Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stray Airport Notes

I define myself as a "liberal", as that is the label that generally corresponds to my perspective on social issues.  Also, I would be defrocked if I weren't, as Episcopal Church clergy must have a monolithic regard for our culture.  I think it's in the ordination vows.  I'm not sure when we became required to practice "group-think", but I suspect it was around the same time we started speaking more about secular ideology and less about Jesus.

Anyway, I find my assigned label a bit chafing lately as being a "liberal", at least in the academic and ecclesial worlds, seems to be anything but.  In my university work, I am suspect because I believe in Jesus Christ and constrained from mentioning it; in my diocesan work, my free-thinking occasionally makes me a candidate for re-education, so that I might be as morally evolved as my clergy betters [aka every other clergyperson].  So, this article seemed to capture contemporary ideological frisson:

Liberals just aren't very liberal these days. The word “liberal” comes from the Latin word meaning freedom, and in the 19th century, liberals in this country and abroad stood for free speech, free exercise of religion, free markets, free trade — for minimal state interference in people’s lives.

Speaking of group-think, I occasionally find myself confronting class prejudice from those of the greater New York City sphere of influence.  This is nothing new, of course.  One cannot come from humble means and a Midwestern upbringing to live, be educated, and work in the Northeast and not encounter this bigotry from time to time.  While it has embittered some of my geographically-challenged colleagues, I've found ways to cope that don't harm my psyche.

For example, the best way to make a statement against prejudice in an Ivy League school is to out-score your East Coast classmates.  While you can be painted as a rube, they can no longer consider you a dolt.

In the Episcopal Church, which is highly class conscious, especially in transient moral concerns, it's best to defy common stereotype.  To be able to re-build a carburetor and point a verse of Anglican chant, to accurately sight a rifle and lecture on the nuance of transubstantiation, to play bass in an East Village new wave band and appreciate a performance of Wagner's Ring in its entirety; these contradictions help shatter any casually dismissive regard.

So perhaps you can understand why I found myself rankled at the following paragraph in a New York Times review of a biography of Harper Lee, the author of To Kill A Mockingbird:

Ms. Lee has a regular booth at McDonald’s, where she goes for coffee. She eats takeout salads from Burger King on movie night. When she fishes, she uses wieners for bait. She feeds the town ducks daily, with seed corn from a plastic Cool Whip Free container, calling “Woo-hoo-HOO! Woo-hoo-HOO!” Somehow learning all this is worse than it would be to learn that she steals money from a local orphanage. 

There are hints of a life of the mind. She keeps British periodicals in the house: The Spectator, the Times Literary Supplement, The Weekly Telegraph.

It has been a long time since I've had an impulse to punch a journalist in the nose [Oh-oh. Re-education alarm!], but this reviewer earned it.  McDonald's!  Burger King!!  [Not fly] Fishing!!!  Cool Whip!!!! This is like stealing from an orphanage!!!!!

Thank God she has a collection of wheezy British periodicals around, or else the best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning Lee would have been revealed to the world to be...gasp!...a non-coastal fool.  Yep, nothing says "Intellectual" like The Weekly Telegraph.  [I can hear my British cousins laughing.]

It appears I'm not the only one to notice, either:

New York Times book critic Dwight Garner did not enjoy the new book about Harper Lee, The Mockingbird Next Door   In justifying that opinion, he takes an odd detour into... fast food criticism? Class commentary? Something like that.

Part of this can be explained by realizing that Mr. Garner suffers from some geographic insecurity.  Despite being a book critic for the NYT, he was born in...da, daa, daaa!..West Virginia.  Sometimes, the reaction to class prejudice is to simply become a snob yourself.  In fact, an uber-snob.