I recently re-posted an article from The Daily Beast on my Facebook page, and it ended up generating a lot of discussion. Essentially, the article is the latest in a series of pieces by authors with Missouri ties, lamenting the portrayal of the state in movies and TV. I’ve contributed my own bit to this discussion, and in my Facebook post I was likewise sympathetic to the author’s complaint.
But my friend Scott Miller, himself a St. Louis-based author with a series of novels set in that city, took a different view. He commented on my post that Missouri as a setting, like all settings, gets exaggerated and simplified for effect, and we should (basically) quit whining about that. He’s got a point: Works of fiction are, after all, works of fiction, and most people get that. We don’t expect to encounter a thousand-year-old vampire when we visit New Orleans or louche murderers when we visit Miami, even though prominent fictional works might suggest such. Still, I can’t avoid wondering what kind of image is being presented of my home state and whether the accumulation of rednecks and meth-heads has an eventual impact.
Still, it would help if my fellow Missourians would quit living into that stereotype, especially those in the limelight. I rant occasionally about our legislature, which seems determined to out-idiot the other idiotic legislatures around the country from time to time, passing laws that allow people to carry guns basically anywhere they please without a minute’s training and protecting us from mythical United Nations interference. I suspect that such actions in the news contribute as much or more to people’s perceptions as the occasional movie or TV show, which tend to be set in fictional towns like Ebbing or Wind Gap and are typically not even filmed in the state.
But here’s an interesting thought experiment: If you could wave your hand and create a movie or TV show set in Missouri, one that conveyed an authentic sense of the state, what would it involve? I have a few ideas. I’d love to see a show that engages with present-day St. Louis – the way that King of the Hill and White Palace did for the time periods they dealt with. There’s such drama in the present condition of the city. And I think of all the Missourians who would make interesting biopics, like Scott Joplin, Walt Disney, or Kate Chopin. But to get the “authentic” Missouri, I think you’d have to mix city and country, past and present. The contradictions of the state can’t be captured in a simple story.
What do you imagine the ideal “Missouri” show to be?