I have buried the lede in this piece so I hope you’ll hang with me while I indulge in a little storytelling about why I’m a little pissed off tonight. It’s actually a story that starts a long time ago, in the part of the country that many people think is far, far away.
But I promise we’ll get there before too long. The point will be made and we can all move on from there.
To begin, though, we must return to the beginning. The very. I spent the better part of my youth in search of my voice.
I grew up in a little Appalachian town (or more accurately, I grew up in the Appalachian county – there were three and I lived in the “wrong” one – in our town) that pushed up against the farm lands of the midwest. The further I get from my childhood and the more I travel the globe, the more I realize exactly how amazing my life was. Open pastures of green. Lots of kids in the neighborhood. Room to run, play and explore.
For everything it offered, I never quite found my voice. So I packed up my car a few years after graduation and set across the country. The ins and outs of the journey aren’t important. What is, though, is that I eventually settled in Berkeley, the one place I’d dreamed for many years. Not the city, mind you. I never had much care for Oakland, Berkeley or San Francisco (although if I did have care, it would be in that order).
I dreamed of the graduate school of journalism at Berkeley.
My time at the school was less than ideal. I spent a year working on the facilities crew, painting and moving furniture, while my classmates did more graduate type work. But I don’t begrudge an honest day’s work. And it got me through school. Along the way, I found mentors and best friends. When I count it all up, the numbers still come out in my favor.
I moved on to Wired magazine and eventually Wired News, where I made what name I have in the technology industry.
The thing is: I never quite fit into that world. I could bore you with stories about the reaction people in Silicon Valley had to my accent, or the near-gleeful response that they’d “never actually met anyone from Appalachia,” or the dismissive tone I would get when I’d try to explain why their products wouldn’t fly in the middle of the country (a fact borne out by the DotCom crash, mind you).
(As a side note: after I traveled from Ohio to Alabama for Wired News, writing stories about the technology issues in Appalachia, my editor told me never to pitch another story about Appalachia again because he was sick of hearing about it.)
When I moved to Boston and MIT’s Technology Review, I had high hopes. The school is, bar none, the greatest technology institution in this country. Yet after building the business and editorial framework for TechnologyReview.com, my then boss tried to oust me from my position after telling me – in a senior staff meeting – that I didn’t “have the pedigree” to run the website.
There are more stories, but you get the point. It became clear to me that despite my education at Berkeley, my work at MIT, my work with Carnegie Mellon, my work with South by Southwest Interactive, my book written for McGraw-Hill…despite that, for those folks on the coasts, I was never going to be anything other than a rube.
So I came home. A place that is tolerant, friendly, joyful and free. A place where you really can become anything you want based upon the merits, the very foundation that build the technological revolution that changed our planet.
Mostly I have disassociated myself with those people who failed to even try to understand Appalachia, its history and its role in the founding of this country (and, by the way, it’s continued defense). Every once in awhile, though, the media drops in for visit. Which is exactly what Vanity Fair contributing editor A.A. Gill did for his article on the Creation Museum. One of the most offensive, toxic and contemptible pieces I’ve ever read in a magazine.
Let me be crystal clear. My views on religion and the Creation Museum are quite public. This is not a defense of those concepts, both of which I find bizarre. My indignation isn’t about that.
It’s something far deeper than that. Gill, who writes smugly, speaks to the readers as if the people of Appalachia are sub-human critters to be viewed, poked and mocked. As if the 25 million people spread across 425 counties and 13 states (including the precious New York) are of one mind. As if presidents, scientists and artisans have never emerged from this area.
And my anger for those coastals returned. I relived a decade of my life, when I lived in their world and saw first-hand exactly the kind of people who can thrive there. Which doesn’t mean I lump them all together. I have so many good friends from that period of my life, those who have fanned out across the globe. Good, decent people.
But they are all tainted by Gill’s poison. Not as individuals. They are no more responsible for his reprehensible words than you are. They are Gill’s words and his obscene cross to bare. It’s his venom that taints them because it seeps out in their world, in the places they live, in the places they work. His darkness invades their spaces.
And tonight I hate the coast again.