Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Defying rural Southern stereotypes in satirizing them

NPR reported a few days ago on a new genre of stand-up comedians:  progressive rednecks.  These are men (and perhaps some women, though none are noted in the story) who play on the stereotypes of rural Southerners by ridiculing them.  Referring to Trae Crowder, one of the more famous among this lot, Will Huntsberry explains:  
He's doing something almost entirely unheard of in mainstream comedy: making a big deal out of his "Southern-ness" and his progressive values. 
"Yeah, I'm a white trash, trailer baby from the deep South," Crowder said. "But I'm also educated, agnostic, well-read, cultured. I'm [all] of those things at the same time and if you can't reconcile those things in your head, that's your problem."
Huntsberry explains the specific genre these comedians have carved out:
Embracing this paradox, of loving the South, while also being horrified by it, is exactly what makes these comedians so different than the ones that have come before them.
Huntsberry notes how these men are different even from comedians like Jeff Foxworthy, who embraces southern stereotypes to get a laugh.

One thing I find especially interesting about this piece is Crowder's analysis of how he came to be confident enough to shrug off the culture of his upbringing.  He and fellow "liberal redneck" Drew Morgan were valedictorians of their respective small-town Tennessee high schools.  
Crowder said he was "seriously treated like Good Will Hunting, like a prodigy or something. And so I left thinking that's the way I was. We both had to come to terms with a lot of s***." 
Even though Crowder eventually realized he wasn't as smart as he thought he was, he says, his perception that he was a prodigy back then influences the way he rails against Southern conservatism today. 
"This is gonna sound really terrible," said Crowder. "But because that's the way it was from a very young age, I never really concerned myself with the opinions of other people. Like I knew they might not agree with me, but in my head I was like, 'well I'm Good Will Hunting and they're not. ... They're just wrong.'"
Crowder recently left his job negotiating federal contracts to do stand-up full time.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The travails of rural female teens

A couple of newspaper stories and a documentary about rural teenage women have crossed my line of vision in recent weeks, so I decided to bring them together in a blog post, though they hit on a range of issues--from the election to healthcare to the justice system.  

The first was this pre-election story about teenage girls in Oregon, a feature that made an explicit rural-urban (or, perhaps more precise, metro-nonmetro) comparison regarding views of Trump, particularly in the wake of the video in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitalia.  The piece, by Claire Cain Miller, appeared on the NYTimes Upshot the Friday before the election, and it reports on a poll of 332 girls, with data analysis by David Rothschild and Tobias Konitzer of PredictWise.  Miller describes these girls as being of the generation "raised to believe that women can do anything men can do yet aware that they have not yet."  Among them, 44% said they would definitely or most likely vote for Hillary Clinton--were they old enough to vote--while 15% said they would vote for Trump. 

Here's the part with the explicit rural-urban comparison:  
At Grant High School in Portland, Ore., girls tended to be reluctant Clinton supporters, having originally been fans of Senator Bernie Sanders. At Sherman County High School, in rural Moro, Ore., east of the Cascade Range where blue Oregon turns red, the girls were divided between the candidates.
When questioned about who has power, the teens differed rather sharply, with the nonmetropolitan teens more likely to reference people they actually knew, the urban teens more likely to list celebrities.
The girls pay close attention to women in power. Asked who had power, Grant High girls offered mostly celebrities, including Beyoncé, the Kardashian sisters, Miley Cyrus, Oprah, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Emma Watson and J. K. Rowling. In Moro, they talked about their mothers and grandmothers, and a principal they had had when they were in first grade.
The story showed photos of seven teenage girls and featured quotes from each, in addition to quotes in the text of the article from other teens.  Of those quoted and pictured, just two of the seven were from rural teens.  What one says tends to reinforce what social science tells us about rural families very urban ones--that the former remain more traditional:
I never thought there would be a woman president because the way I grew up, men were always in charge and the women provided for the families.
That quote is from 14-year-old Alyssa Hill.  Another young woman, Jordan Barrett, is more optimistic.
There’s a lot of misogynist people who think she’s a woman so she can’t do this, she’s not smart enough, she’s not powerful enough. I think if you want to do it, you can still try, but it’s harder.
The story also features this from a Moro, Oregon adolescent, Morgan Lesh, age 15.
That hits me hard when people like Trump say people who are skinnier than I am are too big.  It makes me feel extremely insecure about myself.
Jordan agrees with her friend Morgan:
Especially for girls in high school, rating girls on a scale of 1 to 10 does not help because it really does get into your head that they think I’m ugly or I don’t look good. 
The two disagree, however, on which candidate to support, though Miller doesn't reveal which is the Trump supporter and which the Clinton supporter.  

