Red Highways

As I have mentioned before, I believe American politics to be one of the most entertaining issues in the world. Nothing else offers you so much showmanship, so much blatant hypocrisy, idiocy and dashed idealism, so my library of books on this particular issue seems to growing exponentially. After finishing ‘Game Change (or ‘race of a lifetime’ for the citizens of Great Britain), I was on the market for more political non-fiction, and that’s when I heard about ‘Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey Into the Heartland‘ on the BBC’s World Service.  ‘Why the world service?’, I hear you yell? ‘Aren’t the only two radio stations you listen to BBC Radio 4 and 100% Generation Disco Funk?’ Well, yes. But on Sundays between 10 and 11:15 there’s ‘The Archers’ omnibus session, and I just can’t listen to that drivel, so I switch to the World Service. That specific sunday they featured a San Francisco based journalist called Rose Aguilar as one of their analysts who was allowed to plug her above named book. Intrigued, I got hold of a copy and read the whole thing in a day (it’s not very onerous).

The narrative is as follows: San Francisco based vegan political blogger and host of a progressive radio station gets terribly frustrated when Bush II gets re-elected and takes political activist boyfriend on a trip to fly-over country to meet those people who actually voted for the bloke. Queue a string of highly repetitive vignettes with always the same structure:

Rose: ‘Oh hello, I am a journalist from San Francisco with a ‘Happy Vegan’ T-shirt and want to find out why you’re a republican.’

Other person (likely a veteran/priest/hunter/arms dealer/RV driver/church goer): ‘I like guns, God, the war on terror and hate liberals and homosexuality’

Rose: ‘Oh really. What made you become the person that you are?’

Other person (probably wearing a Stetson/USA T-shirt/Gun/’Support our Troups’ sticker): ‘We have always voted that way. Have you let Jesus in your heart?’

…and so on. Then they likely have to flee the scene, because boyfriend has caused outrage by annoying the locals with his political T-shirts or revolutionary flyers. There are a couple of welcome exceptions to the scheme (e.g. when they visit a pro-choice women’s clinic in Missouri), but it gets boring quickly, as the responses are just too depressingly similar. One can literally feel Rose’s background in radio, as most of the book features one short, transcribed interview after the other and she very rarely attempts to reflect on her encounters.

From a European perspective, ‘Red Highways’ completely misfires. Instead of attempting to break through the stereotypes, she just displays them again and again. They are all there: the religious nutters, the gay bashers, the gun toters on the right hand side and the leftie hippies from the East Coast with their van full of beans and soy milk and little animals on the dashboard on the other. So instead of demystifying them, she actually reenforces the images that we have of Americans.

This doesn’t mean that this book isn’t actually entertaining. Me and my friends chuckled about this collection of naive and misinformed humans from a country where you get your news from Fox and Rush, but the good guys were (while slightly more literate) just as naive. Nevertheless, an entertaining romp through the American heartland.

I would stay away, though.

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