The Two Americas

The sophisticated entertainment of Branson, Missouri

In 1922 (95 years ago), GK Chesterton visited America and wrote that while the people of the American Mid-West grew their own food they did not grow their own culture.  They had their own agriculture, but not their own artistic culture.

“Their culture comes from the great cities; and that is where all the evil comes from,” he said.

Now, of course, this statement of Chesterton’s contains more than a touch of hyperbole.  Rural America is no more Eden than the slums of Detroit.  All the evil does not come from cities.  Eric Hoffer, in fact, used to write about how every innovation came from the city, and every provincial suspicion of an innovation came from the country.

But Chesterton, though exaggerating, was right.  And he was right about what we know to be true today, almost a hundred years later.  There are two Americas.  One is rural and voted for Trump.  The other is metropolitan and voted for Hillary.  (In other words, plenty to blame on both sides, but a radical split nonetheless.)

And these two Americas have two very different tastes in entertainment.  As I wrote a while back in the St. Austin Review about Branson, Missouri (which features entertainment for country bumpkins rather thank city slickers) …

There you’ll find the other America, the older culture, the culture of Families – which is to say the culture of kids. In Branson you’ll find mini-golf, all-you-can-eat buffets, and country music stage shows … Sure, there’s plenty of tacky souvenir shops, and you might find a motel or two shaped like Noah’s Ark, but it’s the other culture. It’s a culture that is what it is because it appeals to adults who live with and travel with children.

Metropolitan culture, by contrast, appeals not in an unsophisticated way to families with kids, but in a faux sophisticated way to the deliberately sterile – singles, gays and the voluntarily childless.

That’s the cause of the great divide in this country.  Generally speaking, if you have kids and care about their future, you will think one way and value certain things.  If you don’t have kids, if you don’t ever intend to have kids, or if you grudgingly have as few kids as possible, you will think another way and value other things.

And, it turns out, I am bi!

That’s right, readers.  I am bi!  I am bi-cultural.  I know these two cultures quite well.  I make my living performing my own comedy shows in rural wineries all over the mid-west.  And though our shows aren’t really kid-friendly, they are unsophisticated and fun: they are not the culture from the cities.  But I was raised in a city and in a suburb, for the most part.  I was raised a metropolitan.  I was as cynical and atheistic and as self-indulgent as they come.  And it wasn’t my Christian conversion that first began to change me and to help me appreciate the rural culture that I used to look down upon.

It was having kids.

In fact, having kids was the key to happiness in my life.  Before Colin and Kerry were born, I was entirely, supremely, naturally, wholly, completely, utterly, and obtusely selfish.  I was transcendentally selfish.  I was infinitely, eternally and ubiquitously selfish.  I was selfish as a matter of course.  I was selfish by choice.  I was selfish without the deliberation of choice.  I was simply (and completely) selfish.  In fact, I was (you might say) selfish.  Perhaps all single guys in their 20’s are selfish, but I was more selfish than most.  Even after I got married I was selfish.  (My wife would tell you I’m still selfish).

But babies – smelly, messy babies – they have a way of changing you.  Especially if you have to change them (their diapers, I mean).

(A picture of a smelly, messy baby)

Once you have babies, you learn two things …

 

  • Life is chaotic and you are no longer in control of anything any more.
and
  • There are suddenly creatures in your life that you would die for, without a moment’s hesitation.
And, therefore (thus and ergo), it’s not about you.  
St. Paul, quite simply, puts it this way, addressing both the Corinthians and all Christians, then and now …

No one should seek his own good, but the good of others.  (1 Cor. 10:24)

And then there’s the odd fact that, as they grow older, these babies look up to you.  To you, of all people!  Here you are, a walking idiot, and these trusting and innocent souls think the world of you.  (Ha!  The joke’s on them!)
It is a very humbling experience and, with any luck, it teaches you the great lesson of life: that life is all about love and failurebecause you can’t be a father without daily failure, and you can’t be a husband without a wife pointing that failure out to you.  Love and failure: in other words, the cross.
The great split that runs down our nation and right down the middle of our souls is the split between the part of us that has been “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20), admitting that we are defeated, with all joy and life coming as a gift from without; and the part of us that says that we are sufficient unto ourselves and our artificial reality supreme and self contained: that we are the superman, deified, petit-gods, ever victorious on our own isolated terms.
And so, dear reader, if you’re down in the dumps, get married, make some babies, go to Branson and play some mini-golf.
And give glory to God in the process.
Kevin O'Brien
Kevin O'Brien is the founder and artistic director of the Theater of the Word Incorporated, which tours the world evangelizing through drama. He and his actors appear on several EWTN television programs, with video clips featured on O'Brien's website, www.stgenesius.net. Kevin teaches many online classes for Homeschool Connections and writes a regular column for the St. Austin Review. His autobiography, A Bad Actor's Guide to the Meaning of Life, will be published soon by ACS Press.

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