Lake Wobegon and old America
0 comment Monday, October 20, 2014 |
Tom Piatak writes about attending a live broadcast of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion radio show.
I have been listening, on and off, to Keillor�s show for many years, and I�ve read several of his books. The interesting thing about Keillor is not that he is a Democrat, but that, despite his liberal politics, the show he produces has a strong conservative, even reactionary, streak.
Last night�s show was no exception. We heard, as is typical for Keillor, a lot of old American music, including a song from the 1932 campaign. Although an unabashed liberal, Keillor is a Christian, and his show often features old hymns and Gospel songs, and last night�s program had a moving hymn about the Good Shepherd.''
I, too, was a listener to PHC some years ago, and I found a certain charm in the program, and in Keillor's soothing, mellow delivery and style. I love the old-time music which was usually featured on the show.
And although, like Piatak, I never lived in a town which closely resembled Lake Wobegon, the small-town old America motif was universal enough that all Americans, at least those old enough to remember the old America, could relate to many of the endearing qualities of Lake Wobegon as described on the show.
I was also able to relate somewhat to the Scandinavian-tinged culture of the fictional Lake Wobegon through my experience of the Northwest, which in times past had a strong Scandinavian presence and cultural influence. The 'new' Northwest is fast losing that character and is on the way to becoming just another multicultural Nowheresville.
When I used to listen to PHC, I was still quite the liberal, and I sensed very much that Keillor and the gang were of the same persuasion. You see, liberals, especially of the baby boom generation, have a certain kind of slumming nostalgia for the 'old America', in the form of liking vintage clothes for dress-up, antique furnishings and gewgaws, and old-time music, especially of the 'downmarket' variety such as bluegrass, honkytonk, and blues. It's a kind of American multiculturalism: aren't those hillbillies and hayseeds quaint and funny? And aren't we oh-so-sophisticated for condescending to listen to their primitive music?
That kind of cultural tourism and condescension is one of the things that I find most irritating about my own jaded generation. And I perceived it in spades on Keillor's show. So as I became a fully-fledged conservative recanting all the liberal nonsense that had accreted in my life, I rather lost my taste for Keillor and his somewhat arch portrayal of middle America. With liberals, there is often a fine line between nostalgia and a certain kind of snickering at old America as sophisticated folks would snicker at their awkward country cousins.
Keillor is not, I am sure, a Christian in the sense that perhaps Tom Piatak understands it. I suspect where the 'Christian content' of his show is concerned, it derives from Keillor's 'cultural Christianity.' Christianity, specifically of the Lutheran variety, seemst to be a central part of the old American culture of Minnesota, just as some variety of Bible-believing Christianity is a central part of all small-town Southern communities. It's part of the culture, and everybody who grew up in the old American South imbibed some of it, even if they were not churchgoers, or real believers. Keillor is a 'cultural Christian' or perhaps simply a liberal Christian, which involves liberal politics dressed up in clerical robes, speaking Christian lingo.
I recalled this story about Keillor from just after the 2004 elections:
Born-agains should not have right to vote
Posted: November 15, 2004
Speaking in the aftermath of the presidential election, Democrat radio host Garrison Keillor says he is on a quest to take away the right of born-again Christians to vote, saying their citizenship is actually in heaven, not the United States.
Keillor, host of the popular National Public Radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," made the comments during a speech at Chicago's Rockefeller Memorial Chapel and during his radio monologue the Saturday after the election.
"I am a Democrat � it's no secret. I am a museum-quality Democrat," Keillor said. "Last night I spent my time crouched in a fetal position, rolling around and moaning in the dark."
According to a report in the University of Chicago's Chicago Maroon, Keillor told the audience: "If born-again Christians are allowed to vote in this country, then why not Canadians?"
And yes, some said, 'oh well, he's just kidding, just being satirical.'
Here, however, on this blog Keillor's response to a reader who questioned his statement is quoted. The reader had asked whether he had in fact meant to say 'postmillenialists' and not 'born-again' Christians:
I grew up among post-millenialists and probably that's why I conflated them with born-agains in one big ball of wax and I apologize for my inaccuracy. However, I don't think that the term "post-millenialist" would instantly register with our public radio audience, so one is forced to use shorthand. Thanks for your thoughts...
Keillor then went on to another subject entirely, his memories of singing the Star Spangled Banner.
