American Gothic killed us.
It was the 1970s. My friends and I were infatuated with Masterpiece, a board game about buying and selling genuine and forged works of art. It revolved around colorful reproductions. The classic painting Nighthawks was cool. So was St. George and the Dragon and maybe even The Circus Rider. But American Gothic? That one cracked us up.
As I grew up, I saw a lot of American Gothic. The pitchfork-holding farmer and his wife are two of the most reproduced and parodied art creations ever. It wasn’t until relatively recently — more than 30 years since last playing Masterpiece — that I came to appreciate American Gothic’s artist, Grant Wood.
He was an odd guy. A pamphleteer, tax evader, founder of short-lived artists’ colonies. Devout agrarian. He was also a fierce Iowan who loved his state and his town. He detested the cultural influence of New York and Los Angeles, disliked the automobile because it tore apart communities and hated World War II because, among other things, he thought it killed Iowa as an area distinct from the culturally homogenized mass of the rest of the United States.
I never grew to like American Gothic, but I’ve grown to like Grant Wood. Sure, he should’ve paid his taxes more regularly and he was a little weird, but he understood that where you come from matters. Your town. Your state. He was, in other words, a regionalist.Local Webiography
Regionalism is a corollary of the Church’s socio-political principle known as the “principle of subsidiarity,” a concept intimated by Augustine and Aquinas, described by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum (Capital and Labor), given a name by John XXIII in Pacem in Terris (Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty), and hammered home by John Paul II in Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum).
The smallest units of society, the principle of subsidiarity teaches, ought to handle whatever they can. The larger units should get involved only when the smaller ones lack the wherewithal. National defense must be handled nationally. Grade-school education should be handled locally.
The principle of subsidiarity is a concept derived from everyday common sense. People love what’s closest. They will strengthen and work on the people and projects near them. As people strengthen what is closest to them, the country as a whole grows stronger. “Local first” is good for the person, the region and the nation.
I turned my thoughts to these matters when I ran across a spate of regional bloggers at Stella Borealis (northlandcatholic.blogspot.com), a blog dedicated to Minnesota that provides links to Minnesota shrines, parishes, dioceses and bloggers (some 50-plus). I never thought Minnesota had much to be proud of (unless four Super Bowl defeats count), but these Minnesotans love their area, and rightly so. A man who doesn’t love his home is a miserable man indeed.
As I searched and surfed further, I found that geographic blogs aren’t unusual. Pittsburgh, for instance, might be industrially depressed, but it has a lot of bloggers who gladly identify themselves with southwestern Pennsylvania. For the electronic gateway to the greater Pittsburgh blogging area, go to Pittsburgh Bloggers (pghbloggers.org). If you’re looking for a Catholic Pittsburgh blogger, try PowerBlog! (power ballplace.blogspot.com).
If you’re interested in regional blogs, check out the following. In Wisconsin, see Dad29 (dad29.blogspot.com) and City of Steeples (cityofsteeples.blogspot.com). New England: Connecticut Catholic (connecticutcatholic.blogspot.com). Toledo: The Toledo Catholic (catholictoledo.blogspot.com). For Grant Wood’s beloved Iowa, try the Iowa State Cyclones’ Father Dennis (fatherdennis.blogspot.com).
The South probably has the strongest tradition of provincialism. The genius Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor loved her Georgia, just as her male novelist counterpart Walker Percy loved Louisiana. I figured there’d be a lot of Catholic bloggers from the South, but despite scouring, I found only two: Carolina Cannonball (thecrescat.blogspot.com) and Mission Territory: A Papist in Dixieland (missionterr itory.wordpress.com).
Another lover of place is the Protestant Wendell Berry, a writer who threw away success in New York City to move back to his roots in Kentucky. He found there his strongest pen and proceeded to write popular essays, non-fiction books and novels.
Jeff Culbreath (culbreath.word press.com) is his best Catholic blogger imitator, but this talented fellow is rather elusive and inconsistent. He’s also from California, not Kentucky. He doesn’t have a Kentucky Catholic counterpart, but if you want some Bluegrass Catholicism, you might try Kentucky Catholic Eye Blog (kentuckycatholiceye.blogspot.com) and Rich Leonardi at Ten Reasons (Cincinnati, but he covers northern Kentucky, too: richleonardi.blogspot.com).Homeland: Land of Homes
Passionate Catholic convert Orestes Brownson is considered one of the greatest thinkers of 19th-century America. In his greatest work, The American Republic, Brownson preached the necessity of territorial democracy — politics and issues tied to particular soil.
The genius of the American system, he said, is that it erects barriers between the federal government and the people. This allows democracy to work more effectively because democracy works best in small territories. In townships, the governed and the governors meet in the streets and talk; in counties, the issues are tangible, not abstract. That’s where the battles should be fought whenever possible.
That’s where the discussions ought to take place whenever possible. Unfortunately, we live in an age of an expansive federal government that dashes regionalism. We live in the age of a World Wide Web that dashes intimate conversation.
But that doesn’t mean the battle is over. The federal government can be fought, just as the Internet can be wielded in a local way.
Would Grant Wood have approved of the Internet and blogging? I gotta believe he’d grimace a bit. But if he saw those regional bloggers? I think he’d smile more than his famous pitchforked farmer.
Eric Scheske blogs from southwest Michigan at ericscheske.com/blog.