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September 17, 2002

America the city Tapped postulates the existence of “Guilty Coastal Cityslicker Elitist” syndrome:
The “G.C.C.E.” is the opposite of Mickey Kaus’s G.S.W.B. (Guilty Southern White Boy). Whereas the G.S.W.B. overcompensates for being from the South by being excessively liberal on race, the G.C.C.E. overcompensates for not being a Southern country boy by being excessively solicitous of Bubba culture, even though there’s no earthly reason why Bubba culture is more virtuous or authentic than coastal urban culture. For instance, even though he’s a Brit, Andrew Sullivan is a born G.C.C.E., yammering on in his blog about the decadent coatal elites and extolling the virtues of the heartland while summering in Provincetown and displaying not the slightest urge to actually live in, say, Laramie, Wyoming. Tapped believes G.C.C.E. are actually far more condescending to the Bubbas than any Upper West Sider, since the latter are at least honest about their preference for Zabar’s and the U.S. Open.
This is on the money, particularly the observation that there’s nothing more particularly “virtuous or authentic” about life in Cedar Rapids or Knoxville than on Central Park West. In fact, this particular Midwesterner (b. Lansing, MI, 1959) has been increasingly creeped out by the spread of the term “heartland” to mean a vague-defined stretch of the continental interior, explicitly exclusive of the coasts and sometimes exclusive of the Rocky Mountain West as well. Wilkes-Barre (PA), Colorado Springs (CO), and Tulsa (OK) are “heartland”; Nogales (AZ), Mountain View (CA), and Canal Street (NYC) are, somehow, not. Remember, it’s people who would figure in John Mellencamp videos who have “heart.”

More to the point, as census data shows more and more clearly, America is urban. This cult of “heartlandism” is an emotional response to the fact that most Americans live in big metropolises. It’s the modern American equivalent of the German sentimental attachment to lederhosen and dirndls.

That said, Zabar’s is overrated, and I couldn’t be less interested in the U.S. Open. I’m not arguing for the superiority of “coastal elite” culture, just observing that there’s nothing less “authentic” about it than there is about anyone else’s complicated, compromised, and probably fast-changing life here in 2002. And if you look beyond the stereotypes of yuppies and Bubbas, most of us turn out to live in urban conglomerations of one sort or another. [09:06 AM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on America the city:

Daryl McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 10:30 AM:

I think that the meme of "heartlanders" being more authentic Americans is also partly political. The fact that New York, Boston and LA residents voted for Gore in 2000 is considered less important in judging the mood of the country than the fact that Nebraska, Kansas, Utah, etc. went for Bush.

On the other hand, big city culture has been pushed on southerners and midwesterners for years (through TV shows such as Seinfeld, Mad About You, Friends, Taxi, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Sex in the City) so I think that more emphasis on the rest of the country could provide a welcome balance.

Joel Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 10:38 AM:

I'll have to agree with you that there is nothing inherently virtuous about living in Knoxville, which is where I currently reside.

Life here is as authentic as anywhere else in the country. That means we're dealing with explosive population growth, the ninth worst air quality in the nation, a transition into a service economy and the inability of our elected officials to comprehend anything remotely resembling reality.

The powers-that-be here in East Tennessee are doing their best to emulate the worst characteristics of northern cities such as endless asphalt and an over-reliance on manufacturing without any of the pesky quality of life improvements that makes big cities exciting.

Maybe I'm just grumpy from feeling my lungs rot each time I take a breath during rush hour.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 10:53 AM:

Yeah, "big city culture", that place where everyone lives in apartments the size of penthouses and never wears the same article of clothing twice.

Most Americans aren't all that well-captured by glib terms such as "Bubba," "yuppie," etc., nor do our lives really resemble either Seinfeld or John Mellencamp videos. However, objectively, most of us are urban, no matter what we tell ourselves.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 10:56 AM:

Joel Davis's post slipped in while I was writing mine. My only quibble is to ask: "Over-reliance on manufacturing"? Not in this century.

Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 11:32 AM:

I live in a big city in what is supposedly part of the heartland, and I'm impressed with neither heartland fetishism nor coastal city fetishism.

The "heartlanders" in Montgomery Country (motto: "we're not that decadent big city Houston") are busy trying to ban books from the public library system for not describing homosexuality as an abomination. And the sophisticates who want nothing more than to emulate New York and San Francisco are moaning about what Houston can do to get some respect and maybe a shot at the 2016 Olympics. (Hint: start with self-respect.)

Virtue, shmirtue. Most of us are just trying to get by.

I agree with Tapped that some of the "affection" for Bubba culture is a little precious. I'm not a NASCAR fan, but I know people who race stock cars. Anybody who lives with "Bubba", and he lives in the city too, can tell the difference between affection and condescension. The former is welcome; the latter is just annoying.

Joel Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 12:07 PM:

Mr. Nielsen Hayden,

I assume the rust belt still exists, but I did not mean to imply that manufacturing is the sole economic foundation for most northeastern cities in the 21st Century.
The Tennessee business community, however, does not seem to be ready to learn from the past.
At least here in the eastern part of the state, the relatively cheap labor pool is being exploited to recruit industries that are bailing out of other parts of the country.
That’s fine and dandy until the companies find a better offer somewhere else. Then they’ll drop Tennessee without a second thought.
Tennessee is already reaping the costs of an inadequate education system and a culture that elevates football over intellect.
Even unskilled labor isn’t really unskilled any longer and most Tennessee counties don’t have enough of an educated populace to wean themselves from the low-end manufacturing habit.

Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 02:04 PM:

As someone who has lived in the 1950s sitcom house in the 'burbs, lived in big cities and small cities, on mountain-tops and farms, I feel qualified to say to the Bushies: Blow it out your ear.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 02:20 PM:

On the other hand, big city culture has been pushed on southerners and midwesterners for years (through TV shows such as Seinfeld, Mad About You, Friends, Taxi, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Sex in the City) [...]

As opposed to shows like The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dukes of Hazard, Bonanza, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, etc.

(I keep forgetting the "Quinn" part. I almost wrote "Dr. Ruth Medicine Woman", which could easily be an SNL sketch.)

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 02:56 PM:

I asked my dad to explain NASCAR to me the last time I was Back East.

I was shocked to learn that these so-called "stock cars" had phony headlights. Decals.

Virtuous? Authentic? Bah!

Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 03:37 PM:

Well, I think that's part of the point about NASCAR fascination, Stefan.

The couple I know who race stock cars are a software developer/systems admin and a veterinarian (for ferrrets). That's real life in the "heartland" for you.

(And the one stock car I've seen of theirs did, in fact, have headlights. If that makes a difference.)

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 04:55 PM:

"I assume the rust belt still exists...."

Of course it does. In North China. And South Korea's is getting rusty, as well.

Um, what?

That's up there with "I assume that that tobacco plantations still exist accross the south...."

Glenn Reynolds ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2002, 08:25 PM:

We have here a certain species of faux-redneck professor, who acquires a pickup truck, etc., and tries to pretend he was born here. This is about as authentic, and useful, as the transplanted Southerner who tries to out-yankee the New Yorkers.

As someone who has really never fit in anywhere, I don't have this problem: I'm equally authentic everywhere. Or nowhere.

But I think that America is becoming a suburban and exurban country more than a classically urban one.

Joseph Hertzlinger ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2002, 12:34 AM:

I thought the conservative equivalent were the Guilty Ex-Communist Red-Diaper Babies like David Horowitz.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2002, 01:57 AM:

I was going to say. "I should hope the Rust Belt still exists," except that it's not really a thing to hope for, is it?

But I live in the Rust Belt -- specifically, in Weirton, West Virginia, home of one of the region's few still-operating steel mills -- and can attest that yes, indeed, it's still here.

