Blue State Blues As Coastal Parents Battle Invasion Of Dollywood Values By Iowahawk
“I’m not sure where we went wrong,” says Ellen McCormack, nervously fondling the recycled paper cup holding her organic Kona soy latte. “It seems like only yesterday Rain was a carefree little boy at the Montessori school, playing non-competitive musical chairs with the other children and his care facilitators.”
“But now…” she pauses, staring out the window of her postmodern Palo Alto home. The words are hesitant, measured, bearing a tale of family heartbreak almost too painful for her to recount. “But now, Rain insists that I call him Bobby Ray.”
Even as her voice is choked with emotion, she summons an inner courage — a mother’s courage — and leads me down the hall to “Bobby Ray’s” bedroom, for a firsthand glimpse at the psychic devastation that claimed her son.
She opens the door to a reveal a riot of George Jones CDs, reflective ‘mudflap mama’ stickers, empty foil packs of Red Man, and U.S. Marine recruiting posters. In the middle of the room: a makeshift table made from a utility cable spool, bearing a the remains of a gutted catfish.
“This used to be all Ikea,” she says, rocking on heels between heaved sobs. “It’s too late for us. Maybe it’s not to late for me to warn others.”
Pandora’s Moon Pie Box
While poignant, Ellen McCormack’s painful battle to save her son is far from isolated. Across coastal America, increasing numbers of families are discovering that their children have been lured into “Cracker” culture — a new, freewheeling underground youth movement that celebrates the hedonistic thrills of frog-gigging and outlaw modified sprint cars. No one knows their exact number, but sociologists say that the movement is exploding among young people in America’s most fashionable zip codes.
“We first detected it a few years ago, with the emergence of the trucker hat phenomenon,” says Gerard Levin, professor of abnormal sociology at the University of California. “At first we thought it was some sort of benign, ironic strain. By the time we realized the early wearers really were interested in seed corn hybrids and Peterbilts, it had already escaped containment.”
Levin points to ‘Patient Zero,’ who in 1997 was a 23-year old graduate student in Gender Studies at San Francisco State University.
“During a cross-country trip to New York, he stopped at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop in Walcott, Iowa, and bought a John Deere gimme cap as a gag souvenir,” says Levin. “Within a year, he had dropped out of graduate school, abandoned his SoMa apartment, and and was working at a drive-thru liquor store. Today he is a wealthy televangelist in Bossier City, Louisiana.”
The contagion of ‘Patient Zero’ would prove devastating. Soon trucker hats were appearing throughout trendy coastal neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Park Slope and Portrero Hill, often accessorized with chain wallets and ‘wife beater’ t-shirts. A new alternative youth movement had emerged, rejecting the staid norms of establishment NPR society and embracing the ‘tune-in, turn-on, chug-up’ ethos of the Pabst Blue Ribbon underground. Before long, it would broadcast its siren call to an even younger generation — one whose parents were woefully unequipped to recognize it.