Lefties probably tie their shoelaces wrong, too

This piece struck a chord with me regarding some of the frequent epithets hurled at “lefties” on LP especially:

why have conservatives frequently insulted the type of food (sushi-eating), type of coffee (latte-drinking), or type of alcoholic beverages (wine and / or microbrews) that many progressives consume? It seems to me that they consider an individual’s divergence from their habits to somehow be an insult to them, rather than the outlandish possibility that different people just prefer different kinds of food and drinks. Does their intolerance know no bounds? And if they really like the food, coffee and alcoholic beverages they consume, why does it bother them so much that other people have different preferences? That strikes me as a shockingly high level of personal insecurity concerning one’s cultural preferences.

This literal distaste for pluralism, coupled with whining over something as petty as personal eating habits, is demonstrative of what has always struck me as the extreme insecurity among conservatives in the cultural realm. That someone even cares what someone else eats is absolutely pathetic. The inability to just live and let live reveals how the conservative cultural supremacist message is based in the highest levels of personal insecurity that one can think of. The fear of gays, of Mexicans, of Muslims, and even of food is infantile in the extreme. Does Boehner need to someone to scare away the unpronouncable words and diverse menu options under his bed at night, too? What else can conservatives fear and hate? Are they going to start holding news conferences about progressives hanging toilet paper the wrong way, too?

The Boehner referred to is the US Congress House Minority Leader (i.e. Republican parliamentary party leader) who has gathered quite a few column inches complaining about the new Capitol Building caterers (contracted by the new Democratic Congress Majority), because he prefers food he can “pronounce the name of”. Apparently it’s terribly difficult to pronounce “balsamic vinegar” or “persimmon”.

The MSNBC article even notes that the menu still includes choices like traditional American pot roast, so Boehner can’t accurately claim that he can no longer choose traditional, salt-pepper-lard flavoured food. He’s moaning that other food, that he is not compelled to eat, is even appearing on the menu for other people to choose.

Amanda Marcotte calls this decrying of diverse urban-cosmopolitan food preferences as a form of dog-whistling, just another way to sow fear and suspicion:

Fussing over food is about remaking the diverse group “liberals” into something very close to an ethnic identity that can then be hated for the same set of irrational reasons that people always tend to draw out when sowing hate between more traditional ethnic groups—their music, clothes, food and body odors are weird and off-putting. Whatever you do, don’t look too closely or exhibit a bit of curiosity about The Other, or you might discover that they aren’t that weird or terrible at all, and that differences can be illuminating.

The conundrum for the Republican party has always been that they speak for the actual interests of minority of Americans, but they need a majority vote to win. They need just enough of the people they intend to screw over to cross over and vote against their own interests to get that 51%. The winning strategy has been to drum up fears of The Other: racial minorities, gays, non-traditional women, immigrants, etc. Drumming up fear about urbanized habits (like eating ethnic, fusion, or nouveau foods) seems like a strange strategy on its surface, but it’s actually coldly rational. Rural states have disproportionate amounts of voting power on the federal level, so Republicans have to convince fewer people to cross over and vote against their own interests. How better than to manufacture a fake cultural conflict between those who eat of the balsamic and know of the city bus and those who don’t?

Generally, I don’t think the tactic works so well in Australia as it appears to do in the US, perhaps because our population is so overwhelmingly urbanised that our rural cousins regularly visit their schoolmates, siblings and offspring in the city, and when they do they don’t find it all that scary, even if they prefer not to live in cities themselves. I also can’t remember the last time, when travelling outside the big smoke, that I went into a cafe without a proper espresso machine, or drove down a main street which didn’t offer several ethnic takeaways and at least one or two fancier fusion restaurants. Rural Australians know and enjoy a varied choice of cuisines, and have done for some time.

Even in the US the effectiveness of such tactics is surely limited. Boehner’s dog-whistling could well backfire if his constituents realise that essentially he is stereotyping them as people unwilling to experiment with what they eat, who can be swayed by suspicion of Food With Funny Names. That’s an amazingly unsophisticated stereotype, and a very insulting one, and it’s being served up by a man who claims to be One Of Them. I hope it really bites him hard in the arse.

