America’s culture has always been one of the topics I’m most interested in. When we deal in the concept of culture we are thinking about a broad swath of issues that include cultural mythology, sociology, psychology, political science and economics. The study of all of these fields are intertwined in ways that are not always apparent and yet represent a convoluted and interconnected system that affects all the lives of those touched by the “American Empire”.

For many years I’ve been thinking about the term “Heartland”, how it is used in the media and the connotations of its use as representing a certain conservative cultural propaganda. This is constantly being spread by those representing that I call the Corporate/Military/Intelligence Complex. Let us not confuse the spread of this message with any concept of then central conspiratorial planning of some sinister group. To be sure, part of this propaganda is financed by people of the Koch Brothers ilk, but I don’t link that to some “evil” conspiracy, rather it represents beliefs of people whose life experience seems to justify their beliefs. People who are born to wealth and privilege would naturally view their world through a lens quite different than those for who life has always been a struggle. That the perspective of that lens one is born to,  which gets spread inordinately by those “to the manor born,” is to be expected because that’s where the money lies.

In my lifetime the concept of America’s heartland originally referred to the agricultural center of the country. States like Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, etc. “The Midwest”. The connotations were that these rural, agriculturally driven States somehow represented the “purest” of American values and the best of the American ethos.  As the years of my life went by there was an addition made to the theory of “Heartland,” that added in the States of The Bible Belt and became associated with deeply held conservative beliefs as espoused by the Republican Party. The coastal areas like New England, New York, Pennsylvania and their “West Coast” doppelgangers California, Oregon and Washington, were seen as somehow less representative of American values and American tradition. As the American societal scene passes before me on my widescreen TV, whether in reality shows like American Idol, or the now ubiquitous overarching popularity of the NFL, I see more and more this representation of “Heartland” values and the falsehood of what this propaganda is succeeding in selling to us all.

 

All of us have seen commercials for either Ford, Chevy or Dodge Trucks. They are hawked to us by strong male voices, with “western” accents depicting pictures of “real” men, doing real “manly” things, connoting that “real” men, with “real” values drive pickups. This is an appeal to  what I call “heartland” values and I suspect that none of those “men” depicted,  ever miss Church on Sunday, or would vote for “gay” marriage. The two best selling vehicles in America last year, as they have been for many years past are the Ford “F” Series Pickup and the Chevy Silverado. The message is that in “The Heartland” the real men drive pickups and have conservative values.

The highly popular “singing contest reality” shows like “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice” also have pushed the notion of “heartland purity” and “heartland values”. There is an emphasis put on country music singers that come from small towns and who hunt. The Christian Values held by these contestants is extolled and it would seem that many are professional “Worship Leaders”, whatever that may be. Now the fact is that I’ve always loved what is called “country music”, but to me that represents bluegrass, Allison Krauss, Hank Williams (not Junior), Dolly Parton, Woody Guthrie, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Not the slick “homogenized” country sounds of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood.

Here’s the rub as I see it. National surveys have proven time and again that “heartland” America as illustrated by the Red States and the “Bible Belt” lead this country in only the moral hypocrisy of the publicly religious. These States have the highest divorce rates, the greatest political corruption and the least sense of communal values. They pretend to be the bastions of our national ethos and in truth are merely the fortresses of our most politically cynical and corrupt.

My perspective on “heartland” is really a mixed one. There is the intellectual aspect that has made American Mythology a lifelong avocation. Much of my cynicism is based in my experiences growing up as a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, the grandchild of immigrants, who loved this country for its’ Constitution, but resented the hypocrisy existing in this bigoted land. As a Jew, born before the end of WWII,  I was well aware of the hatred toward Jews that was so common throughout this land,  but seemed particularly strident in the “Bible Belt” States, which also considered themselves as the “heartland”. This bigotry is what sets my teeth on edge, especially when “heartland” is used as an expression of American values.

However, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and the “Beats” were my most important early philosophical/intellectual interests. In the late 60′s and 70′s I traveled cross country by car on 8 different occasions. Much of that time I camped in some of the most iconic areas of this country like the Black Hills, Glacier National Park, the Rockies, the Grand Tetons and even The Big Sur.  Around campfires, meeting people from all over this country, I was exposed to many people of the Heartland and embraced by their warmth despite the fact that I looked rather like a member of the Hells Angel’s. I can’t remember any incident with people all over this country’s “heartland” that I would consider scary, or negative and that includes the police I encountered. Individually I’ve found that most people are nice to get to know and I’ve come to understand that the hatred and selfishness we see coming from those regions is the product of a sociology paid for by those who would rule our country.

Recently, we seen a spathe of highly restrictive laws aimed at re-criminalizing homosexuality, making abortions more difficult to obtain, restricting the voting of certain and even making the Christian Bible the “State Book” of Tennessee.  All of these restrictive and to my mind unconstitutional new laws have been passed in States that consider themselves part of the “Heartland”,  like North Carolina, Indiana, Mississippi and Virginia. They are the products of a  Republican Party’s catering to the religious prejudice of Fundamentalist Christians and the racism of Ultra-Conservatives. These groups consider themselves to be the “real Americans” and have convinced themselves that their radical Conservative views represent the American Mainstream.  This remains their deep-seated beliefs, even in the context of years of polling data that shows them to be an extremist minority.

In the end, in my opinion, the “politics” are merely the apparent symptom of the malignant pathology within a few of us, that causes them to seek power over the lives other humans. I’ve met enough radical New York Hipster types, who were every bit as dangerous to the entire body politic, as an Aryan Nation leader. When I write a piece like this,  my goal is to look at the hypocrisy being covered up by emotional appeals to mythological constructs. These constructs are used by those with the will to power to manipulate people through their prejudices and their fears.

There is no region of this country, nor subset of people, who can claim the title of “Real Americans”.  Those with the temerity do label themselves in this manner can be divided up into the delusional, the fraudulent and/or the clueless. Such labeling is the province of demagogues, who talk a great game of “patriotism”, but ultimately seek to divide us.  The use of “Heartland” is not a term of unity, it is a term to foment the prejudice of ignorant people. There is much in America to admire and most Americans are really decent people at heart.  The demagogues divide us and they prey on people’s fears and ignorance.  You show me a political figure who uses the term Heartland and I’ll show you someone whose judgment shouldn’t be trusted.

 

800px-2010_Ford_F-150_Platinum_--_07-10-2010

Advertisements