Friday, May 11, 2012

The South, Where Elvis and Jesus Live Side By Side


Headlines are a mystery to me. I have decided that unless war is declared somewhere or a crazy person lets loose with gunfire in a populated place there are no real news stories. Instead a group of men and women wrap post its with ideas jotted on them around darts and start throwing them at a board. If it sticks, it becomes news. Maybe a bulls eye gets to be front page news and if you hit the wall but the dart still sticks then your story gets to be filler in the classified ad pages.

On the front page of our local paper headlines scream about one real story, a murdering kidnapper shoots himself after being confronted by the police. The two little girls he abducted after murdering their mother and sister appear to be dehydrated and covered in poison ivy but otherwise okay.

A slightly smaller headline declares the titillating (but not necessarily news)  information that  4 of the 11 members of a marching band indicted for the hazing death of a fellow band member participated in his funeral procession. This is a horrible reflection on them as human beings but not news.  Anyone who would murder and try to hide it has no character. Why would we expect them to be gentlemen and women and decline to march on that day?

In smaller font still are two stories, given equal weight. One is that three police officers are indicted for beating teenagers while they were handcuffed and in their custody. NEWS!! The other is that pictures of Rihanna wearing a daring dress can be found inside! Really? This is on the front page? Have you people lost your minds?

First, I am pretty sure that Rihanna in a daring dress is about as uncommon as the sun rising and setting. I don’t fault her, she looks great, but it is hardly  news. Mother Theresa in a daring dress would have been news and photo worthy! Bill Clinton even more so, but Rihanna? No, not even close.

The last bit of so called news above the fold on the front page was a study declaring that the South as a whole has less upward mobility and more downward mobility than most other states with the top seven (New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Utah and Connecticut ) nearly all being Mid Atlantic or Midwestern. First off, this might be news to people in states that are doing well but it is certainly not news for people who do indeed live in the slow moving south.

I do believe most of the states listed have strong labor unions. It is a matter of Southern Pride to hate unions for no good reason that I could ever fathom except maybe we like being less upwardly mobile. We also do not house thousands and thousands of overpaid (by our standards, but then again our motto is any pay is good pay, shut the eff up, eat your banana and thank God you have a job) federal workers . Unless I am mistaken, which would certainly not be the first or the last time THAT happened, we are a more agrarian group than the others and farming traditionally pays less than manufacturing. Some of these same discrepancies were around 150 years ago and in fact were reasons behind the Civil War. Seriously, look it up.

So why do we stay in this ‘backward’ or downwardly mobile place? Well, because we can have a pink trailer with statues of Elvis and Jesus out in the yard next to a Corporate mogul’s mansion and people on both side of the tracks just say bless their hearts and pass the moonshine. And our weather is so much better it barely even needs to be mentioned! 75 degree days are not abnormal even in the harshest of winters here and nobody loves forsythia in February more than a true southerner. 

Our bosses pay us squat but we can tell them to stick that squat where the sun don’t shine and walk out without it being held against us. As a person who has found themselves as often on the telling as the being told side I appreciate that immensely.  Lastly the food. Oh my God, the food! Fresh grown produce picked out of the yard seven months out of the year. Iced tea and cold beer going down oh so smooth while the grill heats up and the ribs go on. Short cake and lemon pound cake and Key Lime Pie, oh my, I get gassy just thinking about it but my mouth is watering at the thought of what a joy that is.

There are enclaves of ‘civilization’ here and there. Fenced communities are slowly making an inroad. All these years of the south fighting being known as a racist and brutal society  and then other folks move in and wall us all apart again while deriding our ‘backward’ lifestyle. Money is becoming more important than character, which is a crying shame and is happening all over from what I can see. In an effort to appease our more forward and upwardly mobile brethren we appear to be losing our social identity and the indomitable spirit and character portrayed by writers as diverse as Faulkner,  Poe and Douglass. 

Reading the newspaper we could be anywhere, any city USA. Take a drive through the country though, turn down that windy lane or onto those dirt roads and you can still find the pink trailers on lots next to huge mansions with Elvis and Jesus looking on with pride and love.