Hail Winter’s Bone

Though Intrade gives it the lowest odds of winning best picture tonight, like Tyler my fav was Winter’s Bone. Like another Oscar contender, True Grit, it is the story of a teen girl’s gritty struggle. Except that the world of Winter’s Bone is rural and low class. A colleague’s wife confessed to me that she was so horrified and repulsed by the world depicted as to make her reluctant to venture out of the city. While most folks in our society pride themselves on their respect for other cultures and ethnicities, such folk have little reason to fear being mistaken for someone from most such cultures. Their respect extends the least to “white trash,” who they have the most reason to fear being confused with.

Words like seamy, sleezy, and seedy are negatives vaguely associated with sloppiness, immorality, and low class, as if to imply that such things naturally go together. Which seems to me the worst sort of vague insinuation. I can accept that low class folks tend to be sloppier, and in some folk’s morality that in itself makes them less moral. But while I’m happy to celebrate our new better top class, if we are talking about an economists’ sort of immorality, i.e., hurting other folks on net, it isn’t clear to me that low class folks are less moral. They contribute a larger fraction of income to charity, if I recall. I can see you might be terrified of associating with them if you feared being confused with them, but I can’t sympathize much with that, as your desire to keep your status high comes at the expense of keeping the status of others low. I don’t see great cause to fear more direct harms.

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  • richard silliker

    if I recall. I can see you might be terrified of associating with them if you feared being confused with them, but I can’t sympathize much with that, as your desire to keep your status high comes at the expense of keeping the status of others low. I don’t see great cause to fear more direct harms

    AMEN.

  • Chris Gregory

    Waah! Sloppy? Less likely to afford help or labour-saving devices, or have free time to spend on such things…

    My partner was in India doing research, staying with a friend who worked in the ‘slums’. Even the poorest people live very tidily and cleanly, even when the buildings they lived in were falling apart.

    I think you’re getting into territory covered by The Prince and the Pauper (or if you’re lazy and haven’t read it, the movie Trading Places). Privilege is explained and excused by turning class differences into issues of morality. Portraying lower class people as morally inferior justifies and buttresses the class system.

  • http://codeandculture.wordpress.com Gabriel Rossman

    I get the general argument about class condescension, status anxiety, etc, but I don’t think Winter’s Bone is exactly the best illustration that ” it isn’t clear to me that low class folks are less moral.” The movie is after all about the perverse culture of honor (and its attendant code of silence, violence, etc) of a bunch of meth cookers. Even if you take the hardcore position that suppressing meth is not just impractical but also immoral, that doesn’t change the fact that the characters in the movie do some pretty nasty things.

    (Agree though that it’s a great movie).

  • Thursday

    I guess you haven’t spent a lot of time working with the left half of the bell curve.

    In Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis says, “There was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones.” Sociologically, we see positive correlations between most positive things: income, IQ, trust, cooperation, law-abidingness, kindness, future time orientation, health, beauty, and so forth and so on.

    http://isteve.blogspot.com/2010/06/minnesota-challenge.html

  • Thursday

    A colleague’s wife confessed to me that she was so horrified and repulsed by the world depicted as to make her reluctant to venture out of the city.

    I wonder at the urban vs. rural sentiments. Rural folk in general are not particularly ill behaved, and while lower class rural folk frequently behave pretty badly, lower class urban folk are perhaps even worse. There is a reason people fear big city crime.

  • Desertopa

    “While most folks in our society pride themselves on their respect for other cultures and ethnicities, such folk have little reason to fear being mistaken for someone from most such cultures. Their respect extends the least to “white trash,” who they have the most reason to fear being confused with.”

    I’m skeptical that it’s the fear of being associated with them that’s the primary motivating factor here. Do you predict that people of every ethnicity would tend to respect low status members of their own ethnicity less than anyone else? It’s not my impression that that’s the case.

  • http://hertzlinger.blogspot.com Joseph Hertzlinger

    I’m trying to think of a way an equivalent movie might be made about urban lower classes. One problem is that the motor of the plot (a father putting his family’s property in danger) wouldn’t work in an urban setting because the families in question don’t have much in the way of property.

  • http://pecancorner.blogspot.com/ Tina

    Years ago, a friend from a tiny Texas town brought his new West Coast big city-raised fiance home to meet his family. She later confided to me that she was terrified during the entire visit: the family slept with the windows open! All she knew of the rural South & Texas in general was from movies in which the small town sheriff was always the bad guy: fictional to the point of fantasy.

    I haven’t seen this movie but the trailer rings like just another one of those old movie scripts. Reassure your friend that she’s in less danger from the average rural person than she would have been from any random member of the Kennedy family.

  • DJMoore

    I’m an avid fan of Justified, which portrays Raylan Givens, a US Marshal, working in a similar local culture (identified as Harlan County, KY).

    One of the things that pleases me most about this show is that even the low-lifes are able to take care of themselves and get things done. They are people, well-rounded in their way.

    Urban cop shows tend to show two kinds of crooks: upper-class oppressors with servants, and drug addicts who can barely remember to breath. We see absolutely nothing to indicate that these people are capable of living on their own to anything like the extent of the tough, resourceful residents of Harlan County.

    Everybody in Harlan county is armed. Everybody pretty much minds their own business. Everybody can eat even if they can’t buy it at the store. Everybody can fix things.

    Everybody, good or bad, is a person, and that’s something that’s long been missing from the urban shows.

  • http://anotherpanacea.com Joshua A. Miller

    A good post. Interestingly, it points to our disagreement about the is-out gap, and thus circles back to the major problem with prediction markets and futarchy: they’re only as a good as the metrics that supply their contractual payout conditions.

    To me, this suggests that a futarchy-proponent should be working hard on perfecting GDP+ metrics.

    • http://anotherpanacea.com Joshua A. Miller

      Heh…. the is-OUGHT gap, though the in-group/out-group gap is another concern for futarchy when evaluating GDP+ payout instead of gross global product.

  • nelsonal

    Boy as a country boy who has come to the city, I’d say that in general rural folk (even white trash) are more moral than city slickers, if for no other reason than it’s vastly easier to enforce morality when there are 100 other people in town and everyone knows everyone else’s business.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    To give a lazy critique, Robin seems to be echoing the “uppity urban liberal elites look down on salt-of-the-earth country folk” complaint. H.A would give some theory about him performing a quasi-conservative role (as with his defense of the rich) of deriding the cultural elite for hypocrisy from a minor position within it. Thursday has the more realistic take.

    nelsonal, Robin made the same observation here.

    Joshua A. Miller, I don’t see the connection between this post and GDP+. As for why there’s not much work on that, Hanson proposes leaving that to democracy (our current system) and persuading people why they should prefer particular metrics is not his forte.

    • http://anotherpanacea.com Joshua A. Miller

      Prediction markets correctly noted that Winter’s Bone would lose, because it did not satisfy the Oscar voters’ biases in the way that King’s Speech does. The problem was that prediction markets were very effective at tracking the outcome, but the outcome was produced because of unjust status-signaling. In the same way, a futarchy might correctly estimate increases in GDP without correctly estimating GDP+.

      If the metric that the futures market is looking to predict is faulty (Oscar votes, straight GDP) prediction markets will correctly predict that faulty result. So there’s a lot of room for valuable work on perfecting GDP+, though such work is much less sexy (less status-oriented) than some other things.