Dynamist Blog

Plano Movie Report

Teresa Gubbins emails:

Transplanted David Glueck theorized that liberal movies do well in Plano because of "the kids."

That's possible but I've seen An Inconvenient Truth at the Angelika at Legacy twice; no kids at either screening. The youngest attendees I saw were MAYBE a few couples in their 20s. The audience consisted primarily older (40+) gray-haired types (like myself); no judging a book by its cover but it sure did strike me as a liberal crowd, based on tenor and appearance. (But dang, no Birkenstocks.)

My experience with that theater-entertainment complex is that it draws people from all over the far-northern suburbs - middle-aged daters from up and down the tollway, seeking a wine-drinking, movie-going one-stop destination night.

It's funny that Plano is such a firestarter for debate.

Funny, indeed.

Plano: It's All About the Kids

My friend Brian, a recent transplant from Dallas to L.A., writes:

Huh? Kaus responds to you by saying:

"Yes! And I cling to that prejudice, especially if you add "and works in a high-tech industry where you wind up hiring a lot of gay college grads." I don't think, in those circumstances, you can afford to get as wildly exercised about sodomy and sin "

Is he from New York or something? He seems to totally misunderstand the dynamic. Plano-ites aren't "wildly exercised about sodomy" -- but most anti-gay people aren't. They are wildly concerned with making sure their kids never hear the word "sodomy," never ask them "mommy, what's a drag queen?" and never have to deal with anything even remotely related to sex. Ever. Period. Until they are eighteen. If then.

He really needs to go to a megachurch and meet up with the mid-level corporate managers, dentists, successful insurance agents and other educated professionals within. Who did he think was funding all those megachurches? The Clampetts?

He seems to think that anti-gay = ignorant. That's part of it, but a bigger chunk are the people who see a real problem in America with sexuality (teen pregnancy, STD's, idiots who shouldn't have children breeding like feral cats). They lump gays in with all sorts of failed "alternative" families -- so they generally disapprove of "gay rights" as part of a sexual liberation movement they see sending the country down Satan's toilet. The gay rights movement and the left has (generally) helped to fuel this by refusing to suggest any sort of reasonable sexual morality to replace the traditional sexual morality we seek to tear down.

The net result -- Plano -- where parents rationally fear their teenage daughters getting knocked up and irrationally fear their sons wearing dresses.

And reader David Glueck, who now lives in San Jose, California, writes:

I saw your post about Plano and thought I would give you my inside perspective as someone who grew up there. People there are not confronted with poverty, warfare, or other social ills (except on CNN). In addition, it is a very mobile community. At one point when I was growing up there in the 90's, 20% of the houses were on the market at any time. So, politics are less about civic duty and concern for the direction of the country, and more about personal identity and a sense of belonging to a community.

The mega churches are a common way for the stay-at-home/soccer mom type to connect with anyone other than her husband and kids. I think people who would otherwise be politically apathetic pick up the politics of that crowd because it feeds their sense of belonging. The husbands go along to church to make the wives happy, but when they vote they vote on tax policy (mainly who will cut them the most).

As far as the mystery of why liberal movies do so well, that's easy, it's the kids (going to the movies is the only thing you can do after 9:00). The kids feel the same lack of community and identity as their parents. Plano is made up entirely of houses, restaurants and shops, leaving little for those seeking cultural and intellectual stimulus. Their sense of identity and purpose comes from rejecting what their parents believe in. Whether it's hip hop culture, heroin use (as was the fad in the late 90's), or anti-war and anti-Bush politics, anything that is at odds with the parents will do. As they get older, their passion for politics will probably fade. For those who do think of politics as more than a popular fad, they will get the hell out of Plano as fast as they can (like I did). So, they won't be around to make a difference at the voting booths.

I think you're right about a Plano being big enough to have a large minority, but don't expect to see it show up in the poll results because they're not registered to vote.

I'll also note that Mickey Kaus attributes to me a quote about Brokeback Mountain that comes in fact from Mark Davis, a conservative columnist and talk show host. I haven't seen the movie.

