Mac at Slowlearner has decided to take on both George Hunka and me in the same post
. My response to him, and indirectly to many of you who have filled my comments box, follows:
This is not about me, nor is it only about theatre. It is about a culture. It is about a mass media that regularly focuses on the metropolis to the near exclusion of rural life and the south, and when it does refer to them, does so using demeaning stereotypes almost exclusively. The theatre follows that trend. So is there a NY aesthetic? There is a metropolitan coastal attitude that privileges certain types of content over others.
I refer you to your own link of non-musical plays: do you see any that seem to be set in the south or a rural community? What I see are some international plays, some classics, and some plays that SOUND as if they take place in NYC. So what, you say? In the current theatrical climate, mostly NYC plays get produced across the country. Films and television are also centered in NYC or LA, and also reflect the experiences and attitudes of that place.
Let me ask you a question: What is the ratio of television shows set in big cities to television shows set in the south or in a rural setting? Or if that is too hard, name some TV shows set in the south or a rural setting. Next: when was the last time you saw on TV or in a movie a southern police officer who wasn't represented as a stupid racist? When was the last time you heard a southern dialect that wasn't being used as shorthand in support of a stereotype? When was the last time you saw a farmer -- and I mean a contemporary farmer, not some historical "Little House on the Prairie" farmer -- who wasn't presented as a hayseed? These characterizations are based on stereotypes that are insulting and offensive.
In Spike Lee's "Bamboozled," Delacroix's first meeting about his new African-American show has a writing staff who are all white. When he expresses his frustration with this, and wonders why there are no black faces around the table, the writers all chime in with a series of reasons based on racist stereotypes that Delacroix caps with "and maybe they couldn't put down their crack pipes long enough to apply." At the end of that film, Lee strings together a long montage of racist images from cartoons and films over the years. Each one, taken separately, might seem harmless; taken together, they support racism.
In academic terms, this is known as "cultural hegemony," a term coined by Antonio Gramsci: "It means that a diverse culture can be ruled or dominated by one group or class, that everyday practices and shared beliefs provide the foundation for complex systems of domination." These shared beliefs are created, in part, through the repetition of images that are internalized by the culture, including those that it insults. (To see this in action, read Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," which is a powerful illustration of the destructive power of internalized racism.)
What are the effects of internalized geographism? Children on farms or in the south are regularly told that their lives are boring, their values are reactionary, their history is despicable, their accents are ignorant, and their beliefs are evil. They rarely see anything that looks like their own lives, that reflects their own experiences, or that supports their own values. Rather, they are fed a steady diet of cosmopolitan values, morality, and ideology. They are told that, if they are smart, they will migrate to a big city, which is where all the smart people go. They are told that farming is of little value, small town life is tedious, and that life is only valuable if lived at a torrid pace, and that concrete and streetlights are more exciting than grass and starlight.
This is hegemony, plain and simple. And like most hegemony, those who perpetuate it aren't even aware they are doing so. They have internalized the images so thoroughly that they innocently reproduce them without thinking. It isn't until somebody draws their attention to those images, and forces them to see them for what they are, that they begin to understand.
No, I have not read the script for "Iowa 08," but I have for nearly fifty years been fed a regular diet of these stereotypes enough so that I can recognize the clues pretty easily. It doesn't take a genius to see from the "Iowa 08" evidence that this material is insulting. But if it makes you feel better, I will condemn only the YouTube video and the blog posts. Either way, the argument still stands: the American culture, most of which emanates from either NYC or LA, presents a skewed, stereotypical, and insulting view of the lives of rural and southern people, and also valorizes life in the metropolis. I would be happy to stand corrected should my attention be turned to overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Finally, I am not insulting your community, I am calling on your community to respect the members of other communities.
[I ended this response with a short note to George Hunka, who made a snotty comment about "community" and "tribalism."]