Such tactics are part of the desperation inherent in the culture wars. The more that new ideas can be painted as tainted by association with those horrible, useless, effete, totalitarian latte-sipping sushi-munching pinot-swilling tax-eaters, the more this concocted fear and suspicion will save the old guard’s day, appears to be the theory. It’s a while now until our next Federal election (thank the FSM) but, like the US, non-urban areas have a disproportionate level of voting power. If the voters outside urban areas can be alienated from the urbanites via gut-level distaste, then it saves bothering their little heads with all that nasty policy detail which candidates might get tripped up on, doesn’t it?

I just think that these epithets regarding food choices, which were always rather silly and pathetic anyway, really are now obsolete in Australia as indicators of any true cultural divide. It rather makes one wonder whether the vociferousness with which other epithets are hurled at lefties is also inversely related to the epithet’s actual relevance and effectiveness as rhetorical tools. If so, then every time such words are hurled, they repel far more voters than they attract. That would be marvellous.

Categories: culture wars

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7 replies

  1. The USA is a very different country to Australia. To get elected President or even to Congress a person has to be much more conservative that any Australian politician would be.
    No open atheist for example could be elected President – he or she would crash in Middle America and the South.
    The last time the USA elected a northern liberal was JFK in 1960 and since then it has rejected five from Humphrey to Kerry. The Dems learned they had to have a mid-west moderate like Hillary or a southern conservative like Carter/Bill C. on the top of their tickets to be electorally competitive.

  2. Goodness. Does he realise he sounds like a fussy toddler? My Nan would never have stood for it (in her rural conservative kitchen) she was quite happy when I made her gnocchi for a change.

  3. It’s a class thing, not a food thing. The Dems are being painted as “latte-sipping sushi-munching pinot-swilling tax-eaters” because everyone knows that the real Americans, the good old boys like their Bud and a burger with fries. The food the Dems eat brands them as elite, educated; they think they’re better than you just because they know how many ns there are in “chardonnay.”
    It’s not the food. It’s class resentment all the way, believe me. At that’s rich, coming from the Republicans, but there it is. The middle-Americans who loved Bush loved him because he seemed like the kind of guy you could sit down and have a beer with. He was just like them, but rich too; they can see themselves in that position. Just reg’ler Ammurican with a huge bank account. The best of all worlds. The fact that he stabbed them in the back taxwise and that it’s their sons and daughters coming back from Iraq with PTSD and an odd number of limbs doesn’t change that perception, apparently.

  4. I can see how it originates in a class thing (and that was how food-based insults were used in factional conflicts within the left as well), but what I see now is that almost everybody in Australia does the latte-sushi-pinot thing if they can. The old class divide, and even the urban/rural divide, on diverse ethnic foodstuffs is largely a thing of the past here, and thus the insults are starting to sound rather quaint.
    From Boehner’s rube act, it appears he doesn’t believe that he will sound quaint to the Republican base.

  5. I definitely agree that there is far greater diversity in terms of eateries in Australia than in the U.S. It hadn’t really struck me consciously before, because a lot of the foods just hardly exist here at all, due to cultural/immigration differences (for example, good luck finding Thai food, let alone a Lebanese restaurant, in anywhere but very large cities). And I am a very picky eater myself and prefer the burger and fries to the sushi, anyway. But it’s very true. Even the “non-American” foods widely available — Mexican, Chinese — here are generally very far from authentic.
    Cara’s last blog post..Remembering Dr. King

  6. In the specifics of the food example, let’s not lose sight of the key observation Tigtog has made about the painting of someone’s differing tastes as a personal affront to those who don’t share those tastes. Believe it or not, this can be a canny strategy, tapping into that kind of instinctive schoolyard culture that so many people never grow out of. It always bewildered me at high school the way that something as innocuous as liking a different kind of music seemed to be taken as an act of aggression by many other students. People feel slighted when they don’t see affirmation of their own tastes mirrored around them, and a politician can exploit that.

  7. the key observation Tigtog has made about the painting of someone’s differing tastes as a personal affront to those who don’t share those tastes

    That was really Chris Bowers’ observation from the post I quoted, but I’m happy to take credit for running with that ball.
    Too right that it’s an important distinction to make between the phenomenon of people taking affront, and the phenomenon of politicians exploiting people taking affront.

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