What Sort of Bubble Do You Live In?

What Sort of Bubble Do You Live In? January 30, 2024

In my last post I wrote about being comfortable in my own skin as an introvert. I was reminded while writing that being comfortable in my own skin is a relatively new phenomenon in my life. I remember clearly when while away from home on sabbatical fifteen years days ago Jeanne told me during our daily phone call about a conversation with a mutual close friend that she had on the phone a couple of days earlier. “How is Vance doing?” our friend asked. “He’s becoming comfortable in his own skin,” Jeanne replied–and this shocked me. Trying to become comfortable in my own skin had been a challenge for the more than fifty years of my life up to that point–it was good to hear that from the perspective of the person who knows me the best I had made some progress. I’ve been running with it ever since.

Consider my tastes in music, for instance. I am a devotee of classical music (particularly the Baroque period) and classic rock (which ended in the middle 70s, in case you didn’t know). I appreciate but know little about jazz and blues, don’t understand hip hop or rap, and positively loathe country music. So I did not appreciate it when this song from country music star Brad Paisley showed up as I was surfing the radio channels the other day.

Not everybody drives a truck, not everybody drinks sweet tea

Not everybody owns a gun, wears a ball cap boots and jeans

Not everybody goes to church or watches every NASCAR race

Not everybody knows the words to “Ring Of Fire” or “Amazing Grace”

The song is “Southern Comfort Zone,” a zone about as far from my comfort as one could possibly get. Paisley is bemoaning how tough it is to be away from his Tennessee home, which I find hilarious. Dude, I lived in Tennessee for three years and was looking to escape within two months of our forced arrival (Memphis was the location of my first teaching job after graduate school thirty-plus years ago). I go to church (occasionally) and do know the lyrics to “Amazing Grace,” but other than that, the comfort zone Paisley is longing for is as far outside mine as possible. I don’t own a gun, I find sweet tea vomit-worthy, and I think NASCAR is probably the preferred entertainment in hell. Somehow I think I would be more at home in Tajikistan than in the “Southern Comfort Zone.”

I was reminded of a survey that popped up on my Facebook wall some time ago. “Do You Live in a Bubble?” is much more detailed and serious than most social media quizzes.

Do You Live in a Bubble?

Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, argues that the super wealthy, super educated and super snobby live in so-called super-ZIPs, cloistered together, with little to no exposure to American culture at large. Such people, he says, live in a social and cultural bubble. His 25-question quiz, covering matters of interest from beer and politics to Avon and “The Big Bang Theory,” is intended to help readers determine how thick their own bubble may be. After taking the quiz one is given a score from 1-100; the higher the score, the less thick one’s liberal, pointy-headed, academic blue-state bubble is.

I fully expected to receive a negative score, if that is possible, given that the vast majority of my friends are liberal, Episcopalian, college-educated and/or college professors (often all four). Sure enough, questions such as these clearly skewed me toward the center of a thick-walled blue bubble.

Do you now have a close friend with whom you have strong and wide-ranging political disagreements? I have many acquaintances with whom I would have such disagreements if we talked about politics. But we don’t.

During the last month have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking cigarettes? Definitely not.

Do you know what military ranks are denoted by these five insignia? (Click each one to show the correct rank). I might have guessed one of them correctly.

During the last year, have you ever purchased domestic mass-market beer to stock your own fridge? No. Not in the last thirty years, actually (only craft beer allowed in my fridge).

Do you own a gun? During the last five years, have you or your spouse gone fishing? No, and no. We haven’t been hunting, gone to a NASCAR event, or eaten grits or biscuits and gravy either, just in case you are wondering (they were).

Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or a meeting at a union local? Really? No.

But I scored a 53 on this quiz, which essentially means that I’m comfortable in both the elitist blue bubble and the sweet-tea-drinking red(neck) bubble. That’s not true—it’s not even close to true. How the hell did this happen? Undoubtedly because of questions such as these:

Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck? As a matter of fact, yes. Many years ago, under circumstances too complicated and forgettable to summarize, the only working vehicle Jeanne and I owned was a small Ford pickup that was barely road worthy.

Have you ever participated in a parade not involving global warming, a war protest, or gay rights? Once. I played the sousaphone in my high school marching band my senior year. And is “parade” the most accurate word to describe a global warming , war protest, or gay rights event?

Have you ever walked on a factory floor? Yes. My uncle owned a small factory that assembled modular homes and I visited once.

Have you ever held a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day? Are there really people out there who could honestly answer this one “No”? Now that’s really a 1% bubble! I had many such jobs as a teenager and twenty-something—and my brain often hurts at the end of a long day of teaching. Of course these days something hurts after I mow the lawn.

Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American community under 50,000 population that is not part of a metropolitan area and is not where you went to college? Yes, for at least twenty of my sixty-eight years.

There were also questions about whether I know the difference between Jimmie and Jimmy Johnson (I do), and how often I ate at Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesdays, TGI Fridays or Chili’s in the past year (fortunately, only once or twice). And then the question that totally skewed my score:

Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian? The survey went on to clarify that “The distinguishing characteristics of evangelical Christians are belief in the historical accuracy of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, including especially the divinity and resurrection of Christ, and belief in the necessity of personal conversion — being “born again” — as a condition for salvation.”

Mr. Murray. You really don’t have to explain to me what an evangelical Christian is. Everyone I knew growing up was an evangelical Christian, including me. I’ve spent the last fifty years or so not so much trying to get over it as to try to understand how it has shaped me and what is still forming me. I haven’t called myself an evangelical Christian for a very long time—“freelance” presses that boundary way too far—but I was forced to drink the Kool Aid as a child and adolescent and lived to write about it.

I was somewhat embarrassed to post my results—in this case I really don’t want to be as well-balanced as the quiz claims I am. Several of my Facebook acquaintances in the blue bubble were offended by the obvious sense in which the quiz was trying to make us feel badly about how thick our bubble walls are. These friends suggested a few questions that could be asked in an alternative “Do You Live in a Red Bubble?” quiz.

Do you know who Mr. Casaubon is?

How many times in the past year have you eaten arugula?

Do you know the difference between Sunnis and Shi’ites?

How many of your friends are nonwhite?

Do you know anyone who is married to his or her first- or second-cousin?

Well, I threw that last one in for free but you get the point. The problem with this sort of exercise is that it tends to thicken the walls of one’s bubble rather than making it more likely that one will go to the other bubble for a couple of weeks on vacation. Unless you live in a blue bubble and your relatives live in a red one. Then you bite the bullet and do your duty, trying to smile as you turn down yet another offer of sweet tea. But I am not watching NASCAR.

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