The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

20 August 2003

Belt and suspenders

Susanna Cornett takes exception to an offhand description (on a History Channel program) of Indianapolis as "in the middle of the Bible Belt". Somebody, she concludes, is wearing his belt way too high:

As far as I know, the Bible Belt pretty much includes the Southern states, which typically have more fundamentalist and charismatic religious groups than the North, Midwest and West. If I had to draw it, it'd start somewhere off the coast of North Carolina, and encompass a swath from southern Kentucky to northern Florida, out to the mesquite and tumbleweeds of west Texas. It would not include the Midwest (all those cool Lutherans! No open avowals of ... well, anything, there). Indiana is firmly in the Midwest. Them's Yankees.

But her objection is less to the geography than to the subtext:

It's little comments like that, basically throwaways in the context of the whole program, that reveal the depth of the biases of the people involved. They really do see the middle of the country as this monolithic entity filled with tight-lipped illiterate and hateful people, except for the few who happen to have coastal sensibilities or alternative lifestyles. The comment about the Bible Belt was clearly meant to be derogatory, indicative of religious bigotry and callousness toward the pain of others because they're different.

I'm not so sure the producers were deliberately trying to be mean-spirited — I mean, if I really meant to be derogatory, I wouldn't confine myself to a single throwaway line — but I think she's right about this "monolithic entity" stuff. When I relocated to the West Coast in the late 80s, I encountered a surprisingly large number of people who, upon seeing my Oklahoma plates, were surprised that my teeth were my own and my résumé was readable.

And some of this does go in reverse: when I returned, this time with California credentials, some people wondered if I'd "gone Hollywood." Not a chance.

Posted at 8:02 AM to Almost Yogurt

I freely admit to going into that post with a bias against The Coasts, although not, I think, with as little thought behind it as they show for flyover country. And really, I don't think they meant to be mean-spirited in that they snickered, "Hey! Let's trash Bible beaters with this line!" It was more that this is a part of their "of course it's that way" sense of the center, so they can toss off these characterizations with no sense of being unfair or desire to be malicious. It just is, of course it is.

And yeah, flyover country has a thing about The Coasts too - I've been accused of deliberately trying to tone down my accent to distance myself from Kentucky.

Also, because it's an issue for some, when I say "The Coasts", I mean really liberal West Coasters and the NYC area and the coastal north.

Posted by: susanna at 8:30 AM on 20 August 2003

And yeah, flyover country has a thing about The Coasts too

Sure, but our "thing" is justified! They're all BLUE states!


No really, I don't have anything against coasties -- I just wouldn't want my next-door neighbor's long-lost cousin's pen-pal's daughter to marry one.


Posted by: McGehee at 9:20 AM on 20 August 2003

Been there. We lived on the east coast for over 12 years and we announced that we were moving to back to the middle of the country all our friends were horrified. They just knew that Oklahoma was nothing but one big trailer park from one side of the state to the other.

Posted by: Lynn S at 12:14 PM on 20 August 2003

Impossible. Were it a trailer park, it would have been blown to Saskatchewan (or Guatemala) by now. Tornado Alley means business. :)

Posted by: CGHill at 5:55 PM on 20 August 2003

While I agree that subtextual Southern/between-coasts bashing goes on all the time, usually without notice, I'm not so sure it isn't appropriate to lump Indiana along with the Bible Belt. (And the fact that the author was so offended by it proves out how effective a label it is.) Regardless of latitude, most of Indiana was settled by Southerners from Virginia and the Carolinas; these connections made that state (and even Illinois) pretty cagey territory during the Civil War, and for decades afterward. I think the roots of all that are still there.

Posted by: CT at 9:51 PM on 20 August 2003

CT has a point -- one of my ancestors, born in Virginia in the 1790s, settled in Indiana in the 1830s by way of Kentucky, and there was some moving around between there and llinois after that.

And of course Lincoln was born in Kentucky, and his family moved to Indiana and then Illinois.

But while neither of my examples actually supports the idea of these two states being "cagey territory" during the Civil War -- my gg-grandfather and two of his brothers were Union infantrymen -- CT is right that Southern religiosity surely went even where regard for slavery did not.

Posted by: McGehee at 9:29 AM on 21 August 2003