Small-town heartland values

Maryville, MO, in the middle of farm country about 50 miles north of St. Joseph, is acting out a collective schweinerei that deserves national attention. With the apparent approval of their community leaders, this upstanding bunch of curdled Babbitts have served up all the teenage girls in town as sexual toys, like a box of candy, to louts who entertain the good people playing football. Young men who amuse themselves raping girls can expect no more than a hiccup on the path to greener pastures in college, happy lives, and the warm embrace of their neighbors. If the girls (or their parents and families) have some other idea, they are liable to vigilante vengeance. Community values, and like that; the nail that sticks up gets driven away and its house burned to the ground.

Nice place, Maryville. Nice folks, with solid values: if we didn’t have a winning football team, we might have a whole generation of young men with bad character!  Shirley Jackson, would that thou werst living at this hour.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

29 thoughts on “Small-town heartland values”

  1. All across the rural Midwest, the residents complain that “All the bright young people move away”.

  2. Football is an uncontrolled confounding variable in this account. If the local team were 0-7 instead of 7-0, would the town have defended the assailants of this girl to the extent that they did? Or if the boys were not on the team at all, would the girl have fared better with the townspeople?

    Town size, duration of residence, and football are all associated with the reported outcome. “Small town heartland” is plausible but not proven as an explanation of what was observed here.

  3. Agreed, it’s not clear that football is more than peripherally involved. It appears to me to be more along the lines of “small town” with all the ties that implies. The son of a prominent family rapes the daughter of a new family.

    Sports generally (and football particularly) appears to be the tie that got this collection of boys together, but it could have been other activities as well.

    The son is a member of the “in” group and the girl is an outsider. Of course there is no justice for the outsider. Nor does it appear that there have been any consequences to the local boy.

  4. it’s not clear that football is more than peripherally involved.

    Does it not seem that football players are disproportionately – hugely so – involved in these incidents?

    1. The ones we hear about, yes. I suspect that it’s mostly selection bias that leaves the impression that football players are more likely to perpetrate these acts. A study came out recently that, despite all of the high profile cases, NFL football players are significantly less likely to be charged with crimes than are demographically similar non-football players.

  5. Are there any examples of small towns in which a newcomer football star who leads the home team to victory has raped the daughter of an established and well-connected local family? Certainly this has to have happened somewhere, probably more than once. If anyone knows how to research this kind of thing, the effects of athletic stardom and social prominence could be compared with the effects seen in this sad story. “Winning quarterback, new to town, rapes daughter of a pillar of the community” is the story we want; what is the outcome?

    1. The experiment would rate with Tuskegee and the things the Japanese got up to with poison gas. (SFIK Nazi experiments on victims were scientifically worthless exercises in sadism.)

      1. As a designed experiment, yes, of course. But I think Ed was proposing researching incidents that have already happened in the world, if there is some way they can be found, not setting such incidents up.

  6. A cheap shot unworthy of you, sir. Ed is not suggesting an experiment, but wondering about the existence of a comparison case with some of the variables altered. If this case is in fact worth looking at for any societal lessons, then I think that is a fair inquiry.

      1. Ed was not of course suggesting any such horrible experiment. I´m very sorry if he or you took it that way. There are some things we cannot find out for sure for ethical reasons. Nobody will replicate the Stanford similated prison experiment.

      2. Oh, I was pretty sure that no one thought I was Dr. Mengele. Probably clearer to say “‘Winning quarterback, new to town, rapes daughter of a pillar of the community’ is the story we want to find.” The rape has already happened; we just need someone who can search these stories; this is probably harder than finding things in PubMed where there are search terms one can generally rely on. I really do not know which would be the trump card, being a star athlete or being old blood (I suspect that old money would trump everything).

        Maryville, MO has a bunch of knuckleheads in any case.

  7. I’m not surprised by this. Human beings are pretty much sexist at birth and only with work do we learn to overcome it. This stuff happens in big cities all the time, I’m quite sure. We have whistleblower laws, and yet people still dump on them. This is how human beings act when a high status person (male) attacks a lower status person (female).

    It would be nice if being from a small town meant something, but it just doesn’t. People are the same everywhere, with some cultural differences that apply in varying degrees. Thank heavens.

  8. Believe me, it’s bigger news here in the Heartland than it is on the West Coast, and we’re just as appalled by it as anyone boasting big-city ivory-tower values, thank you very much.

