Posted by: CJ | November 22, 2009

Governance as a Teen Popularity Contest

30 Rock is awesome for many reasons. One is that, like Jon Stewart, the occasionally inject a dose of political sanity into the moment’s zeitgeist. A few weeks ago, two of the main characters (Liz Lemon and her boss, Jack Donaghy) went on a road trip trying to find a new comedian for the comedy show 30 Rock depicts. Donaghy decided that it was impossible for Lemon and her coworkers to find a good comedian while stuck in New York because New York wasn’t “real america” and they needed a comedian that “real americans” would find funny.

Of course, in the ensuing debacle of a search Lemon finally convinced Donaghy that there’s not only are “real americans” no better than New Yorkers, but “real america” doesn’t exist.

The whole episode reminded me of my junior prom’s prom queen election. My high school district is about 50/50 white and black. And, by and large, the students aren’t particularly racist or segregated by race. (Though they are rather segregated by class.) That year, there were two main candidates for prom, a white middle-class girl and a black girl (whose background I can’t recall). At the prom, the black girl won. It was just an issue of votes–the black girl had more votes.

But here’s the interesting thing: because my high school’s student body was very divided into different subgroups–not all of which interacted with each other–the white girl didn’t see her loss coming. Everyone she knew liked her and voted for her. The majority of people she knew and that her friends knew voted for her. It’s just that her social group didn’t interact enough with the black girl’s social group to realize the limits of her support in the student body. (Of course, the white girl wasn’t particularly analytical about it. She was pretty upset, especially since her mother had been prom queen so it would have been nice and symmetric if she was too.)

So, having read about this stark raving lunacy, I’ll consider the following my injection of sanity into today’s zeitgeist. That prom election is basically what I think of the “real america” vs. “fake america” crap. I’m from “real america”, and it’s not any more real than the Northeastern corridor, California, or the Pacific Northwest. It’s just relatively isolated from the lifestyles of large urban centers, and from the attitudes that make sense in such places. The isolation makes it harder for people in “real america” to understand that “fake america” is perfectly real, and American, too. They just don’t interact with “fake america” enough to realize how mammoth it is, how manifestly there it is. It’s not some cabal of evil homosexual liberal atheist jews plotting to indoctrinate children into socialist pedophilia, or whatever the meme of the week is. And that lack of realization makes electoral defeat and the ensuing change so much harder to swallow.

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