Yesterday, parts of the American Southeast got hit with two inches of snow. And it’s not a laughing matter, in that children are stranded, people crashed their cars, and the usual problems when snow flies anywhere
But that hasn’t stopped people from finding it hilarious, and that’s made Southerners angry. They have written angry articles about how it’s not funny, as well as better-researched pieces about how what’s a minor weather event in the majority of the country basically turned a chunk of the last remaining superpower into The Walking Dead yesterday. But these reactions are missing three pretty major points.
1) Southerners Find Snow Hilarious When It Doesn’t Happen To Them
I live in New England, and last winter, my heating broke on the heels of a massive blizzard with temperatures dropping into the single digits. My landlord, my oil company, and my utility company all got involved. It was a nightmare.
And what did my social media feed fill up with? “It’s sixty degrees down here, hyuck hyuck hyuck!” I’ve been hearing jokes like this for, literally, decades from my Southern friends and relatives. It started when I moved to New England at the age of ten and hasn’t stopped since. And yeah, it gets annoying.
My point is not that the South is full of hypocritical jerks, which it isn’t. The point is rather that Homer Simpson was right: It’s funny when it’s not you. I don’t resent anybody for making those jokes, but I was happy to take screenshots and post them to a few Walls after they started complaining about how the snow wasn’t funny, you guys.
2) Southern State And Local Governments Need To Get On The Stick
It’s not unreasonable to object that snow removal isn’t something most states in the Southeast budget for. Snow removal and its infrastructure is expensive, and most states that don’t get regular snow can’t afford to budget for trucks and snow plows.
But it’s not really the case that extreme winter weather events are a rare thing in the South, these days. Take Texas, which I’m singling out because there were nearly 300 car crashes in Central Texas alone. Texas got creamed by a snowstorm in 2012 that not even the crustiest New Englander found funny, just for example. Which is so rare that the same thing also happened in 2011. And 2010. And 2009. In fact, 2013 in Texas closed with snow, and not the light dusting that makes modern Westerns so poignant. Texas got its ass handed to it by Mother Nature. Every five years is one thing, but an unbroken streak should be a hint that maybe you should get a plan in place.
This snowpocalypse was, more than anything else, a direct failure of the states and cities to plan ahead and have some infrastructure in place, which leads to the real reason these pieces are so angry…
3) Stuff Like This Kicks The South Right In Its Inferiority Complex
If you ever read an article about a Southern politician who is fulfilling the precise stereotype the words “Southern politician” evoke, scroll down. I guarantee you that before you get past five comments you’ll find somebody on a tear about how the whole South isn’t like this. It’s a common refrain, across social media, website comments, newspaper editorials: It’s an awful stereotype and it’s unfair and we’ve come so far and stop laughing, dammit.
I spent years going to the Chattanooga area in the summer from Vermont, and it was fascinating the reaction I got, being from “the North.” So much of the South’s identity is tied up in the belief that it will never be good enough, that no matter how far they’ve come and how much the makeup of the modern South has changed (and even a decade has seen some surprising changes), they’re still going to be seen as the uncouth racist cousins. The South, in its own mind, gets no respect, to the point where it’s part of the South’s cultural identity.
So when something like this happens, and makes them the butt of a joke, it hits a little harder than it should. One of the articles I linked above sees the author confess that he lives in a city, specifically Birmingham, that is in the throes of a financial apocalypse. It comes out like he’s trying to pick a fight: The place that I live in really is as hideously mismanaged as you people think it is! Screw you!
And hell, who can blame them? Who wants to sleep in a CVS aisle on a pile of maxipads terrified about the safety of their children? Of course they’re touchy about it. Inclement weather is bad enough without it eating at your civic pride, to boot.
It is absolutely true that what happened in the South is not funny. People got hurt, cars were wrecked, people died. But by the same token, it might be worth spending some of that energy on ensuring this doesn’t happen again. And also, the next time it’s sixty degrees, maybe some of the more volubly angry Southerners could consider keeping that tidbit to themselves. After all, empathy is a two-way street.
(Image courtesy of erokCom on Flickr.)