Thursday, October 28, 2004


Brandon at Siris responds to my Cliopatria post about the disparaging of Massachusetts in political rhetoric. He argues that the senator-liberal-Massachusetts connection is natural. But he argues that the reverse could not be done to Texas (no conservative history) and would be received with anger:
If you ever want to start bar fights in Texas, go in and start calling the natives 'Yankees', and you'll get more bar fights than you can handle.) And I don't really see that redneck jokes about Texas would be all that damaging - Texans make them about themselves all the time - unless they were said by someone from Massachusetts.
I would argue that the triad Texas-republican-fundamentalism is quite strong, not needing a deep history to hold up.

Nevertheless, I am not a native New Englander (I come from that other liberal state, California, that keeps electing Republican governors) , yet I bristle whenever Republican crowds boo to the words "SENATOR. FROM. MASSACHUSETTS." (not quite the cadence of the Comic Book Guy). The continual reaction to those three words reinforces to me that homeland (heimatisch, if you would) perceptions of nation are limiting. I won't grant Massachusetts more credibility in representing America than any other state, but it was one of the first states involved in dialogues from which American identity was created and debated. And looking around at this time of year--the leaves changing, the squash sitting in the fields, the nights getting shorter--I am aware that I am in a region where the symbols and myths of America were created.


At 2:58 PM, Blogger Brandon said...

Actually, it wouldn't make any sense to make jokes about Texas Yankees - Yankees are New Englanders. My point was just the narrower one that in some parts of the country Yankee jokes are already very common (which is why in places like Texas there lingers an air of offensiveness about the term), and New York, the usual butt of Yankee jokes, seems to be considered a bit off limits these days. Also, it might well be that the Texas-Republican-fundamentalist triad has become common (indeed, I hear such jokes often here in Canada), but that wasn't the joke that was made in the article - that would require governor-rightwing-Texas, and that makes no sense, given that the most nationally prominent former governor of Texas besides Bush is Ann Richards, a vocal and formidable Democrat who certainly doesn't qualify as right-wing. (She's also probably Kerry's best asset in Texas, which is another reason why such jokes wouldn't make sense in Kerry's mouth.) The end of it all is that the liberal senator jokes are not so much 'natural' but are jokes more easily made because to most people they would make sense; right-wing former governor jokes are a harder sell, and would more easily backfire. It's all a matter of accident - were Kerry a governor, or Bush a former Congressman, or very different states were involved, there wouldn't be such an imbalance. But as it stands, if the jokes are to be recognizable, Kerry would simply have to work much harder to make jokes about Bush's career than Bush has to work to make jokes about Kerry's.

As I said in my post, it would be interesting to have a study about how such jokes play throughout the country, and whether the imbalance between the two would have as much effect as I think it does. What the question actually comes down to is whether, if the imbalance didn't exist, disparaging the "conservative governor of Texas" would sound as offensive as disparaging the "liberal senator from Massachusetts." If I'm right, we're stuck with a purely hypothetical question. But, of course, I might be wrong.

Now I can't get the voice of Comic Book Guy out of my head, saying "senator. from. Massachusetts" in the same cadence as "worst. {whatever}. ever" !


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