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August 02, 2007

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danielle wilson

I am a member of the dominant class you described--straight, white, Christian, and while not exactly rich, I am in the comfortable position of upper middle class. But I also have quite a number of non-dominant tendencies which are viewed as quite strange by other people of the dominant class. I'm an artist. My husband and I want to raise goats and chickens. When we have children, I will give birth at home. I am anti-abortion, but pro-choice. I am against the death penalty. I sometimes vote republican. I sometimes vote democrat. I sometimes vote independent. I always vote. I give money to my church, my universities, the zoo, the world wildlife fund, various other causes.
I find it interesting that the things that make up the dominant class are partly choice and partly circumstance. I choose to exercise my sexuality and my religion. I was born white and well off.
What does this say about our society?

Scott Walters

Hey, Isaac. The City / Country dichotomy is good. I'd also say there is a North / South as well, one that is perhaps stronger.

A question about #2: wouldn't you say that historically the struggle between City and Country has been fairly equal? If so, would you say (and please remember, my focus is entirely on media representation) that the City has gotten the upper hand in the struggle over the past couple decades?

Mark

I have some question for anyone who would like to field them:

Is the live theater "media" as we generally understand that word? I wouldn't describe the theater as "media", but if you would, please describe how representations in this media affect people in parts of the country other than where it is performed. Is this a significant number of people?

Scott Walters

Mark -- Theatre is not part of the mass media, but it is a medium: "one of the means or channels of general communication, information, or entertainment in society, as newspapers, radio, or television." How it affects people in parts of the country other than where a particular play is performed is through tours, the optioning of plays by regional theatres, the licensing of plays for amateur groups, and so forth.

If you are implying that theatres outside of NY have no obligation to produce NY plays, and that they could, if they wanted, produce plays with a more local orientation, then I would say you and I are in agreement. That they don't, to my mind, is evidence of the lack of imagination happening in the regional theatres. I would also say, however, that it reflects the fact that the staff at the regionals are often comprised of artists visiting from NY who have no real commitment to the particular community they are in.

Paul Rekk

Mark, while not as pervasive as TV or film, I would say that live theatre is media. Which is also plays into the generalization of The City as seen by The Country (at least in the form of theatre). Because live theatre is not as pervasive, the shows that make their way to The Country consciousness are only the largest of the large, economically speaking. And while The City does provide a wide spectrum of live theatre experiences, The Country never sees them and is therefore never aware of them. Who's fault is this -- the imported audience for buying or the producers for selling? That's the same ol' chicken/egg argument all over again. And certainly it works the other way as well, with The City only receiving a fraction of information on The Country, but as to your question, when my rural parents come to visit me, a theatre artist in Chicago, and the only theatre they can talk about is Wicked, the Chicago equivalent of a squatter convincing his guests that he doesn't rent, but owns (sorry, my prejudice is showing), I would say that, yes, there is a cultural effect in areas without a theatre base. It's just an extremely narrow slice of the pie.

Tony

Scott: I think the city/country dichotomy Issac proposes works much better than a North/South one. This is in part due to the sheer number of people who moved up north in the first half of the last century looking for factory work, which changed the cultural landscape immensely.

Some food for thought?

Adam

Thanks, Isaac for startign this up. I'm interested about what Paul said. i feel like it's fascinating that here in the city I am experiencing more theatre of the country and of other countries simply because there is more of all theater. I think the pipeline of theatre to off broadway is a small pipeline but not necessarily of a particular kind of theater both in terms of the background of the theater artist and of the content.

If anything, one could say that off broadway (and therefore in some ways the regionals) are mostly doing plays that are naturalistic (or at the very least easy to understand) and also prodominantly by middle aged white males. However, this is changing and I'm happy it is.

I can't say with any certainty what theater is being done in the Country but I wouldn't be surprised if a good deal of it was what was successful on or off broadway three years prior.

It's interesting that I've heard people from Seattle and SF bemaoning that they can't work in their hometown theatres until they come to New York and make it big. Only then are they invited to work in the large regional in their hometown. This is definitely a NY bias. But I don't know that it is universal and I hope it isn't.

Scott Walters

Adam -- I'm afraid it was true in Minneapolis as well -- local actors were rarely employed by the Guthrie, and then usually as extras.

Tony -- I see the point you are making about the Great Migration during the early part of the 20th century. I don't want to quibble, but the same pattern has occurred with the City / Country, with the migration of rural residents to the city. Then, just to make it even more unclear, we have the migration that started in the 1980s from the north to the south, as cities like Atlanta and Charlotte grew rapidly as did the rest of the sunbelt.

So here's my question: given all this intermixing, shouldn't all these stereotypes have disappeared long ago? And if they haven't (and I don't think we can say they have), why haven't they?

Alison Croggon

The reason stereotypes don't disappear is because they're useful. Maybe the gerrymander Isaac talks about, with disproportionate power given to the country relative to its population - a situation we have here, too - points to one possibility. You have the "salt of the earth" types, we have the "aussie battlers". You have your fundamentalist Christians, we had Pauline Hanson, right wing and racist. Both these extreme tendencies were absorbed by major political parties and _helped them win elections_. That's useful to somebody.

I am from the country, I was even raised on a small farm. I know, contra the stereotypes, that some of the most interesting ecological thinking comes from the country here (it's a matter of survival - Australia has a very delicate ecology and global warming is hitting us badly - much of the discontent about global warming here is from the country, and my father voted left wing for the first time in his life on that very question). The best arts festival I ever went to in my life was in a tiny town in northern Victoria called Benalla (which has one of the most beautiful art galleries I've seen). I'm mates with Les Murray, who is one of the greatest poets this country has produced, and he's often portrayed as a red neck. If he's a red neck, he's a red neck who can quote poems in Urdu. Etc. The country, like the city, is impossible to generalise, and surprising. But when the flattering stereotypes are used so flagrantly, so will the negative answers to that.

Scott Walters

I think you're right, Alison. I hope you'll check out my most recent post about the new idea that has struck me on this.

The ecological issue is one that is particularly pertinent to the City / Country disjunct. Because most people have little idea where their food comes from or how it is grown, there is a tendency to overlook the importance of the rural to our very survival. With the city being almost anti-nature in its structure, it is possible to forget about nature. Until the environmental crisis rears its head, and then things change. Suddenly, here in the US, we are reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," and "Deep Economy" and we're seeing the interconnectedness of city and country. Perhaps as a result the polarization will start to fade. One can hope.

Alison Croggon

I'm still bothered by how the discussion on your blog studiously avoids anything that isn't North American. So I'll post here.

Berger is your man on this (small books like And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos are profound and deeply moving meditations on place, history, identity, tradition and migration). I think Christopher Lasch has written a lot on the new elites, and on how mobility is one of the defining characteristics of the modern elite. Another is access to and authority over information and representation, which includes artists. Like it or not, even if we struggle to pay the rent or eat, we qualify as elite in those terms.

Christopher Shinn

Christopher Lasch's "The Revolt of the Elites" is a brilliant book, remarkable for its prescience alone. Nothing I've read by him is without real relevance for our present moment, even the stuff he wrote in the 70s.

Alison Croggon

That's the very one, Chris! Thanks. Prescient is the word. The Culture of Narcissism is excellent as well.

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