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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Cyber-Regionalism

When I used to teach Fahrenheit 451, the classes always got into interesting discussions about the effects of mass culture on local variety. My students found nothing odd about the fact that one can drive from Miami to Seattle and eat in the same highway restaurants and stay in the same motels, all the while listening to the same music that everyone else is enjoying, and if you look at the other travelers in the other cars, most of them, regardless of where their plates say they're from, will be wearing the same clothes from the same stores. One can get this impression from traveling through airports as well. I've often wondered what, if anything, is lost when our whole country develops this kind of paste-pudding sameness (to paraphrase Bradbury).

Many kids found it comforting. I find it disturbing. I like eating different foods, hearing new music and strange accents, but it seems to be quite difficult to find anything uniquely local anymore except in a few places (such as Austin - "Keep Austin Weird") where concerted efforts are made to hold on to what originally made that place unique. If you want to see what some little one-horse town has that makes it special, you have to look pretty hard. Often you'll find relics of what once made it special, but the place will be closed, the event cancelled, the people dead, senile, or moved away.

But then I start thinking about how many of us find our little niches online. How many CDs by obscure low-fi indie rock bands from random cities do I own? I know people from Chicago who've never heard of The Sea and Cake or Tortoise or Sam Prekop. So I start thinking that perhaps regionalism isn't so much dead as perhaps it's moved. Perhaps we still have our regional variety and local culture, but without material landscape. Instead we have sites that we inhabit and with whose denizens we share common interests and concerns be they movies, books, music, politics, religion, philosophy, whatever. It seems oddly comforting to think that we still have our hometowns despite the fact that they've gone digital.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Jessica said...

I heard a piece on Minnesota Public Radio at the beginning of the month about a new dialect emerging in the NE Great Lakes Region, Chicago east-ward. We think that dialects have disappeared, but a linguist makes a pretty good argument that this is something new and distinctive. In what used to be one of the most conservative places for language evolution (and where they trained the news anchors), now people are doing something a little unusual with their a's.

Wish I could find the article, but I can't seem to track it down for the life of me.

5:13 AM  
Blogger James said...

That's very encouraging. Let me know if you find the piece.

2:53 PM  

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