Thursday, February 7, 2013

Small town as "super-human"?

Yes, I know that small towns are not human, let alone super human, but this recent headline from the New York Times seems to anthropomorphize a particular town in Alabama--the one where a standoff between a mentally ill man who abducted a young child and local police ended a few days go.  The headline for the story by Campbell Robertson and Robbie Brown is "Small Town Wins Its Standoff with Kidnapper," and the tone is somewhat similar to the Times earlier reporting about the Midland City, Alabama incident.  (See this prior post).  Not only does the Robertson-Brown story treat Midland City, population 1,703, as a homogeneous and cohesive unit, like prior NYT coverage of the kidnapping, it focuses on religion.  Here's an excerpt that refers to the fact that the boy kidnapped, Ethan, had an assigned seat on the bus from which he was kidnapped, a seat with his name on it:
It seems unthinkable that even a man with a conspiratorial bent like Jimmy Lee Dykes, Ethan’s kidnapper, would bear a violent impulse against the familiar small-town universe of school buses and name tags. And it seems hard to imagine, in turn, that this universe could stand up under Mr. Dykes’s sort of violence. But over the past week, as the world of pot luck dinners and prayer meetings joined with the lethal efficiency of elite law enforcement, Mr. Dykes fought and lost.
Which leaves me wondering: Do Brown and Campbell seriously believe that the outcome would have been different had this happened in a metropolitan area rather than in little ol' Midland City?  Was it the small town solidarity and prayer--or the "lethal efficiency of elite law enforcement"--that made the difference?

1 comment:

Hannah said...

I was so struck by this coverage as well, but I felt less a sense of anthropomorphizing than one of magicality -- of the town and its Frank Capra charm. In an age where gunman spring up at a quickening pace, wreaking destruction and chaos, there is a sense that "elite law enforcement" is no match. Perhaps it's our grasping need for protection against these inexplicable acts that leads us to place hope in this kind of small-town solidarity. It's a superstition of sorts, with a heavy dose of throw-back ideals about the "real" America. But it also is an expression of our faith in the real solution to gun violence, which lies in community building.