We’ve recently entered a new, dark phase of the pandemic that, while perhaps unavoidable given the state of everything, is no less infuriating and upsetting. There are safe, effective, and free vaccines providing immense protection against the virus and they are available to virtually everyone—but good luck selling that to the large portion of Americans whose views have been warped beyond repair by years of Fox News propaganda, weaponized misinformation, hollow culture wars, social media bubbles, and that guy.
A lot of locales highlighted over the past year-and-a-half (mostly by Andrew Callaghan) could conceivably take the crown for “Most Godforsaken Place in the U.S.,” but a new frontrunner is clear after today’s report from Politico. To reference a beloved SNL character in an attempt to mitigate our encroaching depression: This place has it all—mask-shaming beach bums, MAGA hats, AC/DC cover bands, a bar called Shorty Pants, thorough-while-still-somehow-kind-of-offensive journalists.
Welcome to Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks, a region currently inundated by literally thousands of unmasked, unvaccinated summer vacationers who—like so many in this tired nation—long ago conflated “universal contrarianism” with “patriotic American independence.” Truly, it sounds like a real hell on Earth.
“Depending on your politics, the scene at Backwater Jack’s is either a symbol of reckless abandon or unapologetic living in the face of a pandemic,” Politico describes of one particular beachfront bar in Osage Beach (“symbol of reckless abandon”...the answer here is “symbol reckless abandon”).
“Personally, I feel like my immune system is doing a good job, so why pump it full of something that we don’t really know what it is?” someone named Erin later tells us, despite objective, provable evidence that we know exactly what the vaccine is. Not that it matters anymore, of course, but we still feel a compulsion to highlight the truth, if only to console ourselves more than anything else.
But what’s especially ironic here is that, although Politico takes time to decently highlight the perfect sociopolitical storm that has given us our current public health stalemate, it simultaneously and repeatedly falls into the same journalistic tropes of both wide-eyed, pitying horror and othering that help to continue our cycles of class-based resentment of mainstream reporting and education-based authority.
“See any masks here in Missour-ah [sic]? Not one. Is anybody getting sick? No. They’re full of shit on the left,” one beachgoer is quoted phonetically, a conscious move to highlight us country folks’ goldurn strange way of communicatin’. Later, the story takes care to note that one Margaritaville server’s decision to finally get her first vaccine hinged solely on her fear that she “wouldn’t be able to get to a state fair in Springfield, Ill. where she has tickets to see a performance ‘on my bucket list’—the actor and comedian, Gabriel ‘Fluffy’ Iglesias.”
Is Iglesias a leading voice in progressive comedy? Of course not. Does Margaritaville rank only slightly higher on our list of preferred eateries than Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky-Tonk & Rock ‘n’ Roll Steakhouse? Obviously. Have state fairs long been a symbol of low-class entertainment, dietary disgust, and health code violations? A-yup. To paint a tableau combining all of these images, however true, allows audiences across the sociopolitical spectrum to read between the lines, confirming whatever biases they’re already predisposed to—which namely are either: A) the wretched of the Earth remain wretched and worthy of our morbid fascination or B) elitist journalists and so-called “experts” truly don’t understand the “common American,” whatever the hell that means...
Anyway. Suffice to say, it’s for all these reasons and more that we feel confident to ascribe “America’s Hellhole Of The Season” to Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks. Congratulations to everyone who made this latest nadir possible.
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