A Self-Justifying Post

Via John Lanius (who may want to correct my views of Plano), I've discovered that experts agree that daily blog posts are so Web 1.0. A few reasons:

#3- Loyal readers coming back daily to check your posts is so Web 1.0 — As the blogosphere matures, the number of new readers and bloggers will decrease and loyal readers are going to matter more. I have heard many bloggers tell me that they will lose reader loyalty if these readers come back daily and do not see any new posts. This perception is still very strong although irrelevant. Loyal readers subscribe to your blog via RSS feeds and have new content pushed to them. They will remain loyal because they have subscribed, not because you post frequently.

#4 - Frequent posting is actually starting to have a negative impact on loyalty: Seth Godin (a frequent blogger) has a very interesting theory. According to him, RSS fatigue is already setting in. With too many posts, you run the risk of losing loyal readers, overwhelmed by the clutter you generate. Readers will start to tune off if your blog takes up too much of their time

#5: Frequent posting keeps key senior executives and thought leaders out of the blogosphere — My colleagues and industry peers cite bandwidth constraints as the number one reason for not blogging. They are absolutely right: frequent posting is not very compatible with a high pressure job. As an example, not one single blog is authored by a senior corporate marketing blogger in the top 25 marketing blogs listed by Mack. Not only does the blogosphere lose valuable thought leadership, it runs the risk of being overlooked by these very same marketers.

Upscale Conservatives

Mickey Kaus and assorted readers have been debating a question central to understanding American politics in 2006: What is Plano, Texas, really like? About 20 miles north of Dallas, Plano is a high-tech suburb that is affluent enough and far enough away from Dallas proper to support its own high-end shops, restaurants, and, Mickey's concern, movie theaters. There are actually two questions at issue: 1) Is Plano really a conservative (or socially conservative) place? 2) Does it say anything about liberal causes that Brokeback Mountain and An Inconvenient Truth did well in Plano?

Although Mickey and some of his readers find it hard to believe, Plano is, in fact, a good representative of Red America. Its residents are educated and affluent, and they are also solidly conservative. They vote Republican the way Westside Angelenos vote Democratic--because it's the normal thing to do. Many of them also go to big megachurches that preach conservative doctrines in a contemporary style because that, too, is normal. (Plano is where megachurches go when they need 100 acres for their complexes.) That someone has a lot of money, a professional education, and a fancy car does not mean that person isn't a quasi-fundamentalist Christian with socially conservative views. I don't have poll numbers, but I doubt that a lot of those soccer moms driving SUVs while talking on their cell phones accept Darwinian evolution--not that it comes up all that often. (If you think that's intellectually backward, so do I. But I also think the equally unexamined economic assumptions of a lot of Westside Democrats are just as unscientific.)

So, on one level, Mickey is wrong, and his critics are right. Plano is conservative in all the ways that matter to contemporary politics. Plano is also not where local gays qua gays go to the movies. That would be Uptown Dallas, the area where I live. That Plano is not poor and ignorant does not mean it isn't representative of Red America. But people in Plano aren't spending a lot of their mental energy thinking about hot-button political issues. They're more concerned about their kids' education.

Most important, Plano, like the Dallas area more generally, is a big enough place that even a small minority represents a lot of buying power. If every left-of-center Planoite bought a ticket to An Inconvenient Truth, the Gore film would sell out at the art houses. (Don't forget, also, that local boy Mark Cuban had a hand in producing it.) Since the movie is also a high-brow horror film--entertainment, in other words--ticket sales don't necessarily imply political agreement, just a willingness to listen to Al Gore for a couple of hours. And, of course, the Bible says nothing about the internal combustion engine.

As for Brokeback Mountain, the same large-minority point applies. More important, I suspect, is that Brokeback Mountain was a chick flick, and Dallas area women often socialize in large, single-sex groups who want to stay up on whatever's in fashion. Besides, as conservative columnist and radio host Mark Davis wrote in the Dallas Morning News, that movie was a human story, not a political screed: "What you see a lot of is the living hell they go through as a result of their plight. You see them betray their wives and kids. You see them miserable. There are no cartoonish villains designed to prod you to their side. You simply see a story of great complexity, which you may admire as a film or not." How a viewer interprets that story depends, in part, on what beliefs the viewer brings to the film.

As an aside, I'd note that when you drive around L.A. you see cars with Christian fish symbols on them. That doesn't mean you're in the Bible belt. It means there are all sorts of people in any big city.

