Friday, September 10, 2010

Letter from Gainesville: We Are Not All Crazy (A Non-Culinary Rant)


The time has come to state the obvious.  For the past few days, my inbox has been filled with anxious messages from friends and family: the crazy Koran burners are from Gainesville! OMG! What are you going to do? I can't believe Gainesville is so filled with crazy people!


My answer: It's not. For those who don't know the city, here's the deal:  Gainesville is a small city centered around the University of Florida, both physically and spiritually (UF Homecoming Day is a holiday for the entire public school system and  even the city's recycling bins come in UF's colors, orange and blue). The city's population can be impressionistically broken down into the following subgroups:


Retirees: 25,000


Normal working adults and their families: 50,000


Tobacco chewin' good ole boys who hate those socialist college types but love them Gators!: 15,000


UF faculty who've developed a taste for boiled peanuts but hate those darned local hicks:     2,000


People who claim they're taking class notes on their laptops, but are actually updating their Facebook pages: 25,000


People who are, honest to God, going to file their dissertations this semester, which won't be a repeat of last semester, honest! : 500


Members of fringe religious cults that have lost their tax-exempt status and whose property is currently under foreclosure: 50


Guess which of these groups is the public face of Gainesville these days?

And what are the rest of us doing about it? Yesterday, there was this , and for a while, there has been this and this. Meanwhile, UF's Muslim student group, Islam on Campus, is planning to spend Saturday feeding the homeless and holding a candlelight vigil. They've also advised Muslim groups from out of town not to dignify the burning with their presence.

But of course, measured speeches from the pulpit and grad students in hijabs making sack lunches don't make for particularly dramatic TV. Neither do most reasonable, responsible actions people take on a regular basis. What does get attention is the loud, the obnoxious, and the stupid. Stupid ideas tend to be simple and make good sound bites ("Islam is of the devil!"), while nuanced, truthful ideas don't ("Islam has some radical anti-American adherents, but most of its followers are peaceable").


And since media attention equals legitimacy in the public eye, loud, obnoxious, and stupid people and ideas are seen as forces to be reckoned with. Terry Jones and The Situation are of a piece.


Sadly, this is why the voices of the vast majority of Gainesville's population are being drowned out. It's not that we don't care.


It's just  that we're not stupid enough.


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