    I’ve been to Maryville. I’ve also been to L.A. and Oakland. While none of them are perfect, I’ll just say this — I’m glad my granddaughters are growing up a lot closer to Maryville than to either of those other places.

      1. I’m not boasting about any values.

        No, instead you’re denigrating “Small-town heartland values”, not just implying, but specifically stating that an occurrence that is sadly commonplace everywhere equates to having “served up all the teenage girls in town as sexual toys” in our small town and that ugly defense of the perpetrators is indicative of “Small-town heartland values” because a few others are doing exactly what you’re doing in reaction to the story — defending their tribe by denigrating the Other. It’s just as ugly and wrong when you do it, Michael. Your commentary on the story is absolutely Limbaughesque in it’s bigotry.

        The evidence of people close to the story being appalled (though I’m sure there are such, probably many) did not make it into today’s KC Star followup story, though; seems to be mainly stonewalling and denial abroad in the land there.

        Probably many? Like the song says, a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest. From your link:

        On Monday, the city manager’s office in Maryville — a 12,000-population town 100 miles north of Kansas City — was inundated with phone calls, emails and social media comments regarding the case.

        “It’s been extremely negative,” said City Manager Greg McDanel. “So we’re trying to address that as we can and get the appropriate information out and send it out to the appropriate place.

        Meanwhile, the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, where the young man who had the encounter with Daisy is now enrolled, was getting angry blowback as well, according to postings on the university’s Facebook page.

        It’s all over the TV news here, and just about everyone who isn’t benefiting from the injustice is incensed over it. To single out statements from the few people who are benefiting from the injustice as indicative of small-town heartland values is disingenuous in the extreme. The title of the KC Star story you linked to was “Anger over Maryville case boils on Internet”. Anger, Michael. And yes, small-town heartlanders use the telephone and internet too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to work maintaining avionics test equipment so that people who hate “my kind” can avoid “flyover country” quickly and safely.

        1. As someone who lives in a very small town in a very rural area of a sparsely populated state, I had a similar reaction. But on further reflection I think this defensiveness is missing the point.

          I can’t speak for Michael, but I suspect his intent is not to “denigrate small town values” but merely to counter the longstanding American myth that small-town values are inherently superior to non-small-town values. The story highlighted in this post isn’t intended to show that people in small towns are moral monsters, it’s intended to show that they’re not angels. If that’s his point, then I have to agree with it.

          And your subsequent paragraphs do not actually show any “evidence of people close to the story being appalled“. They show that lots of people with access to telephones, email, and Facebook are angry at the apparent injustice. They don’t specifically show people from Maryville itself expressing that anger. Even if all the people calling and emailing the local sheriff’s office were from “heartland small towns” elsewhere, that doesn’t contradict the idea that small towns are often not good at policing the misdeeds of their own good ol’ boys. I don’t think Michael’s point was that people in small towns are reluctant to criticize the leaders of other small towns. It’s that people in small towns are often reluctant to side with “outsiders” and against their own leaders.

          Look at your own selective use of boldface there. You quote the headline “Anger over Maryville case boils on Internet” but drop the boldface just before you get to the “…on the Internet” part. If the headline had been “Anger over rape case boils in Maryville” then you would have a point.

          1. I can’t speak for Michael, but I suspect his intent is not to “denigrate small town values” but merely to counter the longstanding American myth that small-town values are inherently superior to non-small-town values. The story highlighted in this post isn’t intended to show that people in small towns are moral monsters, it’s intended to show that they’re not angels. If that’s his point, then I have to agree with it.

            I’d be perfectly fine with O’Hare’s piece if he had stated it that way. He could have asked where are those small-town values we keep hearing about, that seem to be missing in some of the folks involved in the story. But he didn’t do that, did he? No, he described the entire small town of 12,000 as an “upstanding bunch of curdled Babbitts [who] have served up all the teenage girls in town as sexual toys, like a box of candy, to louts who entertain the good people playing football.” You have to be pretty charitable to frame that as “not all of these folks are angels” when it practically screams “look at this entire town of moral monsters”.

            And your subsequent paragraphs do not actually show any “evidence of people close to the story being appalled“.

            Go back and read the Star articles. There’s plenty of evidence of people close to the story being appalled, like the victims and their friends and families. There’s also plenty of evidence of people close to the story doing appalling things, like the perpetrators and their friends and families. What there isn’t any evidence of is any support for the statement O’Hare made which I quoted above.

