Monday, October 25, 2010

Legacy Rape

Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
      Big Yellow Taxi
      Joni Mitchell
There Goes the Neighborhood

Our old friend Oog, the Cro-Magnon hunter portrayed in the Primal Urges posting, was so successful as a hunter/lover that there were soon lots of little Oogs running around. Oog wasn’t particularly adept at reining in his own primal urges and neither were his progeny. Consequently, living space began to get cramped and, as one candidate running for tribal chief put it, “Rent for cave too damn high!”

So Oog’s nomadic hunting descendants spread out in all directions, searching for woolly mammoths and other tasty animals. Some went west, stopped when they ran into the Atlantic Ocean, and decided to hang out in Europe for a few thousand years until they could figure out how to make a boat big enough to sail to the edge of the world. 

Others headed east, found a narrow strip of land connecting one continent with another, and kept going until they hit the opposite Atlantic coast. Having no desire to see what the edge of the world looked like, they chose to stay where they were, go on living the uncomplicated Stone Age life, and wait for a chance to play a supporting role in Dances With Wolves. They did improve their language skills, at least as names were concerned. Instead of guttural grunts, they came up with colorful monikers like Pisky-hoppi-gonquin-pachee-kota-nole, which means Son of the Forest Who Makes Big Wampum Even Though He Still Hasn’t Discovered the Wheel.

Meanwhile, the boat-building project was going pretty well and some enterprising Europeans decided it was time to see what was out there on the ocean’s vast horizon.

One day Pisky stood along the banks of Ohey-lookee-whatta-lotta-water (Big Pond) and saw the grandest canoe he’d ever seen in his life, loaded with pale-skinned people wearing funny clothes, headed straight for his lovely little piece of shoreline property. “Damn,” he said, “they’re probably going to expect free health care and public education. And I’ll bet they won’t even bother to learn our language.”

Ever since that day the history of North America has been driven by the tension between indigenous peoples and recent arrivals. The only thing that’s changed significantly is the definition of “indigenous.” In Pisky’s day it meant “We’ve been here for thousands of years and who the hell are you to show up and claim the land in the name of some king or queen four thousand miles away?” Then it was “We’ve been here for a couple hundred years, worked hard to drive out Pisky and all his kind, and who the hell are you huddled masses moving in and lowering the property values?” Now it’s “We’ve been here since last spring and are so upset someone’s building a house across the street that will block our view of the golf course.”

Foxhunters like to think of ourselves as indigenous, as if we sprang spontaneously from the ground over which we ride, that we are as much an intrinsic part of the land as are the foxes we chase. We point out that the first known pack of hounds brought to the Colonies to hunt foxes arrived in 1650. George Washington was an avid foxhunter who kept his own kennels and maintained careful breeding records. The lineage of some hounds hunting today can be traced directly to the pack Washington kept at Mount Vernon.

If foxhunters themselves are not indigenous, the sport has certainly been a part of North American history for well over three hundred years. Its influence can be seen in many manifestations, such as the lovely prints of elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen mounted on exquisite horses surrounded by handsome hounds that hang on bank office walls. Customers can imagine themselves part of the landed aristocracy just before discovering how much they’re overdrawn.

These depictions are at worst benign and may serve as positive reminders of the sport’s romantic appeal, even if almost everyone viewing them thinks no one actually does that anymore. Far more insidious is the trend to pave over sections of hunting country, build residential communities or commercial centers, and then use the allure of foxhunting to market these monstrosities.

A trend I call “legacy rape,” this duplicity has become pervasive as development pushes ever farther out from urban centers, steadily converting the outlying areas from open countryside to suburban sprawl. At the current rate of expansion, by the year 2025 the continental US will be little more than the paved-over parking lots of two million contiguous Wal-Marts.  If you live in an area far removed from the creeping edge of this infestation and think you’re safe, think again. Wherever your little piece of pastoral bliss may lie, the bulldozers will reach you soon enough. And whatever element gave your region its distinctive flair, expect that to become the foundation of the developer’s marketing program.

In Northern Virginia there is a new adult community (no young families with children allowed) built on land that was once the territory of the local foxhunting club. Named Heritage Hunt, it is a place completely devoid of heritage where no one is allowed to hunt. Furthering the insult, you can sign up for special privileges on the golf course, which makes you a member of the Hunt Club. Perhaps this refers to searching for errant golf balls in the rough.

A few miles away stands a sign announcing the planned creation of something called Fox Gate Town Center. No town named “Fox Gate” exists so just why this imagined locale needs a center is a matter of speculation. The logo consists of a jaunty, anthropomorphized fox clad in hunting attire – scarlet coat, stock tie, boots and breeches – and holding a bugle. I’ve never seen or even heard of any huntsman using a bugle. But this stylistic error is telling in an unintended way: it brings to mind the image of the cavalry charging in, uprooting the current residents, and reshaping the land to suit someone else’s agenda. Only this time the invaders aren’t on horseback; they’re riding steamrollers.

Spend a few hours driving through Northern Virginia and you’ll spot many more examples of equestrian and countryside themes usurped to sell the very structures that now make the horse-centered life nothing more than a romantic memory. There’s a host of developments with the word “Farm” appended to the name. According to my old Webster’s, a “farm” consists of “a tract of land devoted to agricultural purposes or to the raising of animals, especially domestic livestock.” I don’t think begonias and golden retrievers qualify as “agriculture” and “livestock.” The word “farm” can also be applied to an area containing a number of similar structures or objects, such as an oil storage tank farm. So I suppose in that sense referring to a cluster of cookie-cutter homes in the same way one would describe a collection of containers for petrochemicals is fully appropriate.

This is emblematic of the overall trend to employ words and images that convey a sense of rusticity when the reality is a sanitized landscape from which everything even remotely rustic has been removed.

The following words should be henceforth banned from use in the names of home models, residential communities, golf courses, business centers, or any other development where equestrian activities or agricultural pursuits have been rendered impossible:

Hunt • Chase • Fox • Farm • Pasture • Meadow • Field • Paddock • Barn • Stable • Ride/Riding • Saddle • Bridle • Canter • Gallop • Estate • Acres

Strike them from the marketer’s lexicon, delete them as options for descriptive copy that would paint an enticing but fallacious image of a project’s true personality.

Also forbidden are images of foxes, real or cartoon-like. No photos or paintings of hunt scenes are allowed. Elements of foxhunting such as a cap, whip, scarlet coat, brown-topped boots, or horn (including erroneous depictions of bugles) are not to appear.

Legacy rape – defined as promotional messages using images of a foxhunting past rendered obsolete by the very existence of the promoted development – should be made an offense punishable by a stiff fine and lengthy incarceration. 

I’m thinking the fine proceeds should go to a fund for retired foxhounds. And that lengthy incarceration should consist of confinement with a psychopathic bulldozer operator who smells of diesel fuel, constantly makes “Brrrrrrr!” sounds, and wants to see everything in his cell knocked over and flattened, including his legacy rapist cellmate. This would assure, in the words of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado, that the punishment fits the crime. Anybody with me on this?

© 2010 J. Harris Anderson

1 comment:

  1. Am I guilty of this if I love to collect hunting scenes, my favorite pony book was SILVER SNAFFLES, and I own a set of Coalport Hunting Scene china? Oh dear, where are my riding boots?