Sunday, January 6, 2013

Relative Superiority

Thanks to my recent entrance into Twitter, I read a story about the cultural context of the upcoming BCS national championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama. It explored the usual trope about backward Alabamians and their inferiority complex toward anything north of Kentucky. The alleged complex involves a standard defense mechanism: hypersensitivity regarding any real or perceived slights. Wrap this up with college football, and you have the makings of a story that will get noticed. As of this moment, the story has 1,865 comments.

There will always be cultural differences that give rise to mirth and self-satisfaction. The thrifty New Englander is one of our most enduring, for example. Yet the pokes at Alabama, and the reflexive counterattacks by Alabamians (myself included), are both especially strong and, in one important way, misguided.

Take away the image of Alabama and other Southern states as being especially poor and the stereotypes lose their heft. On an international level, no one makes fun of people from the world's richest countries (per capita) . Likewise, it's hard for me to believe if Alabama were regarded as being among the world's leaders in per capita GDP that it would have to endure so many mean-spirited slights. Yet the statistical tables tell us just that. If you don't believe it, you can Google it just like I did.

If Alabama were an independent nation, its GDP would rank it on a world list just slightly below France, and just slightly above Japan. There are all sorts of amusing images that people outside of France and Japan share about those two countries, but none of them are based on an alleged self-satisfied wallowing in poverty, filth, and ignorance. If there were a recognition that, to twist Popeye Doyle's famous phrase, it's better to be a fire hydrant in Birmingham, Little Rock, or Shreveport than to be well off in most places in the world, we might be a little bit more united and a little less defensive toward our countrymen.

Sure, you could still tease us about our drawls, as we might you about your flat tones, inability to pronounce the letter "r," or mania to complete one sentence and move onto the next. On average, we may move a little too slowly for your taste (but drive on the interstates of Birmingham, Montgomery, or Mobile at rush hour if you want to feel more at home). And as a group we assuredly don't eat very healthily. But the only way to feel truly superior to us is to ignore the rest of the planet and humanity, and you're way too smart to do that.


4 comments:

Martin Rogers said...

We need to get more national exposure for your blog! :)

Melanie said...

Dr Rogers what is your Twitter hash tag?

Dan Rogers said...

There's a link to my Twitter feed in the right column of this page.

Melanie said...

Ok great! I am accessing your blog from my phone so I am not sure I am seeing everything.