aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, July 21, 2006
Henry, the pink pig & the communities we construct
When I worked in community television my job was to use television as a tool for local community building. I came to believe that there are three common communities: our professional community, our community of interest, and our geographic community. I spent a dozen years focused on the latter, helping local people tell their stories so that they would become part of the shared experience that is community.
Today they’re telling those stories on the Web via Blogger and Wordpress and MySpace and Facebook and Flickr and PhotoBucket and YouTube and Google Video and Craigslist and eBay and Wikipedia and right here in my rural southern town, only now the technology is much simpler and more pervasive.
People use the place of their birth as an identifier, they wear it as a badge of honor. It’s shorthand to explain huge chunks of their personality. Some people stay in their hometown for a lifetime, while others can’t leave quickly enough, only to feel it pull them back.
It turns out Henry is from Atlanta and his telling of the tale of The Pink Pig roller coaster that apparently today sits atop Lenox Mall each Christmas season differs somewhat from that of the Local contributor who called it “a Macy’s tradition:”
I remember when the store was called Rich’s and was locally owned and operated (Indeed, one of my great aunts spent her entire life working for this Atlanta-based department store). Rich’s was deeply enmeshed in the history of Atlanta going back to a dry good store created by Hungarian immigrant Morris Rich on Whitehall Street in 1867. The downtown department store, established in 1924, remained a center of the local culture, politics, and economy into the 1970s. The store was long noted for its liberal exchange and credit policy which allowed many poor Atlantans to buy into consumer culture for the first time. [...]
[T]he Pink Pig became the Christmas tradition of an immigrant merchant (widely whispered to be Jewish) operating within a Bible Belt society, a final wink at the very process of assimilation. Today, it is just another brand icon—no more or less ironic than the white polar bears which Coca Cola has decided we should associate with the holiday season and its own locally produced brand of sugar and soda.
The series, in short, encourages a fascination with the “local” as a kind of authenticity but it may not be able to produce the kind of local knowledge it is seeking—not in a world so much subject to flux and change. The local may exist for us now simply as an object of nostalgia—but not as a real place you can go back and visit from time to time. Susan Stewart taught us that nostalgia represents a desire to return to a world that never really existed.
My family roots go back at least six generations in Georgia, probably more: my grandfather moved from the country to the city after World War I; my father lived in Atlanta his entire life; I have lived in four different cities; my son has lived in eight. Of course, if we had stayed for another generation in Atlanta, we would not have slowed down the process of change: the joke is that Atlanta’s skyline looks different every time you drive into work in the morning. Cultural historians and anthropologists understand the local as always in flux and transition, a place where traditions are constantly being invented and reinvented. Indeed, some research suggests that those who remain behind may embrace change, where-as those who left seem to adopt a much more conservative perspective - wanting to be able to return home whenever they want to a world that looks just like it did when they left. We hold onto the idea of deeply rooted local cultures as a way of speaking about what we feel lacking in our own everyday lives. In such a world, the local represents where we are from and not necessarily where we live. We festishize the local because we can never really possess it.
So maybe there’s a fourth common community, our mythic community.
Rebecca Traister, after missing her concerts for 22 years, went to see Madonna and was touched for the very first time:
When I look at her, it’s hard not to imagine decades—of her life, and of my life—written on her body. That body. Her legs aren’t even traditionally shapely anymore: Their muscles are serpentine and distinct; she’s an anatomical enterprise as much as an aesthetic or athletic or musical one. I wonder if Madonna made that body so strong because she has to lug so much of her own baggage around on it every day.
Watching that body—not a ligament, let alone a strand of hair, out of place—it’s hard not to think of the soft, ragged young woman who was content to hump a stage in a wedding dress back in 1984. I looked for that younger woman at Madison Square Garden. It was she, after all, who made this older woman—this freak of pop culture—possible. But if it was easy to recall younger iterations of the performer, it was tough to actually spot them onstage on Wednesday night. And I think that’s how she wants it right now.
Madonna played almost all of her new album and only a handful of her classic songs; she seemed to be stamping her feet to convey that she is no nostalgia act. But in drawing such a severe line between her older and her younger selves, in successfully insisting that she’s no fogy, she actually made me feel like more of one.
The War on Terrorble Diseases
Jon Stewart was a Fifth Estate star last night when he took on the President’s morally absolute stance on the sanctity of human life. When it comes to frozen embryos…
TONY SNOW (videotape): What the president has said is that he doesn’t want human life destroyed.
STEWART, quoting the President: Every… being… counts… Every… person… matters…
PRESIDENT BUSH (videotape): How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war? I would say 30,000, more or less.
STEWART: Each one precious, each one sacred-ish. As it turns out there seems to be a bit of a loophole in the culture of life promotion thing. When spreading democracy moral absolutes get a little wiggle room… It’s not murder it’s a lamentable side-effect. The upset stomach and diarrhea of freedom if you will.
He suggests advocates of stem-cell research switch tactics, “Stop calling it stem-cell research. You my friends are now on the frontlines of the war on terrorble diseases.”
RELATED: Julian Bond was great on The Colbert Report that followed. Of the president’s NAACP speech, he liked that the president showed up ("he’s been scheduling conflicts") and the first sentence.