A Poor, Dumb, Cult

We’ve talked a lot about the framing of rural towns in both the documentary and the Hollywood film about the death of Brandon Teena. While the representation of places like Falls City, Nebraska is not the main point of the film, it has serious consequences. That is, people’s opinions of the individuals involved in Brandon’s death are significantly impacted just by the first impression they get from the films.

Two of the main characteristics of Falls City (as framed by the films) are that poverty is pervasive and that there is an incredibly strong sense of community and sameness. Whether this is the case or not, it leads one to make certain assumptions about the folks who live there. Specifically, when the fact of poverty is the focus, most viewers will assume a lack of intellectual ability as well. After all, why would a smart person be poor? 

It could very well be true that everyone in Falls City lands on the left side of the bell curve. Nonetheless, one shouldn’t leap to that conclusion. But, the portrayal of this rural town makes it difficult not to. So, if the viewer is going on the idea that these are a bunch of poor, dumb, cult-like people, two issues arise.

Primarily, their actions may be excused or understood as exceptional. That is, something like this wouldn’t happen to a gender transgresive person anywhere except in a rural place. Sounds pretty similar to Puar’s argument about exceptionalism in the Abu Grahaib situation, doesn’t it?

Secondly, and maybe more importantly, this framework encourages one to posit the question of whether the people in Falls City actually understood Brandon. This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with his murder, but it is unfair to folks living in rural communities. Just because this one group of people couldn’t grasp the idea that gender is not a binary construction, doesn’t mean that everyone in rural communities is ignorant of idea of gender as a continuum.

So, regardless of what actually did or didn’t happen or what exactly the murderers’ motivations and intellectual abilities were, the framing of the town and the circumstances ultimately makes a significant contribution to viewers’ opinions and understandings. 

-Mika Baugh 


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