This is perhaps a most trifling note, but listening to reports of the Republican Convention this morning, and being reminded of how effective sounding tough can seem to be to Americans -- Fred Dalton Thompson rallying against Obama as the most liberal, least experienced candidate for president ever [sigh] -- it was crazy-making to have that followed up by NPR's Susan Stamberg wondering at the exotic wonderland that is Wyoming.
Now, there's nothing wrong with being enchanted by Wyoming; every state has its charms. And Stamberg had apparently visited all other 49 states, but had never been to Wyoming in her years of travel, for journalism or otherwise. Ok -- great -- sure. But she got there, and thrilled on-air to hear those three words she'd been waiting for decades to hear -- "Well, howdy, ma'am."
Apparently, Wyoming = Old West to Stamberg, and she was charmed to have her feelings confirmed. She went to some small town that had a stagecoach and Westy-type stuff "for tourists," and was told that the town wasn't really Wyoming, but it was the closest she'd get. Huh? Presumably, the closest to some imagined Old West Wyoming, since it was in the state of Wyoming after all -- so I'm pretty sure that counts. But certainly, if you want to go get a tourists'-eye view of your preconceptions of a state, your options are limited to certain tourist spots disdained by all the states' "real" residents. (Heaven forfend you, as a journalist, stretch yourself and report on anything about the rest of the state, rather than a navel-gazing travelogue purely about your own reaction to the state, not about the state itself.)
She was thrilled to -- what the hell? -- go to a "roh-DAY-oh," she said, only realizing afterwards that it was pronounced "roh-DEE-oh." She explained to those Wyomingites that heard her mispronounce "rodeo" that she "was from the East," which she said she ended up having to explain a lot, she said. Umm... I've been to the Wild East Coast of this here nation, and I didn't notice that ro-day-oh was the accepted pronunciation. Or that Stamberg had apparently never watched any show about ANY western/southwestern state for more than 5 minutes, with the sound down. Ro-day-oh? Who is she, Paris Hilton? I mean, sure, there's California's "Ro-day-oh" Drive, but, um, Stamberg's not from California... plus she supposedly had visited 49 other states, of which I'm thinking at least several of them pronounced it with the "dee" sound. (It is "roh DAY oh" in Spanish, but as far as I know, we don't all pronounce our appropriated words in the original tongue here in the Civilized East, or, er, Midwest either.)
She followed this with wondering at the buffalo walking across the road, just hanging out, eagerly pointing and asking her hostess to slow down so she could clearly see them. She may have never seen them, but it's still clearly weird to me that that was a big part of her "Wyoming" experience -- considering Bison have more famous herd/enclaves/protected populations in various other states.
Why am I going on about this? Just because the juxtaposition of Fred Dalton Thompson's Southern drawl and Stamberg going "Oooo! He called me 'ma'am'! Can I take a picture of him in front of that buffalo?" was a bit too much -- it was the ultimate in the portrayal of the East and West...ern United States as foreign Others. And her excusing her practical ignorance with "Sorry, I'm from the East," seems support attempts to show that the East and The Liberal Media are elitist, out-of-touch, and out-of-step with "real" people. It's the ultimate "East Coast Liberals are wide-eyed and totally out of touch with reality, too busy sipping their lattes." Now, it's not Stamberg's fault that there's that perception, or that she had glee at Wyoming's, um, perceived stereotypical quaintness I guess, but seriously... was she THAT out of touch that buffaloes, sheriffs, rodeos, and "Howdy ma'am," was the Wyoming experience she wanted, that she'd REALLY never found anywhere else in the US? It's not just a little disheartening, it seemed like bad journalism to go somewhere just to have your cookie-cutter images of someplace confirmed, and play out the segment with "Happy Trails." There's so much else that could be learned about or commented on from Wyoming, but apparently, it really IS just Big Sky Country... oh, wait, that's Montana. So Stamberg experienced the REAL Wyoming the... um... Equality state. Er, um, the Park state. Oh, oh! Ok, it's ALSO the "Cowboy State." Apparently, of the three state nicknames, Stamberg had to choose one and just go with it. So thank goodness we got to confirm our biases, and not learn anything new in that 5 minute segment. Thanks NPR, I had nothing better to do than learn that Stamberg has remained incredibly naive for someone who visited 49 states already, and then to, er, grouse about it for 15 minutes.
Seriously, if this is the Red State/Blue State divide, I am living in an entirely different set of states from everyone else, cuz I can pronounce rodeo AND drink lattes...