The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

14 June 2006

Joad, party of thirteen

Chase McInerney, January '05:

According to the L.A. Times, even Oklahoma's gung-ho love for college football has its roots in the destitute hellhole of the Dust Bowl and its era of toothless, gangly, bug-eyed, backwoods, mattress-strapped to-the-top-of-the-jalopy Okies.

How often do you think a newspaper or magazine story about Dallas, Texas, dredges up the Kennedy assassination? How often do articles about modern-day California delve into the 1906 San Francisco earthquake? When will mainstream media be able to mention Oklahoma without a reflex nod to the Dust Bowl?

Evidently not yet. Chase McInerney, June '06:

Witness this ostensibly benign review in The New York Times Review of Books for a new book about Oklahoma's alt-rock band, the Flaming Lips:

"[Author Jim] DeRogatis, the pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and the author of a biography of Lester Bangs, does a nice job rendering the 60's and 70's cultural dust bowl that produced these alt-rock lifers ..."

Huh? Is it possible for The New York Times to get past Oklahoma's dust bowl?

Maybe not. From a Jan. 14, 2004, feature in the Times about Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips:

"Onstage [Coyne] usually dresses in a white suit and an open-collar shirt, looking something like a charismatic New Age guru. More than anything else, though, he and his bandmates come across as Dust Bowl Everymen with Bible Belt work ethics."

Is it possible for any major metropolitan newspaper to write about the Flaming Lips without conjuring up the 70-year-old specter of the dust bowl?

Not gonna happen. I explained why here:

[T]here are surprisingly many grassy-knoll references in East Coast coverage of Dallas, and for pretty much the same reason the Times harps on Steinbeck's version of Oklahoma: they don't know anything else about the damn place. It's convenient shorthand, and it fills up column space, and their local audiences, having heard exactly the same stereotypes all their lives, sit back and nod, "Yes, that's true."

The Lips book by DeRogatis is titled Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma's Fabulous Flaming Lips: I mumbled something about it back in April.

Posted at 6:02 AM to Soonerland

Yikes, Charles ! I had no idea I was such a one-trick pony with this Dust Bowl peeve of mine. Incidentally, I got the Flaming Lips book on your recommendation. Not bad for a cultural Dust Bowl crowd, eh ?

Posted by: Chase at 1:24 PM on 14 June 2006

You'll note that the name of this here site isn't "Woodbury" or "Glastonbury." :)

Posted by: CGHill at 5:27 PM on 14 June 2006

I wonder if people go to Oklahoma expecting to see a combination of dusty desert populated by zombie-like humans in 1930s-era suits and overalls and a huge cornfield full of leaping, singing men and women. I do know that people come to Florida expecting a combination perpetual Beach Blanket Bingo party/drug-dealer shoot out, think everyone has a palm tree and an orange tree in their front yard, and an alligator on the back steps of every house. Well, that last one is about true.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 8:59 PM on 14 June 2006

When I moved to L.A. in 1988, I got lots of stares; I think they were checking to see if I still had all my teeth.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:04 AM on 15 June 2006

It's not much better in Kansas, with the recurring theme of Dorothy and tornadoes. Lots of Easterners seem to expect Indians and buffalo as well. I think they are secretly disappointed to find we actually have indoor plumbing and electricity.

Posted by: Jeffro at 8:11 PM on 17 June 2006