Tuesday, May 31, 2011
What's Up With the Texas Bashing? (and other setting related questions)
I've read people's comments that they can't believe how hospitable and friendly Texans were when they visited, because how could their actions be in such direct opposition to their politics?
I've read how shocked people are that, when posed with a gay-bashing waitress (in a set-up for the Dateline show What Would You Do?), that Texans would actually stand up against the verbal abuse.
There seems to be some feeling out there that Texas is just one big Westboro Baptist Church (which I might add is NOT in Texas, is not affiliated with any Baptist association, and can hardly be called a church in either its mission, beliefs, or organization).
To say I'm flabbergasted is hardly the right word.
Let's just put aside the fact that Texas is the second largest state in the United States, and it would be highly unlikely that every single individual in that state conforms to some state-wide religious or political belief system.
Let's start with the fact that people out there believe that because someone is of a certain political party (in this case, Republican, but it certainly goes both ways), that that person is of some lesser moral character. That there are people out there who believe that if you have voted for a certain political candidate, you are unable to be a compassionate, kind, or intelligent human being. That there are people out there who believe that if another person disagrees with an issue, such as gay marriage, they will think that degradation and humiliation of those who believe in that issue is acceptable, and even participate in it.
We have ceased to be individuals to each other and have become nothing more than caricatures, and evil ones at that. We like to slap labels on each other and then define an entire person's worth, personality, humanity, religion, values with that label.
If you are for socialist medicine, you must be lazy and want the government to do everything for you because you don't want to work for it yourself.
If you are against socialist medicine, you must be elitist and think only the wealthy deserve good medical care and not care at all about the poor who can't afford good health care.
Oh how easy to slap that label.
It's gotten enough for me to stop checking facebook so often, because people I know - real friends who I know love and care for me as a person, who genuinely think I am compassionate and kind and intelligent - will go online bashing an entire political party I belong to, or the entire Christian church, or even an entire state in which I was born and in which I lived several adult years. And in their bashing, they will lump every single person who agrees with the politics or faith or even music choice of that group, into a single curse word.
People will take the worse example of a person associated with their anti-beliefs and try to say everyone on that side of the divide stands hand in hand with that example. If a pastor turns out to be an adulterer, all Christians are hypocrites. If a senator turns out to be morally corrupt, all members of that party are corrupt. If a political candidate spews untruths, all people in that party - whether or not they support that candidate - are idiots and liars.
I get so tired of it all. And honestly, sometimes I'm hurt by their words.
I could stop here. I could rant on. But as the bashing this week seemed centered on Texas, it made me think about Texas, and about living there, and about why I chose to place my debut novel there. And the truth of the matter is that I needed readers to bring those stereotypes to the story.
When I set up the plot of Some Kind of Normal, I knew I needed a family fighting not just science, but fighting a community that put faith above science, and the deep south was perfect for that. I chose Texas because I've lived there, and I'm familiar with the culture and the lingo and the food and the churches and the landscape. I could have probably placed the book in any number of states, but Texas was what I knew.
But what I also knew was that, despite what everyone's perception of Texas was, the individuals in Texas are just like people everywhere else: people who care about others, who are fierce about their ideals and values and opinions, but just as fierce about their family and loved ones, even if there are differences. I wanted the characters to be more than stereotypes. I wanted them to first seem to fit the reader's pre-conceived notion of southern baptists, but then break from that into a collection of individual characters who are flawed in many ways, and loveable in many ways, and somehow - despite the fact that the reader may be opposed to their religion, or politics, or birthplace - people that the reader might relate to.
What about you? What do you think of the judging of people based on a label tacked on by a political, religious, or geographical association? Should books embrace that stereotyping, or seek to dispel it?