So, after reflection, Keillor says he does not advocate a constitutional amendment taking the vote away from all born-again Christians -- just some of them. Thanks for the clarification.
Addendum (11/20/04): I received the following e-mail regarding Ms. Sato's (and Garrison Keillor's) use of terms:
Caroline Sato is incorrect. It's dispensational premillennialists who believe the world is going to hell in a handbasket. They believe in an always imminent rapture. Postmillennialists believe that through the preaching of the gospel, the world can be transformed.''
I find it curious that a Protestant, even a liberal one, would put down 'born-again Christians.' First of all, he would be aware that the Lord said 'except a man be born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven.'
So in truth, all real Christians must be considered born-again. However, I've noted that liberal Christians often scorn that term, as do many Catholics. But if Keillor thinks 'born again' is a disparaging term, he is not a Christian in the Biblical sense, then.
Here, in the Wikipedia entry, there are many quotes from Keillor. For example, here's what he thinks of Republicans:
Keillor calls Republicans "hairy-backed swamp developers, corporate shills, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, hobby cops, misanthropic frat boys, lizardskin cigar monkeys, jerktown romeos, ninja dittoheads. .. .tax cheats, cheese merchants, cat stranglers, grab-ass executives, gun fetishists, genteel pornographers, nihilists in golf pants."
While claiming that his book describes "the politics of kindness, Keillor also says that Republicans are "criminal" and worse, "evil, deeply evil."
Well, a few years ago I would have been quite incensed by that tirade, but now, given my lowered opinion of Republicans and self-described 'conservatives', I have to say it's not 100 percent false. The truth hurts sometimes. Some Republicans are corporate shills, and all the rest.
The sad part is, many Democrats are worse, albeit their sins and crimes are simply different from those of the Republicans. But I suspect that Keillor's seething hatred of Republicans extends to real conservatives, and all of us who hold within us the old America, that of the era in which Keillor goes slumming and rummaging on his show.
As far as Keillor's own identity, which many are assuming he is drawing on in his performances, the Wikipedia article also contains quotes indicating that Keillor's on-air persona, with many references to Norwegian-Americans and Lutherans, is all fictional. He is not Norwegian by ancestry (his name should give that fact away) nor is he Lutheran by religious affiliation. Apparently his frequent references to Lutherans simply indicate his cultural familiarity with Lutherans in his native Minnesota. He says his family were members of an obscure group called the Plymouth Brethren.
Reflecting on all this, I can see that liberals like Keillor may wax nostalgic over old America, but the old America which they mine for quaint cultural relics is not the real old America, the one realists remember fondly. They put a liberal veneer on the past in order to make it acceptable by their standards. They expunge the parts of our cultural history that embarrass them. The bowdlerized liberal version of our past is, for some liberals, simply censored and cleansed of the un-PC parts. That's the Keilloresque version. It's apolitical for the most part.
For some, usually filmmakers, the view presented is a politically revisionist view of old America, in which political correctness reigned, and 'racists' were few and far between and were quickly put in their place by anachronistic liberals who saved the day. I've noticed how most movies of today have to inject some politically correct bits in order to show that the illiberalism they object to so much is the anomaly in our history, while their liberal, multicultural America was always there in an incipient form, at least. Movies like 'Gods and Generals', with the obligatory racial commentary scene, or The Patriot, which had its noble slave scene, and so on.
Liberal nostalgia is the cultural form of revisionist history; liberals like to conjure up a 'real' old America in which people make speeches full of 21st century cliches about tolerance and inclusiveness, and in which the people who represented the real beliefs and attitudes of the era portrayed are shown as slimy villains.
Keillor's Lake Wobegon may be a kinder and gentler kind of liberal nostalgia than the Hollywood preachy kind, but it's ironic that liberals who like to sentimentalize about certain aspects of the past are hellbent on destroying everything that remains of that past, content, it seems, to turn our heritage into a quaint museum piece, which is long-gone, and deservedly so.
In what appears to be willful ignorance, they refuse to see that the Lake Wobegons of our country are the unique creations and reflections of the people, the specific group of people who inhabit that place. The Norwegian bachelor farmers of Keillor's Minnesota created a distinct place which will never be the same once it is dominated by Mexicans, Somalis, or Hmongs. Those who believe that people are interchangeable and that the place makes the people, and not vice-versa, are taking a sledge-hammer to our unique heritage, and wreaking untold damage.

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