The second story is this more recent piece in the Los Angeles Times about the difference in teen pregnancy rates between metro and non metro young women.  Caren Kaplan reports under the headline, "There's Another Type of Rural-Urban Divide in America:  Teens Having Babies."  The lede follows:
The teen birth rate in America’s small towns is 63% higher than in its biggest cities, a new government report reveals. 
In 2015, there were 18.9 births for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19 living in counties with large urban areas, according to a report published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That compares with 30.9 births per 1,000 women in the same age group who lived in rural counties, the report said.
In between were counties with small- and medium-sized cities and suburbs. There, the birth rate was 24.3 babies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19. 
The new data “underscore that community can be one of the strongest predictors of pregnancy risk for teens,” said Nikki Mayes, a spokeswoman for the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health in Atlanta.
Whatever the size of population cluster, all places experienced a decline in teen birth rates between 2007 and 2015.

I wonder if this difference in the incidence of teenage mothers is related to lesser availability of abortion in rural places, a matter I've written about here and here.  I suspect it is also is a function of the lesser availability of health care, generally, and contraception in particular.  Indeed, the story also quotes Mayes in this regard:
Rural women experience poorer health outcomes and have less access to health care than urban women, in part due to limited numbers of health care providers, especially women’s health providers.   As a result, women in rural areas are less likely than urban women to receive contraceptive services.
Mayes notes that Arkansas is among the states exploring using telemedicine to deliver such reproductive health services.

Finally, I want to mention the documentary, "Audrie and Daisy," which I viewed last week.  The film is about two teenage girls in small town Maryville, Missouri, who are raped by older boys from the town.   Here's the description on the film's website:

"Audrie and Daisy" is an urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual assault crimes against them have been caught on camera. From acclaimed filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (The Island President, The Rape of Europa), "Audrie and Daisy"— which made its world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival — takes a hard look at American’s teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying, spun wildly out of control.
Having just viewed the documentary, I would say that the film is less about the video (which apparently is never recovered by law enforcement, but only rumored) and the power of social media and more about the sexual assaults themselves.  It is also, critically, about how local, nonmetropolitan law enforcement and prosecutors (mis) handle the case.  Among the apparent reasons for that mishandling:  Not just patriarchy in a raw rural form, but the different social status of the victims' families compared to that of the accused young men, who are also athletes.  The film also depicts the intervention of Anonymous, which seeks to compel local prosecutors to pursue the case more vigorously.

I'm not sure what conclusions we can fairly draw from these three stories except that rural places seem to be less hospitable than urban ones--at least by some measures--for teenage girls.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The rural vote in the 2016 US Presidential election

Diamond Springs (El Dorado Co.), California, exurban Sacramento Nov. 2016
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt
After a seven-week hiatus from the blog, I'm depressed to be returning with this topic:  How rural America veered even more sharply Republican in 2016 than in recent past presidential elections.  Indeed, to be more blunt, I'm writing about how much of rural "white" America helped make Donald Trump president-elect.  It's been nearly a week since the election, and here's what the pundits and analysts are telling us about the rural vote.

