Larry Banman: Political correctness doesn’t extend to farmers
March 30, 2009
It all started when they began to poke fun at farmers.
I was attending a class in Denver this past weekend and the topic of farming entered the discussion. Before long, several people in the class displayed behavior that revealed their stereotypical thinking about farmers and farming. They were speaking like “yokels” and in a way that indicated they didn’t think farmers were any smarter than the turnips they produce.
Battling ignorance can be exhausting, so I didn’t enter the fray. I come from a line of farmers that stretches back a couple of centuries and back through four countries, so I admit to a bias that is favorable toward farmers. That bias wasn’t apparent to the rest of my classmates. I had on a jacket, covering the fact that I was not wearing a shirt under my bib overalls. I didn’t smile to reveal the three teeth I remaining in my mouth. When I jumped in fright at the sight of a door opening automatically, apparently the piece of straw I had behind my ear fell to the ground. Later on I missed that piece of straw, because a piece of raw meat got wedged between two of the three teeth I have left.
I get sick of hearing the stereotypes about farming. Plus, I don’t understand why people get a free pass to pick on farmers. When was the last time you heard a “political correctness” enforcement officer chide somebody for calling a farmer a “hick” or perpetuating a stereotype? I happen to hail from the state of Kansas where every farmer feeds approximately 96 other people in the world. I’m not expecting a ticker tape parade for farmers, but a little gratitude might be nice. Farmers have been bailing out people for longer than anybody currently in Congress has been alive. I took mental notes over the weekend and each of my classmates wore or ate something that would not have been possible without the farms in the nation and the world.
The portrayal of farming has not been good in the media. Many of us grew up watching “Green Acres” with Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert. Albert, as Oliver Douglas, was bright enough, but he farmed in a three-piece suit. The county agent, Hank Kimball, was scatterbrained, the farm hand, Eb Dawson, was genuine, but naive, Mr. Haney was a slick snake-oil salesman and Sam Drucker was the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none general store owner. The smartest character in the show was a pig named Arnold, the adopted “son” of Fred and Doris Ziffel. Even the tractors and combine in the animated movie “Cars” were idiots. Remember the tractor-tipping incident?
Our partners in agriculture, ranchers, get a free pass in the public perception arena. Ask somebody to imitate a rancher and you will get some sort of rendition of a rough and tumble, self-made maverick. Somebody who puts his collar up to cut the wind, pulls his hat low over his eyes to shield the son, sets his jaw and is always there to rescue a wayward calf or a damsel in distress. If you follow my media portrayal analogy, it makes sense. Ben Cartwright and his handsome and brave sons set the image on the television show, “Bonanza.” It was an image to which children could aspire. Even I, when playing make believe, was always a cowboy or a rancher. Rarely did my brothers and I pretend we were the “Forty-Acre Boys,” engaged in the latest adventures of cultivating the corn or harvesting the grain. To a young boy, riding a tractor didn’t have quite the allure of a black stallion.
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I know numerous people who ranch and I consider them friends so I say this with some caution. Even in the ranching community, sod-busters don’t seem to pull much weight. If you don’t believe me, try calling a rancher a farmer sometime. I inadvertently made that mistake a time or two and am lucky that I didn’t receive a poke in the nose. I must admit, however, that if I hadn’t grown up as a farmer, I would probably have the same perceptions about flatlanders.
Farmers are probably just in need of a good public relations department. Unfortunately, it isn’t within the innate character of most farmers to be self promoters. There may be a few spots on the Discovery Channel, but there probably aren’t going to be any farming adventure or reality shows. There just isn’t the pizzazz needed for a good “NCIS” or “24” or “Survivor” or “Hoe Man” episode. That is part of the gig and it is something that farmers understand.
I just wish farmers didn’t have to endure endless and stereotypical renditions of Farmer in the Dell. It’s enough to make me want to grab my pitchfork, light up my corncob pipe and drive my tractor around in protest.