"The most miserable city in America is Charleston. So says Gallup." Thus begins Ed Rabel's commentary in the July 25 Gazette.
Mr. Rabel goes on to compare Charleston to Les Miserable era France where Valjean spends 19 years in the galley for stealing a loaf of bread.
I prefer to compare Charleston to P.D. Eastman's classic children's book "Go, Dog. Go!"
In Charleston we have big dogs and little dogs, white dogs, black dogs, yellow dogs, green dogs, and so on. There is an illustration in the book depicting the green dog being "up," and the yellow dog being "down." I think that about says it all. In Charleston some folks are up, some folks are down. Some folks go round and round. Fortunes and attitudes change, and then the up dog will be down, and the down dog will be up.
I am not suggesting that Charleston is problem free, nor am I making light of the fact that there is unhappiness and poverty in our region, but to compare us to pre-revolution France might be taking it one step too far. Maybe two steps.
Who cares what Gallup says, anyway? The ranking is based on a poll of 353,563 adults from around the entire United States. I'm no statistician but I think that 353,563 is less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. I don't know how many metropolitan areas there are in the United States, or even what constitutes a metro area, but divide 353,563 by the number of U.S. metro areas and you can figure that Gallup called about eight people in Charleston. (That is not science. That is biased conjecture designed to make my point.) Charleston is a small town. If we put our heads together we can figure out which eight people Gallup called. We all know the sad sacks who live in Charleston and complain constantly, but won't move. Somehow, Gallup managed to call just those people.
Mr. Rabel states that Charleston's primary problems, again comparing our fair city to Hugo's 19th-century Paris, include the attack on women's rights and "the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night." He then suggests that "forces of darkness" are at work and that while "men and women of goodwill recognize Charleston's limitations ... they will take no affirmative action to change the backward slide of their community." He is referring here specifically to the events at George Washington High School concerning a presentation on sexuality, a student's response to that presentation, and the administration's response to the student. I was not at that assembly, I was not in the principal's office afterward. I don't know what was said or what happened, but I do know that the people of Charleston did not ignore the episode.
I learned the phrase "slut-shaming" from that series of events. In Eastman's iconic "Go, Dog. Go!" there is a recurring vignette wherein a female dog asks a male dog, "Do you like my hat?" The male dog usually says, "I do not like that hat." That, my friends, is hat-shaming.
I'm a shamer. I have two kids, a boy and a girl. I will tell them to not get pregnant or get anyone pregnant, explain the dangers of venereal diseases, and that indiscriminant sexual activity can lead to any and all of that. I don't know what you call it if you tell a boy to be careful, but I'll be a he-shamer and a she-shamer. I'll also warn my kids against drinking and taking drugs. I realize that this makes me a drunk-shamer and a drug-shamer, but that's the sort of parent I am. I believe I can help make Charleston a better place by teaching my children to make good decisions and act with dignity and discretion.
In "Go, Dog. Go!" there is a scene where the madcap dogs are driving very fast in a reckless fashion. As the dogs speed along they come to an intersection where an innocent bird is crossing. It looks like the forces of darkness, er, the dogs, are going to crush the little bird. The traffic light changes from green to red and the dogs stop. The happy bird marches on, safe and sound.
This is how I see Charleston. Sure, sometimes we are careless and zip around without concern for others, but in the end, the good citizens of Charleston tend to work together and help those in need or in danger.
We're not perfect, but I'm not sure we need to fire shots, put up barricades, or rebel, as Mr. Rabel implies. I know a good number of citizens in Charleston who coach kids' ball, work with youth organizations, volunteer at the library, feed the hungry, fight cancer, work to eradicate domestic violence and generally combat "social asphyxia." And we certainly aren't living in an era where we are going to sentence the little bird to 19 years in jail for jaywalking.
Lepp is the author of the forthcoming children's book "The King of Little Things."