Let me start with the Daily Yonder, which by Thursday had posted this.  The take away from Bill Bishop and Tim Marema's piece:
Donald Trump won the presidency with a surge of votes from rural counties, small towns, and medium sized cities. Democrat Hillary Clinton’s vote outside the nation’s largest metropolitan areas dropped precipitously from Democratic returns in 2012.
The data graphs accompanying the story indicate that Obama got 37.7% of rural voters in 2012, while Clinton got just 29.4% in 2016.  As for micropolitan areas (small cities), Obama got 40.5% to Hillary's 33%.
Democrats saw big declines in their percentage of the vote outside the cities. (See chart.) Republican Trump, meanwhile, had a nearly 7.3 million vote deficit in metropolitan areas almost erased by totals in rural counties and counties with towns under 50,000 people.
The Yonder story quotes Prof. James Gimpel, a political scientist at the University of Maryland:
From a geographic standpoint, the Trump-Clinton contest was more polarizing than Romney-Obama, with bigger gaps separating the most urban from the most rural locations.  
Interestingly, some of the earliest analysis of the rural vote and its import for the 2016 presidential race came out of Australia.  The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Catherine Hanrahan focused on three Rust Belt states where Trump garnered relatively narrow victories:  Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  Hillary Clinton's losses there--by a total of just about 110,000 votes--were fatal to her bid for the presidency.  The story was similar in all three states.  Clinton won the big cities, and Trump carried small cities and rural areas.  Here's what Hanrahan wrote about Pennsylvania, which mirrors what she wrote about the other states; only the numbers were different.
Once again, Mrs Clinton easily outpolled Mr Trump in the cities, by more than 215,000 votes. 
But in the regional towns and cities away from the metropolitan areas, Mr Trump polled around 270,000 more votes than his opponent, enough to secure victory. 
The extra 3,000 votes he polled from country voters only extended his lead in the State.
One widely-read story about the "why" of all this is the Jeff Guo (Washington Post) interview with University of Wisconsin political scientist, Kathy Cramer, who earlier this year published The Politics of Resentment:  Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.  Cramer explains that rural voters are alienated from urban populations.  A particular aspect of this resentment is against highly educated elites, perceived by rural voters as know-it-alls who want to dictate to rural folks how to live.  Here are some of the key observations:  
[Cramer] shows how politics have increasingly become a matter of personal identity. Just about all of her subjects felt a deep sense of bitterness toward elites and city dwellers; just about all of them felt tread on, disrespected and cheated out of what they felt they deserved.
Cramer argues that this “rural consciousness” is key to understanding which political arguments ring true to her subjects. For instance, she says, most rural Wisconsinites supported the tea party's quest to shrink government not out of any belief in the virtues of small government but because they did not trust the government to help “people like them.”
She continues:
Listening in on these conversations, it is hard to conclude that the people I studied believe what they do because they have been hoodwinked. Their views are rooted in identities and values, as well as in economic perceptions; and these things are all intertwined.
The New York Times Upshot also focused on the Midwest, noting that counties that swing most dramatically toward Donald Trump--by 15 points or more between 2012 and 2016--were in that region.  Emily Badger, Quoctrung Bui, and Adam Pearce write:
That abrupt shift was probably driven by numerous factors that are hard to untangle: weak economic prospects; Mrs. Clinton’s lack of attention to those places on the campaign trail; Mr. Trump’s xenophobic message to voters anxious about change.
But the widening political divergence between cities and small-town America also reflects a growing alienation between the two groups, and a sense — perhaps accurate — that their fates are not connected.
As the authors of the Upshot piece note, most of the change occurred outside major metropolitan areas, with more than 1800 counties moving at least 15 points away from Clinton, while only 15 counties "tilted by more than five percentage points" in her favor, compared to 2012.

