Thursday, June 14, 2007

Doctoral candidate, heal thyself

Today's pointless exercise in sociology comes to you from researcher Francine Watkins at Liverpool University, who went "undercover" in an English village for three months only to discover -- wait for it! -- that rural life was marred by gossip, prejudice, and sexual tension. Academic life being almost entirely free of such things, one can only pity the thought of the innocent Watkins trying in vain to navigate the Machiavellian rat-trap of rustic living.

What Watkins discovered, in fact, was that rural communities were populated by fallible human beings no better or worse than those in the cities. Urban would-be sophisticates love to play this game of "stripping away the pretty veneer" of country living to expose the seething, churning ugliness underneath, but to me it all seems a little redolent of sour grapes: sure, the rural folks have the scenery, the peace and the quiet, low housing prices, clean air, safe streets and actually know their neighbours -- but they're inbred, racist troglodytes, so it's all wasted on them. No right- thinking person should live in the country anyway, of course, because the far- flung roads and scattered amenities are contributing to global warming; better both for our principles and for the planet for us to stick to our tiny, overpriced flats in 20-storey blocks on crime-ridden estates and enjoy the vibrant cooking smells in the hallway.

As a former resident of Toronto now living in a small village I can assure nervous urbanites that there are no social problems in the country that are not found on a much greater scale in the cities, especially prejudice. Francine Watkins comes from Liverpool, which ever since the Toxteth riots in 1981 has been a cauldron of racial tension; just two years ago, for example, a black honours student minding his own business was murdered by a racist thug with an axe. If that's the alternative, I think I can handle being gossiped about.

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