Spatial Prejudice

So I get this email the other day from my sister -- one of those endless forwards, you know -- all about the various editions of Barbie dolls which correspond to different sections of the city where we grew up (Indianapolis, Indiana).

Here's the one for our part of town:

"South Side Barbie"
-This pale model comes dressed in her own Wrangler jeans two sizes too small, a NASCAR t-shirt and tweety bird tattoo on her shoulder. She has a six-pack of Bud light and a Hank Williams Jr. CD set. She can spit over 5 feet and kick mullet-haired Ken's butt when she is drunk. Purchase her pickup truck separately and get a confederate flag bumper sticker absolutely free.

You get the idea. The whole thing is like that: precise little jabs at all the folks you see on the streets and at Colts games but never actually talk to... a skillful execution of what's essentially your standard everybody-besides-us-is-weird/stupid/subhuman joke.

I also noticed that the email was pretty insightful throughout -- suspiciously so, in spite of its mean-spiritedness -- and as I read I was thinking how those little nuances of authenticity --(Ha! The housewives in Carmel really do talk on their cell phones in the car too much! Broad Ripple really does have a lot of liberals!)-- are probably what people find most amusing.

The details, I realized, are what convince you that it's about *you,* and *your city,* and therein lies most of the appeal.

The irony, I then thought, would be if the email, and the whole joke, were not actually specific at all, but instead were just slight customizations to one standard formula, as mass-produced as their blonde plastic scapegoat.

And of course, this is exactly the case. A couple seconds of googling turned up a "Pittsburgh Barbie" page, and I'm sure there are many more, for many other cities. In fact, this joke may have already made the rounds to your hometown, letting you in on the little ritual of snickering superiorly as you look down the list for your neighborhood, foolishly hoping they'll describe the people there as upstanding, gentle and wise.

If not, don't worry. You'll probably get it soon.

Anyway, at first I found this all really disappointing -- the idea that the practice of loathing and deriding the other residents of your city was so universal that even the specifics of how and why you hate them could be easily transplanted from place to place.

I've decided not to let it depress me, though. Better to focus on those similarities, I guess -- not pay too much mind to what, specifically, we all have in common and just be pleased that there's something -- and enjoy the mental exercise of seeing if I can guess which parts of Columbia will be assigned to which Barbies when that email finally gets here.

(I do wonder why it is that people so uniformly divide themselves into groups -- our real estate search has served to ably spotlight this tendency toward self-segregation. Any urban planners or sociologists out there? Do the places where you live have these predictable districts too? I'm curious.)

And I suppose I could have just as easily written here just now about how great it is that our culture has common touchstones of humor, instead of crankily dwelling on the subject matter. Oh well.

Anyway, I guess it just goes to prove the old maxim: no matter where you go, there you are. And you're probably getting on somebody's nerves.

Let's hope they can, at the very least, have a laugh about it.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, we can't even loathe right any more!

Anonymous said...

have they created a Rosie Barbie yet?

Anonymous said...

My primary reason for sending that to you was to point out that "our side" of town is grossly misperceived by most, clearly. I certainly cannot spit any further than my own chin, which becomes a problem in cars. Nor would I ever purchase, let alone flaunt, the Confederate flag as a symbol of any existing beliefs of mine. Pick-up truck? Not hardly. And last but certainly not least, if you ever see me in a pair of Wrangler jeans, just whip out your 12-gage and blow me away...please. Glad you got some philosophical/sociological use out of it :)

Anonymous said...

Then again, Katie, you do drive a truck, of sorts, and you *can* burp loud enough to clear a biker bar, so maybe there's something to these south side generalizations after all...