Monday, October 23, 2006

Alabama vs. the Urban Fishbowls

When I was living in Europe, and for that matter, traveled around the world, I often heard the complaint or criticism, that while the rest of the world knew a lot about the US, the US seemed to be sorely ignorant about the rest of the world.

I often defended the American public, and would counter that it was easy to know something about America, since America had a lot of exposure on television, in movies, etc. It is relatively easy for someone to passively acquire knowledge about how America’s government works, school systems, how cities look, etc, just by watching episodes of the West Wing, CSI, and even Beverly Hills 90210. These shows are of course not perfect reflections of reality in the US, but they give people a ballpark idea.

And because we in the US are not exposed to television shows etc. from Sweden, it is hard for us to acquire passive knowledge about that culture. A Dane might complain that we know nothing of their government, while they understand how Congress works, etc. And a Nigerian might have the same complaint to America: that we can’t offer them reciprocal knowledge of their cultures, while they have a relatively good understanding of ours. But you can easily turn the tables on them by asking the Dane if he has a good understanding of Nigerian culture, and vice-versa.

We are living in a fishbowl, and the rest of the world looks in.

Last week I visited my boyfriend at his new station. He is living in Alabama. I was very excited to visit the South, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I was literally squealing with delight at what I perceived as its quaintness.

Alabama seemed like the anti-Los Angeles. People were more relaxed, friendlier, and seemed more sincere. I started teasing my boyfriend that he lived on a movie set, as I rarely saw anyone drive up and down his street. However in the afternoons, families were on the lawns of their houses, playing with the children. Kids were riding bikes, parents pulling younger children in Radio Flyer red wagons. I thought I was in a Norman Rockwell painting.

The radio commercials for political candidates made me laugh at how conservative they were. Here in Los Angeles most candidates are chided for their conservative values, for example, a huge minus point here would be someone who was pro-life. This stance would be often repeated at how a candidate was against women’s right to choose. But in Alabama it seemed like “liberal” was a dirty word. In one advertisement in support of a conservative candidate, they mentioned how “liberal” his opponent was, and *gasp*shock* how he supported an openly gay candidate.

There were many roadside stands selling among other produce “boiled peanuts”. And along the highway there were signs indicating that people had cakes for sale from their house. It was really like some parallel universe. Almost like traveling back in time to how I imagine the 1950s, but at the same time with most of life’s modern conveniences.

And then it struck me: most of metropolitan America doesn’t really even know about this part of America because they are rarely exposed to it. But this part of America is pretty informed about the rest of America.

I can remember the shock that many urbanites had after the 2004 elections, and the discovery of Red America. They had assumed that the rest of America was like them, since media outlets are based in the cities, and mostly ignored non-urban areas. They were being ethnocentric, and thinking that their way of thinking was shared by most Americans.

And when I was in Alabama and surprised at all I was seeing and hearing, I realized that once again, those in the fishbowl have difficulty seeing out.


Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Alabama is indeed one of the strangest places you will encounter in the entire world .. Driving through it at night, it really seems like another planet, populated with the strangest creatures in the universe

10:26 PM  
Blogger StoicMom said...

Welcome to Alabama, CaliValleyGirl. We won't hold it against you if you say "like" a lot, but we WILL correct you if you try to use the word "y'all" improperly ("Y'all all" IS proper english). Since your boyfriend does the helicopter thing (my son does too) I know exactly where you were. That is a quaint part of the the state. It's what we in my town call "up north". My sister has in-laws living on base there. A few years back, when my soldier was a youngun', he spent a couple of weeks in the middle of July playing in a baseball tournament there. Hot as Hades that year, but we had fun and the town REALLY made celebraties out of all the young ballplayers. Did you see the boll weavil monument? I took pictures of it when I was there. So cool. I'm not sure, but I think the theme song goes something like...(sung to tune of Lady Willpower) LADY BOLL WEAVIL, IT'S NOW OR NEVER. GIVE YOUR BUGS TO ME AND I'LL GIVE YOU PEANUTS ENDLESSLY OOOHHHHH.

Anyway, I'm getting carried away. You are right about the politics here. I can't imagine living among liberals all the time. I reckon I'd probably throw up a lot. Well, come back and visit again when you don't have so long to stay.

2:51 AM  
Blogger ThatBeeGirl said...

I've not yet been to that part of the South, but it seems like a good place to visit.
I like the way you've described the town -- we need more of that 'round here.

3:51 AM  
Blogger Shayna said...

TN and AL are a lot alike... you need to visit TN... :)

4:09 AM  
Blogger airforcewife said...

It's certainly a reality check when we drive cross country on a PCS!

4:03 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

I've been in cities and I've been in the country. I've lived in the midwest and on the east coast and visited the west coast... there's good and bad in each place. Luckily for some strange reason, it all seems to work and come together as America. Amazing when you stop to think about it, isn't it. *grin*

6:26 AM  
Blogger Nicole said...

This is so true. I guess what I discovered more than anything is that "culture" exists everywhere and that fishbowls come in all different sizes...meaning that although our friends from NYC are from one of the largest and most diverse places in the world, they grew up thinking that the US (or maybe the entire world) was divided into four boroughs. They had a hard time seeing out just like rural farmers have a hard time believing that people in NYC live on top of one another and pay thousands of dollars in rent each month for an oversized closet. It's amazing that one country can have so many differences yet be united in many ways.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Stacy Kaye said...

I found your comment about other countries knowing a lot about America due to its exposure to be very interesting. I have found, living in Canada, that people always think Americans are stupid because they don't know that much aobut other countries. I tell them basically what you said too, about the high level of exposure that the country gets. I like what you said though, about asking them how much they know about a place like Nigeria, for instance. I think I will use that one next time! :)

4:23 AM  
Blogger MQ said...

I've only lived on one coast or the other and frankly, being in an interracial relationship, I'm not looking to move to the south! Is that an example of me being in the fishbowl? Maybe, but I have found the coasts to be the same way. I think sometimes I'm in a different country when I compare my experiences on one side or the other!

I love that in the last election people on the coasts were stunned that GWB won. I felt the same as you. They really have no idea that there ARE millions of people who don't agree with moral relativism.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Bluesman said...

This difference between rural and urban parts of a country exist in almost every country in the world. But as usual the difference is bigger in the US compared to Europe, where there are not as many big cities.
Your example reminds me of 19th century America when the the gap between the agrarian South and the industrial North widened. It was one of the reasons why the South wanted to seperate from the North (slavery was more important of course).

To MQ: Yeah, they voted Republican. And what high moral Republican Congressmen represent has been made public during the last few months.

4:16 PM  
Blogger MQ said...

bluesman: I'm sorry, I don't understand what you meant by your comment.

4:19 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home