The Economist got in on the analysis action with this short piece, "A Country Divided by Counties".   It concludes with this sober thought:
American politics appear to be realigning along a cleavage between inward-looking countryfolk and urban globalists. Mr Trump hails from the latter group, but his message resounded with the former. A uniquely divisive candidate, he is both perhaps the least likely politician in the country to build bridges across that gap and also the only one who has the capacity to do so.
Just thinking of the British perspective on the election is a reminder of Brexit and the rural-urban divide on that vote.  Read more here.

The New York Review of Books did a lengthy post-mortem on the election over the week-end, and it included some rural-urban analysis.  In particular, the piece by Elizabeth Drew includes references to David Wasserman's Cracker Barrel index.  That is, Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report, uses counties that have a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (n=493) as a proxy for the rural vote and those with Whole Food stores (n=184) as proxies for the urban vote.
 In 2012 Obama carried 75 percent of the counties that had a Whole Foods and 29 percent of the counties with a Cracker Barrel. But that spread was exceeded this year—in the other direction—with Trump winning 76 percent of counties with Cracker Barrel stores and just 22 percent of counties with Whole Foods.
Drew also quotes J.D. Vance, author of the best-selling Hillbilly Elegy and a widely quoted pundit on the white working class during this election season.  Vance weighs in on the cultural issues, some of which align along the rural-urban axis:
People who are drawn to Trump are drawn to him because he’s a little outrageous, he’s a little relatable, and fundamentally he is angry and spiteful and critical of the things that people feel anger and spite toward. ... It’s people who are perceived to be powerful. It’s the Hillary Clintons of the world, the Barack Obamas of the world, the Wall Street executives of the world. There just isn’t anyone out there who will talk about the system like it’s completely rigged like Donald Trump does. It’s certainly not something you’re going to hear from Hillary Clinton.
Note the similarities to Cramer's thesis.  Anger is central.  Differences in education matter--as does the perceived elitism--the disdain for rural and working class folk--of the narrating classes.  (I wrote about these issues, too, in my 2011 post-mortem on the 2008 election, The Geography of the Class Culture Wars). There I documented media depictions of rural people and places in the 2008 election cycle.  I also suggested that rurality has become a feature of identity for rural dwellers--a notion Kathy Cramer's work also confirms.

Of course, the rural-urban divide was played up explicitly and dramatically in the 2008 election cycle because Sarah Palin took up the mantle of Main Street and foisted that of Wall Street onto uber urban Obama.  The rural-urban divide wasn't so prominent in the 2016 election cycle rhetoric, but clearly the undercurrent of difference--and rural discontent--is alive and well.

One of the best pieces I read on the rural-urban divide in the United States before last week's vote was this one, by Colorado Public Radio, which I blogged about here.  It compared rural Rocky Ford with metropolitan Denver.

Meanwhile, back in California, I note that while Hillary Clinton carried the state handily, she lost in a number of nonmetropolitan counties, including those associated with the State of Jefferson in the far northern reaches.  (Read earlier blog posts about the State of Jefferson here and here).  The only coastal county that Trump carried was Del Norte, on the Oregon border, but he also prevailed by large margins in Siskiyou, Trinity, Modoc, Shasta, Lassen, Plumas, Sierra, Amador, Calaveras, Tehama, Yuba, Glenn, Colusa, Sutter, Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madera, Kings and Inyo counties.  Trump also carried several largish metropolitan counties:  El Dorado, Placer, Kern, Stanislaus, and Butte. Defying the clustering, Mono and Alpine counties--with their tiny Sierra-Nevada populations--went for Hillary Clinton.

Shifting away from the self-declared focus on rural and low-income folks for a moment, it is also telling that Trump carried Placer County--an affluent urban/exurban county north and northeast of Sacramento.  Levels of education and income are high in the Roseville and Rocklin areas.  So, much as a great deal of news analysis is of the enigmatic rural and working class voters, exit polls (usual caveats apply) indicate that the income bracket from which Trump drew the greatest level of support was $50K-$99K.  For those in income brackets above $99K, Trump beat Hillary in every income bracket with far greater margins than he enjoyed from those in income brackets below $50K.