I didn’t see it until this morning (hat tip), but Daily Kos commissioned a study to measure people’s susceptibility to bizarro right wing propaganda against New York City, San Francisco, France, and Europe in general, and the results are quite telling. A majority of people across the country—male and female, Democratic and Republican—were pro-these geographic locations except in the South, where favorable opinions of all of the above hovered in the mid-40s. Now, if they had separated the rest of the West from the coastal states, they might have gotten different results, but the point remains—the South is isolated from the rest of the country somehow, and it’s making them batty.
My feeling in general about the whole France/San Francisco nuttiness is that it’s a rhetorical ploy, and not a deeply felt loathing. I thought this until somewhat recently, when my grandparents asked me about a trip I’m planning to take in May with a friend of mine to London and Paris, so we can spend money we don’t have during a recession. They were happy for me, but launched with alarming rapidity into warning me about how horrible Paris is because the people there are awful and snooty. Trying to leaven the oddness of the situation with a joke, I said that maybe they’ll give me a pass because of my last name, and though I’ve had this name for 31 years, they drew a blank on why that might be, and I had to remind them that I’ve got French ancestry on my dad’s side. (French-Canadian, really, but for the purposes of conversations like this, but they were exoticizing the French so much, it was useful to point out that actual people of French descent were standing there drinking Diet Coke.) Discussion ensued about whether or not your average Parisian would bastardize my name (I joked that it would be a relief to hear someone pronounce it correctly), and finally the conversation defused.
I bring this up not to sell my grandparents out or anything, but because I found the whole conversation truly shocking, since they went to Paris about a decade ago on vacation, and I remember them having fun. It takes a lot of watching Fox News to get someone from the point of visiting France to immediately going to how horrible the French are within three sentences of a conversation about someone else visiting France. After that conversation, I understood much better why right wing propagandists are always going on about France and San Francisco. It helps eclipse their followers’ view of the real world outside, and provides them a fearful bunker mentality. Why this kind of thinking has a better hold in the South than anywhere else is hard to say. With the people I know sliding into wingnut land, it’s a matter of the geographic isolation from the rest of the world that you experience in West Texas—sure, Mexico is right there, but on the whole, you feel very far away from anything when you’re there. The South has some of that going on, as well, plus a long history of fear and resentment aimed at the rest of the country that can easily be translated into the rest of the world.
What makes this all the more interesting is that wingnuts always sell this sort of xenophobia and loathing of iconic American cities as somehow indicators of the way “true” Americans think. It’s always been the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, but it’s getting even more ridiculous when you consider that the polling data shows that xenophobia is a not only not a majority position, it’s a regional position.
America isn’t a Christian nation, either, despite the wingnut freakouts about Obama’s inclusive rhetoric. You can’t even count on Americans having knee-jerk hostility to the word “socialism”, which only 53% of Americans rank below capitalism right now. A lot of mainstream media wankers bought into the notion that there’s a “real” America out there beyond their own cities’ limits, where people hate commies, love Jesus, and will shoot you for speaking French, and while there is that subculture, they are a minority that just happens to be over-represented.
At least this goes a long way to explaining how people can think preserving the right to spank your child is one of the great political dilemmas of our time. I noted when I wrote about that yesterday that your world has to be vanishingly small for you to think that’s such a major issue, and polling data like this shows that your Fox News-loving wingnuts have very small worlds indeed.