Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What's Up With the Texas Bashing? (and other setting related questions)

Lately I've noticed a lot of Texas bashing going on - some of it hidden behind backhanded compliments that seem both idiotic and narrow-minded. In just the last week I've seen nearly a dozen people on facebook post articles, videos, or updates expressing their amazement that Texans can be anything but right-wing religious fanatics that hate everyone else.

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?


  1. I have to say that I really enjoyed your rant today and I think books should seek to dispel labels.

  2. I think when an author chooses an actual location as a setting to their book, it is a must to do some unbiased research on said location. They would not be fair to the reader if they went along with hearsay or prejudice. UNLESS this hearsay or prejudice is part of the main plot of the story.

    Great post!

  3. I enjoyed your rant because I'm a Texan now, and even though I think my husband takes the whole "Don't mess with Texas" thing over the top, I stand by my state.

    I agree with you on the label thing. It's easy to lump people into a group. It's what our minds do, but you are right--each person is a unique and beautiful masterpiece. And your book did a good job showing that :)

  4. I enjoyed your rant too. Interestingly, this topic has been on my mind as lately I've heard mumblings on radio talk shows of fundamentalist Christians in Texas. I haven't tuned in enough yet to understand but many I'm sure do not seek to understand first but base opinions on only one person's highly broadcasted actions unfortunately.
    You did an excellent job in Some Kind of Normal, letting the reader form ideas of your characters from their own bias, but then showing the transformation into individuals. For some reason the church lady that baked stands out in my mind most right now!

  5. I am totally allowed to snub Texas because I live in the first largest state :D


    I talked with some people from britian - he said that the rest of the world looks at the us, the way the us looks at texas.
    We all had a good laugh - it's simply the perpetuation of the stereotype.

  6. This is a perfect post. I have taken a long hiatus from looking at political news and my blood pressure has thanked me. I can't believe how we treat each other in this country. It is US vs. THEM and it is absolutely ridiculous. I've encountered people who have told me that they will NOT be civil or nice to people who disagree with them on an issue, and that just flabbergasts me.

    I think we should dissect these stereotypes. My book is set in a small town, and does go into all those little nitpicky things about small towns that are very real (everyone knows everyone else's business, etc.)- but it is also going to show the other side of it, the GOOD side, too.

  7. I'm Mennonite. So yeah I understand stereotypes!!!!

    Great rant and interesting twist about your novel. That's one of the things I love about Some Kind Of Normal- we get a look at the individuals behind the beliefs and generalities and expectations etc. It's waaay too easy to slap the label on and forget about the people

    Texas has an almost mystical presence ip here. Stars at night are big and bright, god bless Texas , don't mess with Texas , you know them all right? I'm sure I'd be surprised the day I'd actually get there despite all the books and movies and pictures!

  8. Thank you everyone. This has become such a passionate issue for me, and I've so enjoyed our continued conversations via emails.

    I'm convinced stereotyping - no matter who it is of - is a way of dehumanizing people. And when we dehumanize people, tragedy is soon to follow.