Two-A-Days: Colonial Williamsburg Of The Eisenhower Era?
I’m in Birmingham for a couple more days, making sure that our pack and move goes smoothly. What luck! I’m here just in time to read the New York Times review of a new MTV reality show, Two-A-Days. Two-A-Days documents a season of Hoover High School football. Hoover, where I lived for almost three of my eight years here, is a classic middle to upper-middle American large suburb. Malls, Starbucks Drive-Thru, and expansive supermarkets dedicated to carrying every imaginable Kelloggs cereal. Hoover is in Alabama, but it is probably more typical of most parts of America than, say, any town in Westchester County, NY.
But today I didn’t have to read the Times to read the review. Page 1 of the Birmingham News puts it professionally. “New York Times Tackles Hoover’s Two-A-Days.” The article headline, however, captures the culture clash. “New York Times Takes Snarky Aim At ‘Two-A-Days’“. The News then republishes the review as Exhibit 1, with an italicized intro announcing that the review – presumably with a different headline – appeared yesterday in the NYT.
The review, with its local frame, effectively captures the Red/Blue cultural divide. Virginia Heffernan makes a weak effort at not appearing judgmental, opening her story “regionalist stories often double as time travel. If you want to visit the 19th century, when couriers crisscrossed polyglot cities with important messages…check out Manhattan today.” But she simply can’t help herself, as she continues: “And if you’re interested in the 1950’s – when high school players were titans, private doubts haunted them, and cheerleaders gave them comfort – you might want to visit Hoover, Ala., the Colonial Williamsburg of the Eisenhower era.”
She’s not entirely wrong. Some corny 1950’s traditions do continue here, and high school football is one of them. But I have two beefs with the characterization. The first is that I suspect that more of America is Colonial Williamsburg than Heffernan realizes. Are suburbs of Buffalo, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Richmond, Milwakuee, Virginia Beach , Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, or Charlotte are so different? (Where do I get this list? I looked at similarly sized cities from the 35-50th largest metro areas in the US.) The second is the attitude. I’m not sure I really have the right to make the complaint – many of friends have heard me describe Mountain Brook, Alabama (a nearby affluent suburb, home of Natallee Holloway) as a throwback to the 1950’s – but the article completely fails to capture the manifold wonderful things that come with this approach to life and culture. Heffernan’s New York is important. But life in Alabama is as well. Here there are daily reminders that – for all of the deeply troubling underlying cultural and historical baggage that makes this possible – there are exquisite joys to be had in a smaller gauge life, filled with individual connections, with faith – perhaps in religion, perhaps only in the humanity, and with little generosities. This is not to make apologies for the intolerance that remains. But it is to acknowledge that there is much to be cherished, much that is also important in the daily life of both Alabama, and middle America generally.