Many Red State conservatives, particularly in the South, speak of “San Francisco values” as if the residents there aren’t really Americans.
Plenty of Blue State liberals sneer at the Red states as backwaters full of toothless illiterates unwilling to embrace modernity.
It’s ridiculous, of course.
We’re all Americans. No region is the exclusive domain of the right or the left. Watch out for the cultural warriors who try to convince you differently; they’re usually selling something — books, radio and TV programs and/or cheap politics.
Quick and easy stereotypes are the bricks and mortar used by these culture warriors. We’ve heard it all before. Democratic areas are full of latte-sipping snobs. Republican areas are populated with residents who don’t care about the environment.
As usual, the exceptions destroy the hard and fast rules. Some of the best advice a journalism mentor ever gave me: Be extremely cautious when using the words never and always. They don’t mean almost never or usually. Never means never. Always means always.
I would add that a deep and probing examination usually severely damages the lazy cliches, uncovering layers of nuance that destroy the stereotypes.
Case in point is a recent article by Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard. It described a villain menacing our streets — cyclists.
Earlier this year, a similar broadside came from Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz, who, when discussing New York City’s bike-share program, described a “bike lobby” that is “dreadful,” “totalitarian” and “all-powerful.”
Perhaps it’s no accident that The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., a news media company that thrives on us-vs.-them stories.
In his recent article, Caldwell writes, cyclists are self-righteous and rude road hogs who reside comfortably in the top 1 percent of the nation’s earners. They are, he hints, engaging in a stealth campaign to squeeze automobiles off the road.
“If bicyclists have a more highly developed sense that they can boss others around, this is because they disproportionately belong to the classes from which bosses come,” Caldwell claims.
We are to believe that it’s cars vs. bicycles, and the cyclists are slowly gaining the upper hand. Call me extremely skeptical.
A word of caution. To apply my old mentor’s advice, we should not completely dismiss the views of Rabinowitz and Caldwell. Sure, cyclists can be rude. They can move recklessly among automobiles, making conditions unsafe for everyone. Large U.S. cities are undoubtedly struggling with the addition of more cyclists on their streets.
However, a visit to northeast Alabama argues that there’s another side to this story.
Here the Ladiga Trail and its sister trail in Georgia, the Silver Comet, are valued assets. Riders flock to these paved former rail lines, which frequently intersect roads over 90 miles.
The ever-expanding trails on Coldwater Mountain draw visitors from across the region. The cast found on a typical weekend could hardly be described as a bunch of Starbucks-sipping 1 percenters.
And a small-but-hearty core of cyclists ride on roads across the region.
I’ve never seen any of these riders display the sort of rude behavior that has The Weekly Standard’s Caldwell so agitated.
Northeast Alabama’s cycling community is made up from folks from many walks of life. Cyclists here are almost universally wary of motorists, who may or may not notice their two-wheeled neighbors. Getting policymakers to create safe spaces for cyclists to ride isn’t easy, even in Anniston, which aspires to become “Bike City, Alabama.”
Like so many of these cultural stereotypes intended to divide the nation into neat little boxes, this one falls apart at close inspection.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or email@example.com. Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.