Liz revisited my Walmart/Starbucks Nation piece. In doing so, she reminded me that this piece failed to make its point. So i thought that i’d retry.
1. Both rural areas and cities have brands that they ascribe to; these are very different brands. There is a bi-directional disdain for the brands of the other group. Certainly, the brands bleed into both regions, but those brands tend to resemble certain class/regional expectations. Yes, i can get to a Walmart somewhere in the Bay Area, but i see a Starbucks on every corner. I’m always humored when my city friends go home to their parents and bitch because they can’t find a Starbucks. These are the same people (self included) who groan at the ever-present obviousness of Walmart.
2. Consistency of brands allows for easy mobility between regions. At this point, suburbia in most regions resembles the suburbia in other regions, provided that we’re talking about the same socio-economic level. Cities start to bleed together (and god knows airports do). What keeps most of this consistent has to do with brands. No matter where you go, you can find the Walmart/Starbucks of your choice. This provides for security in the shifting.
3. The tendency of city people is to critique the brands in the rural areas AND vice versa. There is a great article in my reader from a Kansas paper bitching about those Starbucks people. What i was trying to do was expose my own bias while realizing that there are branding wars on both sides. I have immediate disdain over Walmart, thinking that i have choice, but realizing that i live in a culture that moves from Starbucks to Safeway.
3. Historically, the image of the rural area was precisely what Liz is getting at – beautiful houses, streets with sidewalks, community. For most of the country, i don’t think this is as true as it was 20 years ago, mostly because of the consumption culture that is present. It certainly isn’t true where i grew up. When you don’t go to the corner store, you don’t talk to everyone in that small geographic region. When you go to the Safeways, you do your shopping without a community (unless we’re talking the Castro Safeway). Big corporate shopping institutions become very de-personalized, very anti-community in all regions. There’s often talk about how people in cities don’t know their neighbors; it saddens me that this is spreading.
4. My concern over consumption culture is connected to my concern over this election. There is a divide in this country and it falls along city/rural lines (with the suburbs trapped in the middle). When i’m visiting Walmart Nation, i’m visiting predominantly red nation. When i’m in Starbucks Nation, i’m visiting predominantly blue nation. It’s unbelievable because it is both a class and regional division that has resulted in entirely different lifestyles. It’s even more painful because historically the rural areas were as Democratic as it gets; today they side with the wealthiest Americans under the pretense that they have the same values.
More than anything though, the moral division in this country is branded on all sides. We have companies that cater to each of our values. They’ve figured out how to identify with us so that we’ll identify with them. Rural America used to pride itself on mom & pop everything, but that’s no longer the case.
My post was not supposed to be a judgment against rural/suburban culture. It was intended as an exposure of my own biases as i evened the playing field in conversation. I life in a “lifestyle consumption” culture which is just as despicable as a “bargain shopping” culture – they both play into the desires of corporate consumptions by playing on the moral views of two different groups.
Anyhow, i hope that clarifies what i was getting at.