Sunday, November 27, 2011

(Comically?) conflating the rural with the less privileged

This cartoon strip in today's New York Times, Lifestyles of the Stealthy Wealthy, was good for a laugh. The premise is that the Occupy Wall Street movement has made the "1%" uncomfortable, so they are passing (or attempting to do so) as less affluent than they really are. Cartoonist Brian McFadden calls it a "clandestine approach to living in luxury," and one of the screens shows a man wearing a "novelty t-shirt" that says, "I'm with stupid (who legacied into Yale)."

The strip was good for a chuckle, but one thing that gave me pause was how McFadden collapsed that which is downmarket into that which is rural. Of course a lot of "downmarket" (a/k/a socioeconomically disadvantaged) folks live in rural areas, but a lot of them also live in urban and suburban areas. Here, McFadden poked fun at efforts of the rich--depicted as essentially urban--to blend in the hoi polloi by depicting them taking on rural trappings. These include pick up trucks (used to conceal private jets) and house trailers used to disguise penthouse homes. In one of the panels, McFadden shows a posh woman holding her dog in an opossum costume, with the caption, "This is my pet 'Possum, you know, from the woods." The heading on that one is "Even pets aren't immune to class camouflage."

I have argued elsewhere that the working class--especially the white working class--are increasingly conflated with the rural (a/k/a rednecks, clods and those living in flyover states) in political commentary. So, it was interesting to see McFadden's visual affirmation of this (especially the image of the literal flyover of a farm by the pickup truck turned jet), though I still regret this phenomenon and believe it disserves rural interests.


oceguera said...

I also noticed how the rural "image" is often conflated with being poor. It would be interesting to see how the media or cartoonist such as McFadden tries to represent those who don't fall into the clear cut class categories (i.e. Rich or poor). Many of whom live in the suburbs and are living pay check to pay check but because of class markers are considered to be well off.

JWHS said...

It's also funny when you think of the 1800's or so, where the incredibly wealthy owned large plantations. There came a point in our societal history where we just started saying, whoever lives in the city is smart and wealthy and those that live in middle of nowhere are poor and stupid.

The problem is, it is hard to pinpoint a single time or a single explanation for the shift. Certainly industrialization attracted people to the cities, but those people worked at near-slavery wages. I don't think their exodus would be responsible for the shift.

Perhaps the most obvious is WWII, but even then I find it hard to pinpoint the culprit. Was it GIs finding city jobs instead of farm jobs? But then what about that equals poor?