Tuesday, November 21, 2006

One outsider's view

The newly hired Roanoke Times-New River Current editor, Christian Trejbal, has managed to upset many of his readers in his short tenure in SWVa. Somehow I missed his latest tirade on us born and bred types until today. Despite your political leanings, left or right, up or down, blue, green, red or yellow, I think that anyone from the region can't be too happy with his stereotypical comments. The readers of the paper sure aren't.

Southwest Virginia is for haters


Eric Drummond Smith said...

Well, there are a thousand ways to comment here, aren't there? I won't go into most of them, because frankly the fall so deep into the realm of stereotyping that it is maddening.

Mister Trejbal, the reason many Southwest Virginians planned on voting for a person who, frankly, I did not, was that this race had what are called "issues". That's right. Issues. Everyone in America knows that if you don't reelect the incumbent senator, for instance, your state suffers in its committee placement and its funding. I know that most voting people in Appalachia know this because I have discussed it while standing in hundreds of grocery store lines, not to mention ubiquitous waiting rooms. Plus, like most of America, many Virginians vote on only issues that pertain to them. For people like, say, Burley tobacco farmers, that means Allen and, across the aisle, Boucher.

As for your anti-Civil War things, well, let me see. Do I support the flying of "Confederate" flag (read the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, misused since the American Civil Rights movement)? Only in historical settings where it makes sense. Do I support everyone's right to express themselves since we live in a free nation. Hell yes I do. And why are Americans in general, not just Southerners, obsessed with the Civil War? Because it mattered. It devastated the Southern economy and its infrastructure. More Americans (from both sides of the line) died in the Civil War than in all other American wars combined. It is the only large-scale total war fought almost completely in American borders. And, since apparently you don't remember your history, the South in general, especially the upper South, wasn't unanimously pro-rebellion. Southwest Virginia elicited pro-Union sentiments widely, much like the rest of Appalachia. Most of us who had family in the region that long ago probably had some folks wearing both colors (I know I did), and most of the folks just wanted it to end. That's called trauma, Mr. Trejbal. It is the same reason Hungarians still celebrate the fact that they didn't all die at the hands of the Mongol invasion, why Scottish still talk about secession, why the Chinese are still touchy on Taiwan, and so on. Trauma means we hand down the scars to the coming generation, because they matter.

Also, flying a flag or spending a few weeks a year re-enacting hardly counts as "fixation." On the other hand, constantly thinking about people flying a flag or re-enacting might constitute just such an obsession - you know, like the American mass media often does.

I won't discuss the flaws of gay marriage ban, because frankly, I don't believe that the government should be involved in marriage at all, except guaranteeing that it is entered into freely by consenting adults as a civil contract - otherwise it is none of my business. All I'll say is, sure, I disagree with a lot of folks on that, but I also disagree with most of the US on it too, so quit insinuating it is "just our problem."

And guns? Well, we like guns. It is a fact. We hunt in Appalachia - not everyone, but many of us. Also, we're neurotic. That's right. We're nearly as neurotic as folks like Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, all of whom knew that guns play an essential role in constraining government decision-making over very long periods of time. The way I explain it to my students, Mr. Trejbal, is that I support the ACLU because it takes the widest possible stance on the First Amendment - restricting freedoms, even by funding religious initiatives, is always problematic. Following the same argument, I argue for the widest possible interpretation of the Second Amendment - because once you start down the nitpicking road, it is awfully hard to start. There are costs implicit in wide-interpretation of both, but there are costs to all things that are politically advantageous, aren't there?

Southwest Virginia is not for haters. Are there lots of folks who disagree with your politics, and frankly my own? Sure there are. But when you alienate good people by insinuating that they are conservative because they "hate" or because they are ignorant, well, you alienate and you isolate. Perhaps some subtlety is in order, rather than tactlessness that makes you sound pretentious and calls to mind, in us gun-toting, civil war-remembering, hicks, carpetbaggers. Oh yeah, they had good ideas, and they had all the influence, but by being insultingly aloof and pretentious they aggravated social, political, and economic divisions, rather than allaying them. And this is from a man who thinks Kentucky-born, hillbilly Mr. Lincoln was the greatest president who ever lived.

Eric Drummond Smith

Jeremy Peters said...

Sounds like Mr. Trejbal took a page out of the Washington Post's Style section "Playbook on Misguided Journalism" with his outlook on rural SW Virginia.

Feudin Over Virginia "FoVA"

Elections, by their very nature are divisive, but they are certainly not the only litmus test to the attitutes of a population in general. I am not certain that measure can even be quantified.

This particular election was especially nasty because of everything on the table, the quiescent Congress being only the tip of the iceberg. Gay Marriage is an election year issue. The addition of the amendment to the ballot, I am convinced, was more about influencing the outcome of the Virginia congressional races than barring same sex marriage.

Racism, bigotry, and hatred exist EVERYWHERE in America. Southwest Virginia, like every region of the country, is not homogenous. Attitutes vary from county to county, heck even from hollow to hollow. To label the residents of SWVA with such a shallow, oversimplified generalization is indicative of poor judgement, poor journalism, and a general lack of understanding. And about the last thing our proud area needs is another label.

I challenge Mr. Trejbal to talk more with residents of his new home, and less with his friends before he again puts pen to paper.

Eric Drummond Smith said...

Preach on Brother Peters. God forbid anyone admit that everywhere has the issues.

Anonymous said...

Eric, are you thinking about sending a response to the editor of that paper? You should.