Living in Wisconsin subjects all of our residents to the cultural push-and-pull our state thrusts upon us. On the one hand, we have time-tested rituals that we treat with reverence. Fish fries. Hay rides. Cows. Packer football. Many of these, although not all, are inextricably linked to the small-town, rural ethos found in the Dairy State.
On the other hand, while we all recognize these as sacred Wisconsin institutions, we aren’t necessarily rushing to export these images of Wisconsin to the rest of the nation. We have a strong sensitivity to how we’re portrayed nationally, and don’t particularly take kindly to being branded as exclusively rural.
Heck – most of the popularity of the UW’s stem cell project is due to the fact that it proves to the rest of the nation that we don’t live in houses with hay floors.
Then Johnny Depp showed up.
When news hit that a big-time Hollywood movie would be filming in Wisconsin, residents took it as a sign that Wisconsin had finally hit the big time. Hollywood had finally given us the stamp of cultural approval for which we so longed. Finally, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the biggest in popular entertainment and get to shed our image as corn-fed yokels.
Predictably, when “Public Enemies” began shooting in Columbus this week, it immediately reinforced our image as corn-fed yokels. Local news breathlessly led off their broadcasts with news that Johnny Depp had arrived to free us of all of our feelings of cultural inadequacy. A young woman standing near the movie set breathlessly confided to a Madison television reporter that “this is the most exciting thing I have ever done in my entire life.” The same TV station ran pictures of Depp taken by fans that appeared to be taken with the Hubble Telescope.
Not to be outdone, another channel interviewed a subtle young woman who indicated her desire to have the movie star plant a baby Depp in her womb upon visiting his trailer. (A “Depp charge,” if you will.) A third station combed the crowd looking for the woman who had been waiting out in the cold for Depp the longest. In reality (and unbeknownst to the reporter), the report actually exposed the fact that Columbus currently has an 85% unemployment rate.
Now don’t get me wrong – it certainly is exciting for the people of Columbus to have such a big event in their town. I can’t imagine things would have been any different in any small town in America.
But the media have a responsibility to put this all in context for people. It’s not as if Christ himself had descended upon South Central Wisconsin. (In fact, I believe he just retired from his job in Green Bay.) One of these days I fully expect to hear the local broadcast start out:
“Tonight, we’ll have details on a virgin birth reported in Columbus, Wisconsin. But first, JOHNNY DEPP was here!”
As a side note, the economy is on fire and you will likely be thrown out of your house in a couple months. Maybe you can call Johnny Depp to bail you out.