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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Ersatz America

by digby

Some time back in an attempt to explain what I meant by "the Village" I wrote this:

The village is really "the village" an ersatz small town like something you'd see in Disneyland. And to those who argue that Versailles is the far better metaphor, I would just say that it is Versailles --- a very particular part:

A Picturesque Little Village

Part of the grounds near the Trianon were chosen by Marie-Antoinette as the site of a lakeside village, a crucial feature of picturesque landscape gardens then so fashionable among Europe's aristocracy. In 1783, Richard Mique built this amusement village where the queen played at being a shepherdess.

In 1784, Marie-Antoinette had a farm built, where she installed a farming couple from the Touraine region, along with their two children. They were charged with supplying the queen with eggs, butter, cream and cheese, for which they disposed of cows, goats, farmyard animals.
The Village is a metaphor for the faux "middle class values" that the wealthy, insular, privileged, hypocritical political celebrities (and their hangers-on and wannabes) present to the nation.

When I wrote that I never imagined that one day a villager would literally conjure up a fictional small town in South Carolina filled with wealthy, skeet shooting, Republican pals of hers to illustrate what average folks are thinking. But that's exactly what Kathleen Parker did today:

Canteyville is a state of mind, a late-night invention born of spirited conversation at a sporting clay club in the state's unfortunately dubbed "Midlands."

This particular Cantey -- yet another Joe -- is famous in certain circles. Most recently, that would be among the gun-toters so often feared and misunderstood by urban and coastal dwellers.

Cantey's fame stems primarily from his having been a six-time world-champion clay shooter. Before he was a shooter, he was a renowned thoroughbred racehorse trainer (including Belmont Stakes winner Temperence Hill). Before that, he was bound for the Juilliard School on a scholarship when an automobile accident ruined his trumpet lip.

Do you get the feeling that Kathleen ran short of time and decided to use that dusty outline for a romance novel as her column this week? "Joe" (naturally) sounds like quite the awesome southern hunk-o-rama.

She continues with the inevitable defensive trope about gun owners not being neanderthals (like anybody really thinks that) and continues with more turgid descriptions of the hot, hot man with whom she spent the week-end and whose adorable fake plantation she clearly covets:
The biographical sketch is meant as a reminder that not everyone with a gun rack in the back of his truck is a racist, gay-bashing, Confederate flag-waving redneck. That said, if anyone were entitled to take pride in the old battle flag, it would be Cantey, whose forebear James Cantey was a brigadier general in the Confederate army. A legislator in civilian life, he also served valiantly with the Palmetto Regiment in the Mexican-American War.

This is familiar history to locals, but not because Cantey ever mentions it. He isn't the sort to toot his own horn, earlier talents notwithstanding. He is the sort to invite neighbors, clients, friends -- and their canine companions -- to open-air vittles on Wednesday and Sunday nights at his 1,500-acre Hermitage Farms just off Tickle Hill Road in Kershaw County.

The scene: A long, winding road leads through a walled gate into a clearing with two structures. One is the clubhouse, featuring a kitchen and walls crammed with shooting awards. A large bison head presides...

A city slicker happening upon this scene might imagine hearing the strains of "Dueling Banjos" from the movie "Deliverance." Said slicker would be mistaken, as earlier bio confirms. The Southern sportsman is as likely to make an appearance at a black-tie dinner dance as at a Joe Cantey cookout, though he'd undoubtedly prefer the latter.
Oooh baby. What a man. One does wonder why this paragon then turns out to be dumb as a box of rocks, but this is Kathleen's fantasy, not mine:

It is probably safe to say that this is not Obama country, even though plenty of Cantey's clients and friends voted for the president. These days, most think Washington doesn't have a clue. They think the Tea Partyers might.

The evening's conversation circled recent events -- health care, spending, etc. -- which may be summarized as follows:

"Do they have any idea up there what's going on out here?" one fellow asked me.


"Wasn't Scott Brown a hint?"

"Shoulda been."

Heads shake.

Then it was my turn: "Do you guys see the November election as a big turnout day?"

"You better believe it."

There's the deep insight into the thinking of the average American we've all been waiting for, eh?

Poor Kathleen has no idea that she's a walking cliche:

There's something grounding and instructive about sitting in the woods on a cool spring night, away from the green rooms and talk shows. It is important to touch the bare, unmarbled earth now and then, something too few inside Washington do often enough.

At the risk of sounding patronizing, the camo-boys at Canteyville are the "ordinary Americans" whom pundits and politicians love to invoke while utterly ignoring them. The resulting anger recently on display is not only political theater. And the conversation at Joe's pavilion isn't rare.

She actually wrote that. I swear I didn't make it up. ("Joe's pavilion!")

I'm sure that conversation isn't rare --- among rich, white, conservative, southern Republicans playing at being good-old boys while basking in the admiration of the southern belles who think they're hot as a pistol. In fact, I'll be generous and say that many conservative Republicans are having that conversation. But contrary to Parker's romantic view of what life is like outside the green room, there are actually a whole lot of Americans who aren't white, conservative Republicans. And they actually are far more indicative of "salt-of-the-earth-hardworking-regular folks" since virtually none of them are wealthy southerners living on faux farms playing at being good old boys on the week-end.

When these Villagers make one of their anthropological treks out into the country and come back with their report, the Real Americans they seek are always either white midwestern conservatives, white western conservatives or white Southern conservatives --- usually rural, always "small town" and often sitting around a table eating and and complaining about how the world has gone to hell and a handbasket. It's like they all set out to find Real America based on their memories of 1960s TV Mayberry --- a world that never really existed and certainly doesn't exist now except among wealthy land-owners trying to create a bucolic vacation spot to entertain their urban socialite friends.

Parker spent some time with some rich southern Republicans at a phony ranch, dressed up in hunting costumes pretending to be "jes folks" for a week-end and thinks she reached into the heart of the average American. Since she obviously loves these phonies, loves America and loves herself, she's projected the attitudes of her rarified social class playing at being regular folks onto the entire country. Marie Antoinette would appreciate the effect. But she might just as well have gone on the Star Tours ride at Disneyland and reported back on what the people of the Moon of Endor think about health care, for how relevant this is to average citizens' thinking beyond the hardcore Republican base (which long ago also proved to be putty in the hands of phony cowboys and ranchers.)

Her America is a nation that exists only in the Villagers' and Disney Imagineers' minds. But it ends up infecting the politics of this country because these people all reinforce each others' fantasies when they get back to the "greenrooms and talkshows" and give a completely skewed impression of who "Real Americans" are and what "Real Americans" think. Oddly, it turns out they always think exactly the same way the villagers do. Go figure.