Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Leaving Peyton Place and The Power of Rhetoric

Peyton Place, that idyllic little southern town with the glistening lake, ice cream eating boy, bicycle riding kids, white picket fence, and middle class normality of yesteryear, is just as false then as it's replicas today.

The description is used to describe those primarily closed-in, usually white bread, middle-to-upper middle class communities of 2.5 children, stay-at-home moms, and the working dad. The community with the white picket fence and manicured lawn, the perfect van with the little stickers of how many kids and pets reside in the home on the tree-lined street.  It is the community with the nation's top schools and the moms who rule the PTO with an iron fist.  The place with high property values and the requisite less than ten-percent minority population, the quaint coffee shop, little restaurants, unique shops, and purposely locating the big box stores far away from the town center.

In a community such as this, everyone is supposed to know where they belong, which side of the street, which bar or club or restaurant is welcoming to "their kind" and which ones are best to avoid.  They are supposed to know the correct swing of the pony tail and which headband to put on their daughters and make sure their sons are clad in the acceptable jeans.  It is supposed to be uniform, general, the same.

Yet, all is not well in Peyton Place, not with the assault way out in the cabin woods or the gossiping older neighbor or the upper class company boss whose son wanted to marry the step down flirty girl with the swing skirt or the visionary young writer who wanted to defy convention and get on the first bus out of town to see a world beyond those nine square miles.  It is not well in the school that still segregates the "us" from the "them" and make sure the "ruling parties" still have a tight reign on everything from the school dance to the 5th grade celebration.  They want to make sure only "their people" are the ones elected to the school board and then make sure they get that stadium built for the all-star football team, even though the nationally ranked orchestra is better.  No, all is not well in Peyton Place.

When the community, located inside a metro area, is so closed off that it seeks to destroy new voices instead of listening, you need a Doc Swain to stand up and point out the flaws, to put them all on notice that their plates are not that clean, that their false tears and calls of "oh I am so hurt" when their wrongs against fellow citizens are pointed out, a Doc Swain is needed to break through the inertia and help the community wake up  .
One does not know what happened to the characters of that 50s-era drama, but the hope and expectation, right on the cusp of big change in the United States, that they realized dreams, the writer published her book, the woman scorned was redeemed, the gossip apologized, and the "others" were able to cross the street like everyone else.  One can only hope, at times, against hope, that the Doc Swain speech was finally heard and acted upon.

Otherwise, more and more will leave the suffocating sameness of Peyton Place and find peace, resolute, and connection in a more exhilerating diversity of a place where the perfectness of the lawn does not matter as much as the openness of your conversation, where the right outfit is the one you have on, where what your spouse does for a living doesn't define you, where the ruling moms of the PTO are put aside to open the doors of opportunity for new voices.  One can only hope it is more than a television drama..  

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