Joel Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2002, 04:55 AM:

Mr. Farber,

Truce. :)

My rust belt comment was just meant to point out that once upon a time some Northern cities relied too much upon manufacturing and heavy industry for their economic base. They were hurt when those industries closed down.

Is that an accurate statement? If not, please enlighten me as to what is correct.

All I meant to say is that economic development here in East Tennessee seems to be following similiar lines. We are making the same mistakes that once hurt cities in the North.

And while I don't know of any plantations, tobacco production is a mainstay of many small farmers in East Tennessee although the practice appears to be fading.

That's all for now. It's hard to type one-handed. I'm holding my new son.


Joel Davis

Jim ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2002, 02:54 PM:

I hereby officially take umbrage at Electrolite's lack of interest in the U.S. Open.

Soren deSelby ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2002, 04:40 PM:

Poor John Mellencamp; he was dissed by Lileks not that long ago for heartland-bashing, and now he gets used as a stand-in for heartland patriotism. He doesn't really make a very good representative of Heartlandism:

There's a black man with a black cat livin' in a black neighborhood / He's got an interstate runnin' through his front yard / You know he thinks that he's got it so good / And there's a woman in the kitchen cleanin' up the evenin' slop / And he looks at her and says, "Hey darlin', I can remember when you could stop a clock."

There's a young man in a t-shirt / Listenin' to a rockin' rollin' station / He's got greasy hair, greasy smile / He says, "Lord this must be my destination." / 'Cause they told me when I was younger / "Boy you're gonna be president." / But just like everything else those old crazy dreams / Just kinda came and went

Well there's people and more people /What do they know know know / Go to work in some high rise / And vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico / And ther's winners and there's losers / But they ain't no big deal / 'Cause the simple man baby pays for the thrills, the bills, the pills that kill

There's more irony in that "Ain't that America for you and me" than gets noticed, I think.

Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2002, 09:43 PM:


>once upon a time some Northern cities relied too much upon manufacturing and heavy industry for their economic base. They were hurt when those industries closed down.

Don't know for sure about that, but now I think we're overreliant on finance, insurance and real estate for our economic base, here in NYC at least. Maybe this recession, combined with 9/11/01, will, alas, have analogous repercussions. I'm an accountant, so this is personal for me.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2002, 11:12 PM:

We need an economy based on pigeon poop.

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2002, 02:40 AM:

Fairway is bigger and has more choices than Zabar's - it's also funkier. And Central Market outdoes all of 'em.
(But Austin's not really in the heartland - it's a Coastal urban place dropped into the middle of heartland Texas.)

Andrew Northrup ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2002, 09:34 AM:

Austin not the heartland? On the bus ride to school I pass no fewer than three little pink houses! This is Mellencamp country.

Charles Kuffner ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2002, 10:12 AM:

"Poor John Mellencamp; he was dissed by Lileks not that long ago for heartland-bashing, and now he gets used as a stand-in for heartland patriotism. He doesn't really make a very good representative of Heartlandism."

I must have missed that. How in the world could anyone claim that Mellencamp is a "heatland-basher"? The entire "Scarecrow" album is a paean to the heartland. So's "Lonesome Jubilee" for that matter. Someone's confused here.

"There's more irony in that "Ain't that America for you and me" than gets noticed, I think."

Agreed. Just 'cause you love something doesn't mean you can't recognize its limitations and contradictions.

Joel Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2002, 07:27 PM:

Speaking of authenticity, I don't think you can get more authentic than this tale of Bubba, a bass fishing tournament and a couple tons of sulfuric acid.



Joel Davis

not B Traven ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2002, 04:29 AM:

It's odd that the words "union" and "solidarity" don't show up in a discussion of the "heartland" which often mentions manufacturing.

But then, people often wonder about the weakness of the left these days.

(not actually a union member, just a crank:)