Folks who routinely travel beyond state lines return shaking their heads at the image of South Carolina that those from elsewhere hold in their heads. You know the drill: Mark Sanford in Argentina, Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!,” the Confederate flag flying on the lawn of our State House, etc.
If only there were some way to tell objectively what image others truly hold of us (and we’ll suspend for a moment the debate over whether we give a damn what others think; we know that many of you don’t, which is one of the sources of our problems). Well, thanks to the magic of the World Wide Web, we do occasionally get an unbiased glimpse.
For instance, I inadvertently had one this morning. On a press release from the University of South Carolina, I saw that a USC study on breast cancer was cited in a story in The Sacramento Bee. Curious to see whether the study played a prominent role in the piece, I followed the link, and saw that the “South Carolina” in the reference to the University was also in hypertext. So I followed it, and found one of those results pages that provided a mishmash of references, from items that are truly about our state to some that merely mention us in a list.
But my eye was drawn to the graphic element on the page, which provided four images under the heading “Sacbee.com photos.” Each image was itself a link to a news item having to do with South Carolina. Here’s what they were:
- The first was a locator map that showed the site of a fatal helicopter crash. A tragedy that could have happened anywhere, which doesn’t reflect upon us particularly one way or another.
- The next was a sports photo in a garnet-in-black motif, taken by Mary Ann Chastain of our local AP office, leading to a story headlined, “Gamecocks pull Top 5 surprise, beat Ole Miss 16-10.” Wow. Sometimes it seems like all anybody here talks about is Gamecock football. Now it seems that it’s what people elsewhere talk about, too. Huh.
- The next photo didn’t look like much of anything — a few scraps of debris scattered on an unremarkable bank of faded red clay. It led to a story out of Anderson about a man who died, alone and penniless, in a tent on the bank of Lake Hartwell. He was described as a “bright but reclusive Civil War buff” who had lost his job at a local museum. Here I was looking for some universal image about our state as a community, and here was a painfully personal tale of a man who died for lack of community. Read into that what you will.
- The fourth, alas, was an image all too familiar. I didn’t particularly want to see what it led to, but I followed the link, which was to a letter to the editor of that newspaper. A letter about us, or at least about one of us. And what do folks in California have on their minds when they take up pen to write about one of us? An excerpt: “Similar vitriol and disrespect was the norm from Southern politicians during the years and months leading up to the American Civil War. I fear we may be headed down a similar path, toward disunion, given the tone of our political dialogue since the 2008 national election.”
So, what has the giftie shown you about how others see us?