The Coded Language of “Small Town Values”

When I think about “America in summertime,” I think of barrettes and little jumper-dresses. I think of big-wheels on a hot sidewalk, the roar of a little crew going up and down the street for hours. I hear the melodious sound of women on a front porch, the well-timed “mmhmms” and “you tell ‘em” and “oh Lordys” in their various high and low tones depending on the progression of the gossip. I smell potato salad and chicken cooked in various forms and I see the prideful smiles of women who put plates on covered tables. I also see the looks exchanged between close friends, each eyeing plates and deciding what will be sampled and what will be left alone. I see Men with grey beards but faces with so few wrinkles sit contemplatively over a chess board, talking trash to each other, telling stories for the umpteenth time. When I think of America in the summertime, I think of the small towns within big towns, great neighborhoods anchored by strong families, great struggles shared together within linked familial arms.

So when the 4th of July comes every year and the glossy advertisements for another America constantly flash across my screen with that country-twang in the background, I get a little twitch.

There is a commercial playing here in Massachusetts by a Texas-based chicken company that presents a rosy different view of America and the “small town” values that they believe in as a company. Little blonde girls in white-eyelet dresses blow pinwheels in a backyard or stare at sparklers in wonder. Sons in dirty little-league uniforms get a proud pat on the head from their fathers. A veteran kneels over a friend’s grave while a grandson gives him a comforting hand. A family stands together with held hands in prayer. “I believe in faith and love…” croons in the background. It isn’t to say that this America doesn’t exist. It isn’t to say that the America presented in this commercial isn’t a valid view of what America is in some places. I know that there are people living that American life and some of those who aren’t, wish that they were.

My problem is that that American life is the one that I have to see every time I turn on my television set. And I’m wondering why, when the American tapestry is re-woven year after year, the America that I know and love isn’t included. Why is it that when America is represented in full color, it is only because an advertiser is specifically targeting communities of color? Should I always have to turn to BET or Telemundo to see that there is a whole other America out there, living under that same American sky and espousing to the same values and dreams so crooned over some country chords? Am I to believe that America in idealized form is as segregated as the colors of our precious flag? Is such separation (or its representation) what we “believe” in as Americans?

What drives me bonkers when thinking about this “small town” ideal is that it categorically denies the existence of the “small towns” in other parts of America. The “small towns” within our big cities, where neighborhoods are cared for with pride and care. The “small towns” that just happen to have mostly people of color and have existed since, in some cases, before the Civil War. It uplifts a set of values as ideal and precious, preserved by some small population when, in fact, those values are pervasive and espoused to by many different people in many different places. “Small town values” aren’t White Southern Values, they aren’t reserved or preserved for little girls in eyelet dresses or boys skipping rocks at the bubbling brook. They are American values, created and passed down by many Americans and they know no color. So why not weave us all into that glossy idealized American tapestry? Show me the image of a church full of wagging paddle fans on a hot summer day. A woman sunning on her front porch, prepping string beans for a pot. Show me children playing ball on a basketball court. Tell me that you believe in the beauty of in my “small town” America, too.

Show me a company that can do that sincerely and consistently, and I’ll show you a company that will forever have my business.

KC WiseK.C. Wise is a married Millennial Mom raising two bi-racial (B/W) boys in suburban Massachusetts. You can find out her thoughts about mothering, homemaking, writing, renovating a 100 year-old farmhouse and other musings at her blog: blackbunchedmassmom.wordpress.com.

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4 responses to “The Coded Language of “Small Town Values”

  1. Maybe America should not be about small towns values or big city values, but about community values. I grew up in what was a small town then and isn’t any more. I had a bike, not a hot wheel, and gravel roads, not sidewalks, but we raced around our block on our bikes and our hot and bothered moms met for coffee and gossip in the summer mornings. No lemonade stands and pretty dresses for us, we drank cold well water and wore ragged shorts and shirts and canvas sneakers with our toes peeking out, if we wore shoes at all. Yet we were a community and we are American. Color and religion didn’t matter to us then, and they shouldn’t matter now. But you are right, they do, and the message is subversive, and everywhere.

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  2. I live in a dying small town and trust me, ads on TV aren’t real and it just promoting a dream that doesn’t exist. This country is motivated on hatred from day one and actually it’s embarrassing to think that we have that illusion to have all those things that other countries get jealous instead, we’re becoming a serious laughingstock followed by North Korea.

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  3. Pingback: [Quiet Thoughts] The America I Know Versus The America I See | Black. Bunched. Mass. Mom.·

  4. as a person who grew up partially surrounded by the ubiquitous whiteness that is a small town in the midwest, i understand this so completely.

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