Saturday, June 23, 2012

On Wisconsin

This week, I violated a longstanding personal policy to never vote in online polls.  Like online advertising, I've gotten really good at training my brain to never notice them.  And when I do, I am usually steadfast in my refusal to waste the few seconds to click on one of the options.  But this week, there was a call to action.  As a Wisconsinite, I was compelled to participate in ESPN's "Battle of the Ballparks."   Initially, I heard last week (off-line) about Miller Park being seeded #24 out of 30 ballparks for the head-to-head voting.  But I could muster no ire for this supposed disrespectful designation.  This hyper-connected twitterized world has desensitized me to most opinions, even those that supposedly carry the extra weight of carrying the stamp of the ESPN brand.

But as the week went on and a full-fledged movement developed in my home state to "stick it to ESPN," I couldn't resist partaking.  I read one theory that Jim Caple, the commentator on the voting, was secretly favoring Miller Park, and that his sarcastic jabs at Wisconsin were calculated to inspire a reaction.  I don't believe that, but I do think that had Miller Park been seeded higher in the initial rankings there would have been no viral reaction, and it's quite likely that a different ballpark would have triumphed.

It's also clear to me that this vote was about more than Miller Park.  It wasn't just our ballpark that we felt was being disrespected, but our entire way of life.  Caple felt the need to vehemently assert that he has never lived on the East Coast, and therefore his initial rankings and subsequent comments were not the result of any "East Coast bias."  To that, I would say that first, it is possible to be so influenced by an East Coast based media that such a bias is possible even without a direct personal connection to the East Coast.  Second, whether Caple himself is perpetuating such a bias is beside the point.  The fact that so many feel such a bias exists, and are motivated to action, says something.  Some might point out that the "action" that people were motivated to take (clicking their mouse one time) is rather meaningless.  I would argue that precisely because the action is meaningless the action is meaningful.  There is really something going on here when people who actually stand to gain literally nothing are still motivated to some kind of action.

This outpouring of Wisconsin pride this week coincided with someone posing the question "What is it like to live in Wisconsin?" on the Q and A website Quora, in which 10 positive answers (to one negative) were given.  Full disclosure: one of the positive answers came from my brother, who boasted of his Wisconsin tattoo (comparing himself to Bon Iver in the process).

One of the Quora commentators remarked that there is more of a sense of geographical pride exhibited in my state than in others he has seen.  I have heard the same from others who have become acquainted with Wisconsin residents.  "Wisconsin people really like being from Wisconsin," is a sentiment that I never really knew until I heard it expressed by multiple people who aren't from Wisconsin.

But is this the result of an authentic sense of identity, or is it a reaction to perceived disrespect from those who inhabit other geographic regions?  Reading the Quora comments, it is clear that there are concrete elements of Wisconsin culture that its residents esteem and defend.  But nobody listed Miller Park as one of those elements.  The effusion of support for Wisconsin's major league ballpark this week was certainly born in part from a pre-existing condition.  And it's ironic that Miller Park would be a unifying element of Wisconsin culture, given the divisiveness that it initially inspired.  Long before recall elections became the order of the day in Wisconsin politics, the first legislator in the state to be recalled was removed because of his vote to levy a tax to help pay for the ballpark.

Wisconsin is definitely not red or blue (unless it's a Badger or Brewer game day).  But it's definitely not apolitical, either.  It's passionately purple (though also passionately anti-Vikings).  And while there are certainly people on both sides of the political spectrum who would assert that the state would be more prosperous and more just if it weren't for the people on the other side, I've got to think that if either side ever got their wish, not only would we be harder to distinguish from other geographical regions, we'd have less to be prideful about.


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