Techno-Files, Or Why I Learned To Hate the Coast

**Greetings Gawkers who found me through this piece or this piece. Remember to tip your waiters and waitresses. And the 1030 show is always different than that the 8.**

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.

19 comments
Brad_King
Brad_King

Eric: Thanks for reading and thanks for the thoughtful reply. I would add something to it - but it seems you've covered explained the problem quite thoroughly.The issue I have locally is that 1) the local media didn't know about this for weeks and 2) they didn't feel compelled to respond TO THE ARTICLE. They responded to chatter in the blogosphere. I have gone back and forth with several members of the media + this point seems lost of them. Then again: I stopped reading traditional media outlets long ago (local ones, anyway). And I'm a journalist. This is a good explanation of why.I do, however, like The Dukes of Hazard.

ericreynolds
ericreynolds

I think that the issue at hand is far less about one man's condescending idiocy and far more about the plague that is bad journalism. This man enjoys and prospers from ridiculing the plebes-his opinions are inconsequential. His work, however, is a small piece of a giant, disgusting jigsaw puzzle of misinformation that is smothering this country. In this example, we have an article that is being read by people, informing them about a topic about which a vast majority knows nothing. In it are ridiculous assertions that have no basis in fact whatsoever (I speak here about the generalizations made about our region, not about the "museum") but are PRESENTED as such. Not only did he portray us as slack-jawed bible-beating yahoos, but he couldn't even get the goddamn city right while he was doing it. You call it lazy, but it's beyond lazy. It's as if he wrote the article from home using "The Dukes of Hazzard" as his research. Anyone from this region knows it's bullshit. The problem is, the people reading the article for the most part DON'T. And now this poison journalism as you call it has infected a community of readers. And, unfortunately, this is how a large majority of information gets spread in this country, opinion and outright deception disguised as fact, for the sake of snatching more listeners, viewers or readers from the other guy. It's a shite state of affairs, and it plays a large part in perpetuating the festering hatred of everything different to which so many here cling.

Brad_King
Brad_King

We actually trace our roots back to England (my family that is - not Appalachia). And yes, I've certainly read much about Appalachia that's offensive - but this really does take the cake in terms of a major organization (Conde Nast) and a well-known magazine. It's just unbelievable.I appreciate the read and the comment :) Always happy to meet another Appalachian - even if it's just online :)

Holy Cow
Holy Cow

Being from Appalachia myself (Wise County), I can honestly say if Gill's screed is one of the most offensive and contemptible pieces you've ever read about Appalachia, you need to turn off your computer now before it's too late. It's worth noting that I work near the embarrassment to humanity known as the Creation Museum and I ridicule it frequently. It's also worth noting that Gill is Scottish where most of the people in Appalachia, including myself, trace their roots.So Gill if doesn't like to the way we turned out, he has only his ancestors' bad genetics to blame.

heather
heather

Brad,Lovely writing as always. What you're describing may generally map to the Coasts but is it also a question of general relational weakness of some people?The institutions we've had have favoured those who can compartmentalize. "You're an x" rather than relate and emotionally connect with you (or anyone) as an emotional/ relational force (some would say spirit).I believe we're at a moment where that is changing. Hierarchies are breaking down and the ramifications of discarding someone are much more visible (ie like in your blog post). Relationships matter more to those who have always taken their workings for granted (since they often didn't do much work on them).Everyone wants to be seen. Even those terrified people who want to put you in a box. They have mistaken their own box for themselves, maybe because they have a shiny box. But it is a box all the same.