L.A. Faces

"Movies taught one big lesson: individual lives have scope and grandeur. Of course L.A. is shallow. Lips that are ten feet long and faces that are forty feet high! But such faces magnify our lives, reassure us that single lives matter. The attention L.A. lavishes on a single face is as generous a metaphor as I can find for the love of God."

That's Richard Rodriguez in Days of Obligation, a beautifully written book of linked essays that I reviewed when it was published in 1993. I use the quote to open the catalog essay for an amazing retrospective exhibit of Hollywood photographs by George Hurrell, the quintessential Hollywood glamour photographer. I met Lou D'Elia, the collector and curator who commissioned the essay, when I wrote a Slate slide show on an earlier Hurrell exhibit.

The new exhibit, which includes more than 100 photos, opens Thursday at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. It's an unusual setting for an art display but an appropriately Art Deco setting for Hurrell's 1930s glamour.

The Plural of Anecdote

I know just how hard it is to measure the economic value of aesthetics (or, in this case, design). To take just one common problem, in a highly competitive market investing in aesthetics may not lead to greater profits but simply allow a firm to stay in business, with the gains going to consumers. I wish there were more good social science attacking these very difficult questions. What the world does not need, however, is the sort of self-justifying junk research design advocates put out and then celebrate as though it proves anything. As a journalist, I'm not ashamed to use anecdotes, but I'm honest about what they are.

Stylish Beers

Reader Bill MacIntosh calls my attention to this post about microbrews on Chris Anderson's Long Tail blog. It's an interesting example of how the Internet's ability to pull together people of unusual tastes turns niche markets into large (enough to be viable) markets--the phenomenon Chris Anderson calls the Long Tail. I'm looking forward to reading his new book by that name, officially published just this week.

Kidney Blogging Cont'd

The Freakonomics team of Steve Levitt and Steve Dubner devoted their latest NYT Magazine column to a organ markets. They smartly contextualized the debate by drawing on Viviana Zelizer's research on how life insurance evolved from a "profanation" to a demonstration of familial devotion. "The wisdom of repugnance," to use Leon Kass's phrase, is not timeless.

It's a terrific column, combining scholarship and personal stories, but I can't help thinking that they're a bit too willing to treat Alvin Roth's clever but incredibly complex barter scheme as a viable second-best solution. I've also said nice things about it on my blog, but, seriously, it's ridiculous for people to have to go through such machinations just because uninvolved third parties don't like the idea of paying organ donors. This taboo beautifully illustrates what Zelizer calls the false idea of "hostile worlds," which assumes that commerce inevitably taints all personal relations. I wrote about Zelizer in my Boston Globe article on economic sociology.

For more background links, see the Freakonomics website.

From Red to Purple?

As someone all too familiar with the genre, I'm highly skeptical of political analyses by libertarians who conveniently conclude that Democrats or Republicans are 1) gaining because they're appealing to libertarians or 2) losing because they're alienating libertarians.

But Ryan Sager's article in The Atlantic proves an exception to the usual unsophisticated spin. He focuses specifically on the intermountain West, a culturally libertarian region with changing demographics, and builds a poltically savvy case that Republicans are beginning to be hurt by turning their back on the Goldwater tradition. In a new posting on Real Clear Politics, Ryan recaps the argument for those too cheap to get an Atlantic subscription and responds to some of his critics.

Adam Smith on Declinism

From Book 2, chapter 3 of The Wealth of Nations:

The annual produce of the land and labour of England, for example, is certainly much greater than it was, a little more than a century ago, at the restoration of Charles II. Though, at present, few people, I believe, doubt of this, yet during this period, five years have seldom passed away in which some book or pamphlet has not been published, written, too, with such abilities as to gain some authority with the public, and pretending to demonstrate that the wealth of the nation was fast declining, that the country was depopulated, agriculture neglected, manufactures decaying, and trade undone. Nor have these publications been all party pamphlets, the wretched offspring of falsehood and venality. Many of them have been written by very candid and very intelligent people, who wrote nothing but what they believed, and for no other reason but because they believed it.

Some things never change. (Alas, this burst of clarity follows a terribly muddled section on "productive" versus "nonproductive" labor.)

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