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