Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bostonist: The Year in Food

As you might guess, I had a lot of fun in this post, and was proud that I kept it short and sweet. I didn't realize it at the time, but the fact that I'm re-reading some Chuck Klosterman lately made its way into the post with this bit:

"Hungry Mother's popularity lies not only in its inventive comfort-food menu, but in its ability to allow New Englanders to enjoy everything that's good about the South (buttermilk biscuits, mint juleps, genuine hospitality) and everything that's popular in Fancy Restaurant Culture this year (sophisticated cocktails, grass-fed beef) while still actively condemning the negative aspects of the "Real" South (weak levees, Evangelicals, Disneyworld)."

I was thinking today, as I put on my outdoor performance gear and leashed up my dog for a walk in my fully gentrified neighborhood, that this brand of humor, found in Klosterman's stuff, Stuff White People Like, Black People Love Us! and the kind of humor in the above passage -- a brand you might call The Self-Delusion of the White Middle-Class Urbanite -- has become incredibly ubiquitous. And why? On the one hand, I just spent an entire post defending this group of people from accusations of hypocrisy. And I honestly don't think that there's that much self-delusion to go around. Most of the sushi-loving, organic-touting people in question are in fact incredibly self-aware about their flaws and impure motives, are hypervigilant about the faces they show to the world, and are desperate to rid themselves of cultural ignorance and unquestioned biases (although I make no excuses for Sasha Frere-Jones). They're trying to make the best decisions they can with the information they have, and they consume an above-average amount of information. Sure, they may go overboard trying to do the "right" thing (think: "some of my best friends are black!"), but sheesh, it's better than the alternative.

These decent people, though, will still sometimes joke about religious folks, Southerners, "people I knew in high school" -- the kinds of folks that Stuff White People Like would classify as "the wrong kind of white people" and that Sarah Palin would classify as "Real Americans". Politicians like Palin will try to say that these people just don't understand Real Americans, but I disagree. What they choose to say about it is generally informed by firsthand experience, but it's bitter experience.

Like any good humor, this brand comes from intimate familiarity and cruel rejection. Most Middle-Class Urbanites were once middle-class or lower-class suburbanites, living in the Target towns outside Ohio and Dallas and Rochester. They went to youth group, but failed to find Jesus; went to the high school football games, but still can't remember the rules; went to the birthday parties, but felt stung by the superficial smiles; tried many times to do the dance, but could never get the moves down. These are people who attempted to live in "Real America" before realizing it just didn't feel real for them the way it did for other people.

And you know what? Despite my aspirations towards tolerance for all, I still can't force myself to like Disneyworld. And despite my fantasies about ditching my brain-cell-destroying city lifestyle for a nice suburban house, I know I can never go home again. But neither can Chuck Klosterman, and neither can many of the people who eat at Hungry Mother, which is why they wish to eat food that tastes like home because it saves them the trip and the letdown. And sharing a laugh together, even an imagined one at someone else's expense, makes us feel a little less alone in the world.


Blogger emily said...

have you read?

it's quite awesome!

8:09 PM  
Blogger doublenegative said...

On the T yesterday, a girl was reading "Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs" and this dude sitting across from her was suddenly like, "Good job!" and clapped his hands. And she looked up and he was like, "No one's ever heard of that book, and it's so good." The weird thing was he was totally not being sarcastic.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Ryan Rose said...

I haven't -- I wish you lived closer so you could loan it to me!

I'm not generally a fan of Rakoff, as Ms. DoubleNegative knows ... he had a very offputting essay about Utah in "state by state" that really irritated me. It was all about the pioneers and the railroad and blah blah blah, whereas the rest of the essays were all quite thoughtful, evocative modern pieces. As one GoodReads commenter put it:

"Perhaps I was just put off by David Rakoff's Utah essay. I'm a fan of Rakoff, but this essay just seemed lazy and pointless. He has no connection to UT, only visited for a week, and didn't really do much other than wander around downtown Salt Lake and visit Spiral Jetty. Why not have a UT author like Scott Carrier, Terry Tempest Williams or Phil Jacobson do it? Anyway, my point is that I am really touchy when it comes to essays about Utah. However, I really enjoyed Alison Bechdel's contribution."


11:18 AM  

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