Brad_King
Brad_King

Donna:I'm thrilled that you came to the blog to respond. I think it was quite a nice rant in the form of a comment, which I actively encourage and applaud. When we use our words to express (and not as weapons), the world is a much better place."We've got plenty of cultural self-loathing..." *sigh*It's true. So many battles to fight and ideas to change and infrastructures to build. The history of the region is actually fascinating. And we're as much to blame (maybe more to blame) for its current state. That said: Gill and others do a disservice to the work that is being done to change things.I don't ask for a rosy picture. Surely my book is NOT going to paint that. But I hope -- I hope! -- that it's accurate. Or more accurate. Or as accurate as it can be.Thanks again for the words. I hope you stop back and continue to talk with me.Brad

Donna
Donna

II've been thinking for a few days about your question on Twitter: If we could say one thing to VF, what would it be? I came here to respond because I'm just learning to skate on Twitter, and it’s not a question I can remotely answer in 140 characters (although I was tempted to respond with UNSUBSCRIBE). It’s such an old story. William Saletan comes to West Virginia and describes our political climate after talking to a couple of uninformed guys working at a gas station, taking care to note the state of their teeth. Diane Sawyer comes to eastern Kentucky and leaves with lovingly composed wide-angle shots of a trailer whose yard is filled with litter and a story that includes dental problems and a bonus case of family sexual abuse (which is described as “incest” when it happens here). There's plenty of ignorance and poverty and social problems in Washington and New York, but the media would never use them to define those places as they do Appalachia. To use your apt phrase, it’s both vile and intellectually lazy, and it’s just more of the same when A.A. Gill comes here and feels free to have a little sport with us all while he’s rolling his eyes at the Creation Museum. Thing 1 I want to say to Gill and VF: You do know that there are creationists in New York, right? You can make fun of them right at home without the terrifying ordeal of spending an afternoon in Kentucky. You can probably find some fat people and women who dress funny and people who don’t play tennis and an optical technician who doesn’t get your jokes, too, if you look around. Thing 2: Some of us are trying to raise kids here, and we’ve got plenty of cultural self-loathing to fight already, thanks. Apologies for the long rant in the guise of a comment. But I’m glad I stumbled across your writing, and I can’t wait to read the new book. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

Brad_King
Brad_King

Dan:My father has been telling me this exact thing for a long time. I am still trying to learn.

kobalt9
kobalt9

Bradley,You should really get out from under yourself. This can cause both psychological AND physical damage.

Brad_King
Brad_King

Hey Bill:Appropriate name (and as an adopted Texan, appreciated). Not sure what I need to get over. As I'm sure you read, I said that most of the people I met were very nice and continue to be friends.I guess you chose to focus just on one part of my thoughts. Enjoy your axe.Brad

Bill Hicks
Bill Hicks

Man, you are bitter. No other word for it. Pissed off at elites? Get over it. I'm from the Midwest and have worked with elites on both coasts for over 20 years. I've worked with Harvard MBAs, PhDs from MIT, etc ... I don't have a college degree at all, work in tech, and I've found the elites (who have often been my bosses) to be fair, super-smart, and actually quite friendly to me. Occasionally, they've been dicks here and there. For the most part, they've been fine. It sounds like you just have a serious axe to grind and a huge chip on your shoulder. The type of guy who's just waiting for any sign of a put-down so you can pounce all over the latte-sipping frat boy who doesn't know what real work is. Again, get over it. Get over yourself.

Brad_King
Brad_King

Hey Scripto:I DO know how that is :) I am working on a memoir about my family (who, like others, has been in their home for more than 200 years). I am not quite from there + I'm still not native either. Long story short, it's taken some time to get folks to feel comfortable with me.I am hard on Gill because he's an outsider making fun without any care. It's a vicious fun he is having. We make fun of the hillbillies next door as well (they are REALLY hicks!), but it's done with an understanding. That is the thing that sticks in my craw.But I appreciate your reading and your comments :) I kinda want to buy you a cup of coffee now.

scripto
scripto

Brad,Kinda. I've lived in this small central PA town for 30 years (historical distinction -only northern town burnt to the ground in the civil war) but I'm still not a native. You know how that is. Maybe my grandkids will be. Butmy wife's kin have been infesting these hills for 300 years. People and theirkids tend to stay here. It's one of the things I like about living here. Peopleseem more invested in the community. But I wouldn't be too hard on Gill.For one thing, maybe 3 people in town read Vanity Fair, and for another,someone's always making fun of someone else. For us, it's the hillbillies one county west.