            They show that lots of people with access to telephones, email, and Facebook are angry at the apparent injustice. They don’t specifically show people from Maryville itself expressing that anger.

            As I said earlier, small-town heartlanders use telephones, email, and Facebook too. Neither you nor O’Hare has shown that there aren’t people from Maryville who are upset about it. The Star didn’t make any such claim, because they didn’t go out and interview the “man on the street”, they only interviewed the actors involved. O’Hare implies it and you defend it, but where is the evidence to support it?

            If the headline had been “Anger over rape case boils in Maryville” then you would have a point.

            And if Michael’s headline had been “Small-town heartland values in short supply in Maryville rape case” then you would have a point. Instead of making the point you claim, that some of the folks in Maryville aren’t living up to the small-town heartland values hype, he made the point that small-town heartland values place football above rape, as proven by those “Nice folks, with solid values” in that “Nice place, Maryville”. When one points to the misdeeds of a few bad apples and uses that to paint a vast host of others with that broad brush, we call that bigotry. If I were to point to the Walmart EBT glitch and snarkily describe Louisianans as “Nice folks, with solid values” under a headline that read “The integrity of the Poor”, how would you interpret that?

          2. I wrote: And your subsequent paragraphs do not actually show any “evidence of people close to the story being appalled“.

            Freeman replied: Go back and read the Star articles. There’s plenty of evidence of people close to the story being appalled, like the victims and their friends and families.

            OK, so the three paragraphs you quoted as evidence aren’t the real evidence, which apparently lies elsewhere. And then — you’re holding up the response of “the victims and their friends and families” as evidence that the general population of Maryville is appalled at the rapes and at the subsequent shunning/bullying? Come on! Talk about damning with faint praise. If the only people in Maryville who were appalled by these rape incidents were the victims and their friends and families, one would be justified in deciding that Maryville is a horrible place to live.

            Freeman continues: As I said earlier, small-town heartlanders use telephones, email, and Facebook too. Neither you nor O’Hare has shown that there aren’t people from Maryville who are upset about it.

            You know, it should be a lot easier to prove that there are people in Maryville who are upset about the rapes, than to do what you’re asking the Star (or Michael) to do and prove the opposite.

            Further: When one points to the misdeeds of a few bad apples and uses that to paint a vast host of others with that broad brush, we call that bigotry.

            That’s true. But in this case, the issue is that while “a few bad apples” were directly involved in the rapes, there was a much broader failure of the town at large to care for the victims and their families in the aftermath. The family of one victim felt so badly treated that they had to move out of town. That suggests a community-wide failure of empathy, not just a few bad apples.

            Freeman again: If I were to point to the Walmart EBT glitch and snarkily describe Louisianans as “Nice folks, with solid values” under a headline that read “The integrity of the Poor”, how would you interpret that?

            I guess it would depend. If the people you were describing that way were members of an underclass whose values were already considered by the rest of the country to be depraved and immoral, then I would conclude that you were consciously or subconsciously trying to confirm and enhance that stereotype in a shallow and uncritical way. I probably wouldn’t be too happy about that.

            If, on the other hand, the people you were describing that way were members of a class that’s historically been held up as paragons of virtue, particularly in contrast with those Americans who don’t live in small “heartland” [sic] towns, then my reaction would probably be more or less what happened here. That is, I was initially annoyed at Michael for casting aspersions on “my” people (rural America), but on further reflection I’d understand the point that he was just countering the artificially positive stereotype of such people.

            For at least 200 years this pernicious idea (of a rural “heartland” America inhabited by virtuous, hard-working, honest, “real Americans” who are superior to the weak, dependent, dishonest, and morally depraved city-dwellers) has shaped how Americans look at each other. I would have written the top post a bit differently, but fundamentally I don’t really have a problem with Michael pointing out how unrealistic this stereotype of small-town virtue actually is.

          3. you’re holding up the response of “the victims and their friends and families” as evidence that the general population of Maryville is appalled at the rapes and at the subsequent shunning/bullying?

            Then aren’t you and Michael are holding up the response of people who have a vested interest in downplaying the crimes as evidence that the general population of Maryville is supportive of the rapes and subsequent shunning/bullying? Come on yourself!

            You know, it should be a lot easier to prove that there are people in Maryville who are upset about the rapes, than to do what you’re asking the Star (or Michael) to do and prove the opposite.

