by Virginia Postrel • Jul 16, 2006 at 11:47 am
Mickey Kaus and assorted readers have been debating a question central to understanding American politics in 2006: What is Plano, Texas, really like? About 20 miles north of Dallas, Plano is a high-tech suburb that is affluent enough and far enough away from Dallas proper to support its own high-end shops, restaurants, and, Mickey's concern, movie theaters. There are actually two questions at issue: 1) Is Plano really a conservative (or socially conservative) place? 2) Does it say anything about liberal causes that Brokeback Mountain and An Inconvenient Truth did well in Plano?
Although Mickey and some of his readers find it hard to believe, Plano is, in fact, a good representative of Red America. Its residents are educated and affluent, and they are also solidly conservative. They vote Republican the way Westside Angelenos vote Democratic--because it's the normal thing to do. Many of them also go to big megachurches that preach conservative doctrines in a contemporary style because that, too, is normal. (Plano is where megachurches go when they need 100 acres for their complexes.) That someone has a lot of money, a professional education, and a fancy car does not mean that person isn't a quasi-fundamentalist Christian with socially conservative views. I don't have poll numbers, but I doubt that a lot of those soccer moms driving SUVs while talking on their cell phones accept Darwinian evolution--not that it comes up all that often. (If you think that's intellectually backward, so do I. But I also think the equally unexamined economic assumptions of a lot of Westside Democrats are just as unscientific.)
So, on one level, Mickey is wrong, and his critics are right. Plano is conservative in all the ways that matter to contemporary politics. Plano is also not where local gays qua gays go to the movies. That would be Uptown Dallas, the area where I live. That Plano is not poor and ignorant does not mean it isn't representative of Red America. But people in Plano aren't spending a lot of their mental energy thinking about hot-button political issues. They're more concerned about their kids' education.
Most important, Plano, like the Dallas area more generally, is a big enough place that even a small minority represents a lot of buying power. If every left-of-center Planoite bought a ticket to An Inconvenient Truth, the Gore film would sell out at the art houses. (Don't forget, also, that local boy Mark Cuban had a hand in producing it.) Since the movie is also a high-brow horror film--entertainment, in other words--ticket sales don't necessarily imply political agreement, just a willingness to listen to Al Gore for a couple of hours. And, of course, the Bible says nothing about the internal combustion engine.
As for Brokeback Mountain, the same large-minority point applies. More important, I suspect, is that Brokeback Mountain was a chick flick, and Dallas area women often socialize in large, single-sex groups who want to stay up on whatever's in fashion. Besides, as conservative columnist and radio host Mark Davis wrote in the Dallas Morning News, that movie was a human story, not a political screed: "What you see a lot of is the living hell they go through as a result of their plight. You see them betray their wives and kids. You see them miserable. There are no cartoonish villains designed to prod you to their side. You simply see a story of great complexity, which you may admire as a film or not." How a viewer interprets that story depends, in part, on what beliefs the viewer brings to the film.
As an aside, I'd note that when you drive around L.A. you see cars with Christian fish symbols on them. That doesn't mean you're in the Bible belt. It means there are all sorts of people in any big city.
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