My City: A Charlestonian on the 5th Anniversary of the Emmanuel Nine

                As a Charlestonian, I consider the Emmanuel Nine to be unfair to my fair city since Dylann Roof was not from Charleston, he was from Columbia. It sends the message that Charleston is a right-leaning city when Charleston is a left-leaning city. It combined with Southern Charm and Reckless and other items of media that imply that this city is not the Portlandia it actually is. This is not to say that there isn’t the South in Charleston. There is. Yet, the South in Charleston is more exemplified by the incompetence of our institutions and the semi-feudal structure of local society than our social culture insofar as identity politics are concerned. The old aristocracy is almost dead but their legacy of an unquestioning respect for authority and a lack of personal ambition conditioned among a population accustomed to a caste system remains. That lack of ambition and respect for authority leads to incompetent bureaucracy since the bureaucracy faces little outside criticism or pressure.

                Like many American cities, it is a wasteland of strugglers in a gig economy dispersed across vast distances of poorly designed suburbia and a somewhat better designed gentrified urban core. Southern accents are ever more uncommon, ethnic food is ever more abundant, and the neurochemicals of norepinephrine and cortisol are surpassing cocaine and cannabis as the dominant psychoactive substances among the citizenry. With a booming homeless population and Bernie Sanders becoming a more popular figure than Rhett Butler ever was, it smells like a modern American city. The Mother Emmanuel Shooting, then, seemed like an anachronistic fluke from a more regressive part of our state that was almost as alien to us as it would have been to Seattleites or Bostonians.

                When Dylann Roof came to this city, he was coming to the Austin-like liberal enclave in South Carolina of gig workers and avocados. Yet, the world saw a Charleston still obsessed with the Civil War and proud of its redneck roots which was, by 2015, far from the truth. What the shooting did do, and I very much liked this, was it suffocated what little of that was extant in the city. It took the little of that which remained and undid it. The northern transplants from Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts, were able to fully envelop the city in their grasp albeit grafted onto institutions and a social structure inherited from the old aristocracy. Thus creating a socially progressive culture awkwardly juxtaposed against a regressive society in many ways, albeit ways drier and far less romantic than old-fashioned racism.

                The other major item inherited from the old aristocracy was the hedonism. Charleston is still a city that loves its bottomless supply of hard drugs, hard liquor, and soft pussy. Southern gentry and Northern yuppies both have a tendency to hijack their neurochemical reward pathways by whatever means are available. This city is a Vegas which my sober, virginal, self must exist in as an angel shining through their debauchery. My favorite quote about this city is “This city has been known as a historic city with a drinking problem, it is, rather, a drinking city with a history problem” In its hedonism, as hedonism always causes, it conveys and engenders a callousness to the other side of the city, that of unending suffering. It is a city between rich cokeheads and poor homeless. That is the defining disparity in this city more than the racism.

                Like most people in this city, I haven’t watched Gone With the Wind, but I have watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I should and eventually will get around to forcing myself to endure Gone With the Wind at some point. As racist as Gone With the Wind is, it does have the redeeming quality of being the Confederate adaptation of the 2004 movie Downfall. The movie can either be seen as the glorious martyrdom of the Southern nobility by the industrial North or can be watched with schadenfreude as the romantic last stand of a doomed aristocracy losing to the revolution marching to end their people. That movie, in the latter interpretation, is almost perfect for the story of this city in the 21st century. The downfall of the old under the tsunami of social progress. The Mother Emmanuel Shooting was one of the last events in the multi-decade downfall of Charleston’s South. The last stand of the Southerners in this city lost on June 17th, 2015.

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