Saturday, February 17, 2007

Geo-Cultural Anxiety

In the comments section of a previous post, I made a crack about North Dakota. In hindsight, I wonder why I did that. No doubt I was motivated to say something that some might construe as humorous and witty, and the Peace Garden State had already been mentioned, and I had heard the state being mocked in the past. So, almost like an awkward 7th grader, I joined in deriding something I knew little about just for the sake of appearing "cool."

I probably wouldn't have given any of this a second thought, had I not run across this Time magazine commentary after the Super Bowl. The gist of the piece is that people from the Indianapolis area are vindicated by the Colts' victory, and no longer need to feel as if their city is inherently inferior to Chicago. I had never realized that this was an issue for the denizens of that city, but the more I reflected, I recognized the line of anxiety the columnist described as a national pandemic. I think I'll call it "geo-cultural anxiety," and define it as the deeply held suspicion that one lives in an area of cultural inconsequence. Furthermore, I will assert that a majority of Americans have it.

Indianapolis is the 34th largest Metropolitan area in the country, and we can glean from the Time commentary that this city is infected with this plague. The top 33 metro have a combined population of about 143 million. That leaves 157 million people left over, the vast majority of whom likely live in areas that feel the anxiety. That's not to say that the top 33 metro areas are automatically free from it. I will once again invoke the analogy of middle school students. You have an "in" crowd and an "out" crowd, but there are precious few in the "in" crowd who never have to fear losing their social standing. Those would be the New Yorks, the L.A.s, Chicagos, and Miamis. Many in the "in" crowd, though, are in a weird way less secure than those out and out rejected. The people of Cleveland probably experience more geo-cultural anxiety than the people of Butte .

Ironically, for a nation that at one time celebrated rugged individualism and frontier culture, we have become obsessed with avoiding unironic presentations of backwoods idioms. (The president himself seems to be a curious exception to this rule). I use the word "unironic," because it is not at all uncommon for people from non-elite geographical areas to invoke humor in discussing peculiar geographic "markings" (such as speech, dialect, etc...). Indeed, most of the national discourse surrounding this topic takes refuge in the realm of comedy. The put-downs levelled by population centers toward other areas are crouched in supposedly good natured humor, while those from the non-elite geographical areas often engage in self-deprecating put-downs. Freud argued that, like dreams, humor is a method through which the unconscious deals with anxiety. It would seem to follow that the plenitude of geographical humor in America indicates a corresponding plenitude of geo-cultural anxiety.

Aside from arguing that this anxiety exists, I would also like to make the brief argument that it is unnecessary. Obviously, technology is changing the very nature of what it means to live in an isolated or unpopulous region. The economic, social, and recreational advantages of living in close proximity to others is becoming minimized. Continuing to perpetuate myths that standard of living is intrinsically greater in certain parts of the country does no good and could potentially do harm. Therefore, I vow that next time the opportunity arises, I will not mock North Dakota. Though I do think Peace Garden State is a really dumb nickname.


Blogger Heidi said...

Hey, just to let you know from a really cool person being myself, saying that your "uncool" is totally wrecking your rep, keep that on the d-low, will ya?

8:34 AM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

I like that I was the catalyst for a post. Sweet.
Okay, I have a question. How come Americans think that we say "about" like "aboot". I don't, and no one I know does. Maybe the Newfies do? But they're weird.
Hey, that's just what you were talking about right? Because I know absolutely nothing about Newfoundland.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Tee said...

You hit the nail on the head when you quoted Freud, "like dreams, humor is a method through which the unconscious deals with anxiety."

Maybe it is the people who are doing the deriding that are anxious, especially during the heat of a big game!

It is true that certain areas are victim of deriding more so than others, however, a ntional pandemic of "geo-cultural anxiety" might be a little overboard. Don't get me wrong... I agree with this term... only, I think it occurs more often during competition and always when ignorance is involved.

I think if people experience anxiety in response to deriding, it is because they allow this groups lack of cultural versatility and knowledge to get to them.

We all know that Kentucky has been the brunt of many jokes and deriding, but to allow this to cause anxiety would be a weakness. The colts didn't let any of this weaken their game... they shouldn't have.

We just can't allow social ignorance to get under our skin, rather let it roll off like water on a ducks back.

1:10 AM  

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