In Defense Of The Flyover

“You know, a place in the US like Texas.” I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but in this case, a professor had been attempting to describe an ...

May 2, 2015

“You know, a place in the US like Texas.”
I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but in this case, a professor had been attempting to describe an exceptionally backward place. Although my only experience with Texas was a visit to Houston, and two times driving through nearly the entirety of the state, I feel compelled to agree that it is an exceptionally backward place.
This compulsion, the stance that I would take if I wanted to fall back on my experience growing up in San Francisco, dominates how many people from the US American coasts, those who like to pat their liberalism on the back, conceive of Middle America — the flyover, the space that many of those living in New York or California only see out the window of a cross-country flight.
In the national imagination of elitist, pseudo-liberal Californians, New Yorkers, New Englanders, etc., the large majority of the country and particularly the South, Midwest and Great Plains represent exactly what is wrong with the US. In this conception of the country, these states and the people who live there are backwards, uncultured, unsophisticated, racist, religious, conservative and unintelligent.
For people who want to claim they are somehow superior, this othering of a massive portion of the country allows them to elevate themselves. For example, a person with such a worldview might hold Europe in high regard, fetishizing it either through vapid look-how-romantic-beautiful-problem-free Tumblr reblogs or, as many of my Facebook friends did, exclaiming after the Republicans took Congress that they wanted to leave the country, presumably to go to the completely non-racist, non-elitist, welcoming arms of the UK or France.
These sort of people look up to Europe and the coasts as having some sort of higher status, one that they have convinced themselves is liberal and inherently superior. The flyover gives them a periphery to mock, so that when they look out onto a country that doesn’t reflect their own interests, they can say that someone else ruined it, that those hicks, religious fundos, hillbillies or rednecks were responsible. I’ve seen this attitude play out many times at NYU Abu Dhabi, where US American students are teased or mocked about some of the absurdities, tragedies and legitimately awful policies and cultural idiosyncrasies of the USA.
The response is to deflect both culpability and shame by attempting to portray things like racism, gun-fanaticism, homophobia, religious extremism, military interventionism or simply sheer stupidity as symptoms specific or endemic to the middle of the country. It’s like when a child is bullied or teased, and the bully suddenly turns his or her attention to someone else for a split second, the former victim sees the opportunity to redirect the abuse towards a new victim: “We’re Americans, but we’re not the stupid, ignorant Americans. We’re the intelligent Americans, we’re just like you.” One can see it in how easily many students on campus will take to mocking the Midwest or South, especially southern accents.
What are we really saying when we put on a hokey Southern accent and say imbecilic sentences, as if parodying — or word-for-word enacting — former US President Bush? Or when we slip into a fake rural accent to imitate Sarah Palin? We’re directly implying that people who speak like that, all people who speak like that, are inherently less intelligent, that they don’t have anything important to say and that we should socially regulate them to curb their speech. I doubt that these same liberals, and I write this as someone who has done the same in the past, would be as interested in mocking a blaccent or insinuate that someone was less intelligent because of their race. We are slowly, according to NPR, mocking the Texas twang into extinction, or at least forcing it to drastically change to conform to coastal ideas of what intelligence sounds like.
Or consider the term white trash, a nasty epithet for so-called uncultured white people who inhabit Middle America, or even the more supposedly unsavory areas of the coasts like New Jersey. The term is incredibly racist through its distinction of whiteness, implying that trash is usually black, and that the remarkable thing is that a white person, who is supposed to be superior, would act in such a way.
This bias against the South in particular fills the gap left by racism’s shift into social unacceptability. I use the term pseudo-liberal because through this discourse described above, people living in the enlightened coasts, or those who want to distinguish themselves as unlike the other residents of their mid-sized Midwestern city, reinstate the same racist, classist and elitist power dynamics, but do so in a way that is socially acceptable and allows them to keep their feel-good liberal points.
I grew up in between San Francisco, California — arguably one of the most elitist and liberal cities in the US — and Utah, one of the country’s most conservative states that most people have never visited but feel the urge to mock because they listened to the soundtrack of The Book of Mormon — though they would only have seen the show if they lived in New York City as opposed to southern Illinois. I consider myself liberal and I’m excited by many of the advances happening in the US, and at the same time saddened that Utah just reinstated the firing squad as a method of execution. One can be critical and not be elitist, and when we engage in that elitism, that fetishization of European liberalism, we solely serve to perpetuate the things we claim we want to stop.
Sam Ball is opinion editor. Email him at
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