get for free … not getting exploded by a bomb is better than getting exploded by a bomb ….
The foundation upon which America was undeniably built — family, faith, and hard work — had been deemed unfashionable and small-minded. Those snooty elites up in their ivory tower laughed as they kicked away that foundation, and then wrote long, wordy dissertations blaming the builders for causing the inevitable collapse.
(More on this topic tomorrow)