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Jewish World Review March 13, 2001 / 18 Adar, 5761

Dave Shiflett

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We’re All New Yorkers Now: In praise of provincialism -- Although America is being steadily and horrendously homogenized, there do remain regional differences that distinguish us one from the other. Some of those differences were the subject of a recent story by Rich Marin of the New York Times.

Marin, whose talents may one day land him a job at New York's real paper — the Post — wrote about the deep and abiding provincialism of Manhattanites. This is an old story; the news peg for this particular version was that few Manhattanites knew who Dale Earnhardt (the race-car driver) was. Marin also bemoaned the fact that New York hasn't created many recent trends, products, or services — most of which, truth be told, appear to be quite frivolous.

A certain type of cynic might observe that the author, in the guise of mourning a deficiency, was actually patting himself and his friends on the back. There are grounds for this suspicion. In many cases, stories about the provincialism of Manhattanites are gaudy exercises in self-congratulation. By this reading, no one in the entire borough would want to know who Dale Earnhardt was, for people who know that kind of thing also change their own oil and mufflers, and not only eat sausage but do so knowing exactly what goes into it. That kind of knowledge taints a proper intelligence.

It should be said that Marin invites this interpretation by writing that "New Yorkers take a certain provincial pride in not knowing what goes on below the Mason- Dixon line, unless you mean C. Vernon Mason and Dixon Boardman." One can hear him winking as he types, and almost feel the warm glow that his readers experience as they are reassured of their primacy. Be that as it may, the story did serve the purpose of reminding us of our diverse national character. It also raised an interesting question: Are southerners similarly provincial, or do they even care what goes on in New York?

The fact is, southerners have the highest regard for the entire state, and all its residents. The reason, we are forced to admit, is itself self-serving: New York makes our lives richer than they'd otherwise be.

Here in Virginia, for example, we have imported a great deal of garbage from New York, which apparently is nose-high in its own effluvia. This is not to complain. New York garbage is apparently of very high quality, so much so that Mayor Rudolf Giuliani once opined that the South should be very proud to be the receptacle for New York's banana peels, disposable diapers, used syringes, and the odd victim of mob retaliation.

Southerners being southerners, many of us were impressed by the mayor's pride of place, and he also paid us fairly well. But the best thing about the trash talk was that it was so entertaining — and entertainment is New York's most highly valued export.

Giuliani keeps us in stitches. Not long ago, to cite another example of his comic genius, he called for the establishment of decency committees to keep sexy pictures out of local museums — while his mistress cooled her heels in the limo. Few comedians could keep a straight face, but he was masterful. He's also pretty good in drag. Our local mayor, by comparison, never wears a dress in public, and probably not in private either.

We were also reminded that New Yorkers, whether they want to admit it or not, typically look south for their artistic inspiration — straight south into their britches. Mrs. Giuliani is hardly alone. Howard Stern, another famous New York entertainer, looks nowhere else; unfortunately his artistry is not fully appreciated in these parts, and he was run off the air in Richmond. This remains a source of great shame for many southerners.

Indeed, southerners have long worried that we have been taking in a lot from New York while exporting very little. Thankfully, this deficit was wiped clear recently when two of our most prominent citizens relocated to the state. One is now the junior senator while her husband, according to a new poll, stands a firm chance of being elected mayor. His good fortune is apparently the result of both moving to Harlem and declaring himself a black man and also pardoning some of the city's most prominent swindlers just before departing his former job.

Not everyone is thrilled by these developments. Some New Yorkers have apparently concluded that the South, in the guise of exporting some valuable commodities, has instead dumped some toxic material in the heart of their community. That is a ridiculous assumption. We are far too dumb to pull off such a stunt, at least on our own.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from Midlothian, Va. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2000, Dave Shiflett