This morning, I was thwarted in my efforts to walk the dog by a huge electrical storm. But, I thought, lucky me. I’ll get to see more of my favorite televangelist, who is on BET on Tuesdays.
Alas, the cable was out.
So, instead I was reduced to watching our local Fox news. Most of this was okay. I learned not to drive through flooded creeks and that they’ll close school for any reason in Tennessee, including, apparently, a lot of lightning.
But then, they had on Ben Vereen and some other guy talking about their new musical. I’m not yet going to tell you what musical they were promoting.
Instead, let’s just get to the discussion. First, we heard a lengthy lecture about how the theater, and musicals, specifically, were Culture and how we should all make every effort to get cultured, presumably by going to see their musical. Then they made reference to our city’s “culture” and how it’d been a long time since anyone had done a country music musical.
And then, folks, in what had to be the most cringe-worthy thing I’ll see all day (god willing) Ben Vereen put on his best Southern yokel accent and talked about how he just couldn’t wait until they got another country music musical.
E-fucking-gad. Isn’t a basic strategy of human interaction to think about how you’d feel if someone did what you are about to do to you?
But, worst of all, you know what they’re here promoting? What bastion of CULTURE they’re gracing us with? Broadway the Musical, which is a collection of songs from famous musicals. They’ve not even bothered to come up with something new and they’re lecturing us about culture?
Write something original, take some chances, be nervous that people aren’t going to get what you’re up to, and then try to persuade me to come, based on the importance of theater and the benefits of theater-going for me, but don’t insinuate that I’m not going to go to your show because I’m just a hillbilly. Maybe I’m not going to your show because it’s just repackaged crap from better musicals. How about that?
Listen, I don’t want to turn this into a political forum and I’m as hippy liberal as a meat-eater can be. But I’ll tell you right now that this whole exchange illustrates for me the biggest, and, I’m afraid almost insurmountable problem we liberals have.
No, not that we try to claim that bad theater somehow has value as “culture,” but that we have such a snooty way of talking about the things we love and the things that are important to us.
My neighbor, the guy who gets laid, is, obviously, as poor as us, or else he wouldn’t be living at the end of a dead-end street in a building that’s about to be shaken apart by either the traffic on the interstate or the trains, but he’s sure that repealing tax cuts on the richest Americans will hurt him. Not because he’s rich right now, but because, someday, he’s going to be. So, he feels like he has to protect the interests of the group he’s going to be a part of.
I don’t think this is an anomaly. I think the conservative rhetoric, the story they tell about themselves, is some version of The American Dream, that anyone can be successful if they work hard enough. For the record, I don’t believe this is true. I don’t believe everyone is born with an equal chance. So, I hear this line of bull and I think it’s quaint and unrealistic.
But what do we liberals have to offer? What’s the story we tell about ourselves? That we know better than you what’s best for you. We know what is “American Culture” and we can make jokes and deride country music and NASCAR and “The Heartland,” because we’re better than that. I’m not saying all liberals think that. I’m saying that’s how we come across.
What’s the better choice? You’re just like us, you just haven’t quite gotten here yet. Or, no matter what you do, you’ll never be like us.
Miss J. once told me how much it bothered her to see how Southerners were portrayed in popular culture and how insulted she was the very way she talked was turned into a kind of short-hand way of indicating how stupid and potentially violent someone was.
I think Fly-over America is full of people like Miss J. and I, who really want to make our country better, who really believe that real compassion should not be left to the churches alone, but also integrated into our government, who believe that federal programs can really make a difference in people’s lives, and who are willing to pay taxes in order to pool our resources with other citizens in order to make real, lasting, positive change.
I’m a liberal. I share much of the same agenda as liberals throughout the country. I believe that I share the same agenda as many people in this country and it irritates me that we’ve snobbed our way right out of seeming relevant to at least half of the people in this country.
Clearly, we are a deeply divided country. People on the one side see the other side as full of moral degenerates who want to impose our evil, secular agenda on them. People on the other side see that first side as a bunch of religious nuts who cannot be reasoned with and who might turn violent at any second. Both sides seem terrified of the other.
Well, someone has got to be brave and someone has got to ask him or herself “How would I feel if they did this to me?” That’s where we’ve got to start from. You say you want the Ten Commandments posted in every courtroom because they provide a basis for our laws? How would you feel if I demanded equal space for Hengist and Horsa, the sons of Woden, credited with conquering England and laying out the foundations for our common law? (Thomas Jefferson, for you history buffs, proposed something similar.)
Ah, well, I could go on, but I’ve got to get to work. Also, I think I have to track down some Hengist and Horsa figurines.*
*For you horse lovers, you may have noticed that Horsa is basically Horse. Hengist means, roughly, stallion. I’m not one to comment on the smarts of horses, but I thought you might find it interesting that a pair of horse-gods are credited with starting part of our legal tradition.