            I’m not asking for anything but evidence in support of the claims Michael made in the OP. You are demanding that I show evidence that it’s not OK to declare the entire town an “upstanding bunch of curdled Babbitts” etc. by proving that there actually are people in Maryville who are appalled by the events. If you’re arguing that there aren’t any, that’s a pretty disgusting assumption to make, but it’s up to you to support it. I said that we in the heartland are “just as appalled by it as anyone” based on living here, discussing the events with fellow heartlanders, and watching the local TV news on the subject. There simply isn’t any evidence to cite from the Star articles either way, aside from what I’ve mentioned already.

            That’s true. But in this case, the issue is that while “a few bad apples” were directly involved in the rapes, there was a much broader failure of the town at large to care for the victims and their families in the aftermath.

            Yes, those were the “friends and families of the perpetrators” that I was referring to. The Star didn’t interview the “town at large”, so you have no basis for this claim aside from the disgusting behavior of a few of the individuals that they did interview, who all had something to gain by denying the severity of the crimes. Why do you count these interviewees in evidence while discounting the friends and families of the victims?

            For at least 200 years this pernicious idea (of a rural “heartland” America inhabited by virtuous, hard-working, honest, “real Americans” who are superior to the weak, dependent, dishonest, and morally depraved city-dwellers) has shaped how Americans look at each other.

            Pretty irrelevant since none of this was even hinted at in the OP. Do people hype their tribe and demonize the Others? Why, yes they do! That’s the whole point of my commentary — that defending one’s tribe by denigrating the Other is ugly and wrong no matter who is doing it. Why do you think this “pernicious idea” is wrong but using one bad counter-example to denigrate an entire town along with the concept of “small-town heartland values” being at all virtuous is not?

        2. (1) What J said
          (2) Small-town and rural America has gerrymandered itself disproportionate representation in the Congress and state legislatures. With that power, it is as we speak shredding safety nets and blowing up the American constitutional system and drawing a bead on the whole world economy. I don’t see a lot of Tea Party hatefulness, or wilful ignorance, coming from big cities, whatever other problems they have.

          1. Check the maps, Michael. Maryville is solidly smack in the middle of the sixth district, which consists of dozens of contiguous counties comprising about 1/6 the total land area of the state. What gerrymandering do you refer to which you feel is relevant to the subject at hand?

          2. Freeman, the line between the 6th and Cleaver’s district is just as straight and natural as rifle barrel, isn’t it? Wouldn’t want a bunch of KC pinko city commies complicating life in the district. And Graves voted to keep the government closed and crash the debt limit last night. Aren’t those his constituents’ values, or is he fearlessly providing leadership against mob impulses?

            And what does land area have to do with districting; acres don’t vote, people do.

          3. I see more rifle-barrel straightness in MO’s 5th district lines than I do in say, CA’s 17th. What’s your point?

            And what does districting have to do with small-town heartland values where populations are sparse, districts are huge, and most of the towns, like Maryville, are far away from any district line?

            P.S. Maryville’s on the evening news again tonight. City hall has been on lockdown the last few days. Everyone associated with Maryville has been on the receiving end of an avalanche of nastiness. Lots of death threats reported. Funny thing is, the criminal case was entirely handled by county authorities — the “community leaders” of Maryville had no participation at all in the case. About half of the citizens of Maryville are reported to have not even heard of the case until it went national and their phones started ringing off the hook with very irate people on the other end making snap judgments about their values.

    1. Maryville has a truly wretched history as well. Google “Raymond Gunn.” Essentially, in 1931 the citizens of Maryville lynched Gunn, an African-American man accused of raping a white woman, by burning him alive. Similar to the victims here, the citizens of Maryville also burned down Gunn’s home afterwards.

  9. The most relevant variable is probably the rapist’s family connections. The 15 year old who raped along with him received a more serious punishment, probably because his grandpa was nobody special.

  10. I don’t see a dime’s worth of difference between small-town and big-town people.

    The difference is that big towns are far more impersonal. In a big town, it is much less likely that the parents of a rapist son will have enough juice to let local authorities see things their way–the local authorities are just more distant, the DA is unlikely to owe them a favor, and their threat to pull advertising from the paper isn’t very strong. The US Attorney is even less likely to be on the favor bank.

    Of course, there is one exception to this rule. Plutocrats look out for each other no matter what the scale: look at Bill Clinton and Marc Rich. Just because Brett says so doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

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