Brad_King
Brad_King

Hey Catherine:That's a beautifully written comment. Like you, I did go through my period of hating everything about my home. Why else would I leave for more than a decade :) What actually brought me full circle was the insistence that I forget everything.I think I've struck a balance between my two worlds these days. While I prefer the country, I do still spend a fair amount of time in the cities. And with my friends, those city-dwellers, who are just quite lovely folks. There's good everywhere, I've found, if you just look for it.I do hope my piece didn't come off TOO ranty about ALL city folks :) If it did, I'll have to write a second piece about why I love the city.Thanks for reading.

Catherine Winters
Catherine Winters

Having spent my adult life in one major city or another in Canada, I very rarely encounter anyone who ISN'T from somewhere else. Rarer still is the minority who HAVE moved to the big city and still have something nice to say about wherever they came from. I know personally, I never intend to return to my home town. There's nothing left for me there and no one I would want to see. "Ha, you lived THERE?" people exclaim."I KNOW, isn't it FUNNY?" I reply. HILARIOUS.I wonder if that's how you "fit in" in North America's coastal urban tech/media world: by purporting to hate everything about where you were raised, by knowing how to order the right kind of drink and by wearing the right shoes. It never occurred to me to do anything but, and yet, I know if I HADN'T had such a hellish upbringing, there would be plenty I could get downright nostalgic about.And if I did, I wonder if my experience would mirror yours.

Brad_King
Brad_King

Hey Scooter:Ha. No, but it certainly crossed my mind while I was writing that there was a good chance that he wasn't from New York. But I chose that city for 2 reasons:1 - when I was at Wired, there was a not-so-unspoken feeling that came from Conde Nast that our little West Coast operation was cute, but not quite up to par with the New York operations. I'm not sure if you work in the publishing industry, but if you do I suspect you've experienced our version of the East Coast-West Coast war.2 - that battle between the two Coasts seems to push each set of folks, consciously or unconsciously, in ways that sometimes are less about the writing and the story and more about "making headlines."Thanks for pointing that out though :)

Brad_King
Brad_King

Hey scripto:As I mentioned, my beef isn't about religion or creationism. In my life, I've been very outspoken against both. It's his use of language that's vile and, maybe more importantly, intellectually lazy. You must be from around these parts, though, if you know Mennonites :)

scripto
scripto

I don't think this guy would know a Mennonite from a mudshark but his take on the museum itself was pretty accurate. And funny. But, you're right, rural ain't necessarily slow but having the "elites" think that can sometimes work to your advantage.

Scooter
Scooter

I appreciate your explaining here on your experiences with disrespectful people on both coasts. But...I have to ask. Do you realize that A.A. Gill is Scottish?

Trackbacks

  1. […] which Jezebel has soaked up nicely in this post. Also, former Wired.com staffer Brad King has posted an essay about coastal elitism, expanding on his tweet in yesterday’s Twitterarti stating, “I find [Condé Nast] […]

  2. […] comment from Techno-Files, or Why I Learned to Hate the […]

  3. […] blog post I wrote on January 26 about Vanity Fair’s take on Appalachia ended up on the 11 pm news (this is the online story) […]

  4. […] pointed to this post at Kate’s Random Musings, which went up yesterday afternoon, as well as this one at my buddy Brad’s […]

  5. […] Jan 26, 2010: My blog post, “Techno-Files, or Why I Learned to Hate the Coast” […]

  6. […] why Brad King got it right: he told a story about it.  He pointed to a larger issue, and pretty much just said that articles like that do nothing more […]

  7. […] world. We no longer have to sit back and take what the media has to offer. [As a point of order, here is a piece I wrote that ended up on Gawker after Vanity Fair wrote a nasty article about Cincinnati. Pre-Web, […]

  8. […] comment from Techno-Files, or Why I Learned to Hate the […]

  9. […] Jan 26, 2010: My blog post, “Techno-Files, or Why I Learned to Hate the Coast” […]

  10. […] as people moved from job to job, from place to place, from city to city. And worst of all, I found an institutional loathing – not overt mind you, ingrained beyond recognition – for the world where I grew […]