Once Exposed to Small Town Life, It’s Impossible to Return to the Big City

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When you’ve seen as many movies as I have — and I’d strongly caution against it — you start to notice the patterns. Through sheer repetition of stock characters and plot threads, Hollywood perpetuates a lot of myths about modern living that are not exactly true. Many of them are downright ridiculous. We Were Promised Hoverboards is a weekly series in which I investigate these myths for sociological and comedic purposes.

New York City is a cesspool. Everyone who lives there is keenly aware of such. It also happens to be an endlessly flourishing cultural environment, filled with opportunities for work and play unavailable anywhere else, but long-term exposure to NYC does tend to provoke a distinct spiritual crisis in most people. Could there be a way to adapt to one’s surroundings without turning into a total A-hole? If you’re a character in a movie, than the answer is no — you will remain a fast-talking caricature who treats people like those little stickers on apples for as long as possible until your inevitable comeuppance. That’s when you’ll learn about small town livin’.

When the hardened metro-professional character in movies finds him- or herself exposed to small town life briefly, it’s only a matter of time before U-hauls are packed, anchors retracted, and leases are broken. Not at first, of course. Initially, these new surroundings will seem hopelessly impoverished and backward, and the street-toughened professional will do anything to try to flee as quickly as possible. That is, until the realization that the thing they’ve been desperately trying to escape is actually where they have always belonged.

It’s never ordinary, middling New Yorkers who are wooed by the more laid back lifestyle in Montgomery, Alabama or whatever. No, it’s always uber-alpha types who’ve mastered the city and love it, and therefore have much more to lose; the kind of people who say, ‘flyover country’ and ‘low hanging fruit.’ For whatever hopelessly contrived reasons, these people are waylaid in a small town — and made to confront the darkest recesses of their personalities. Whatever integrity was instilled in them during a hardscrabble upbringing has long been replaced by a hollow, angry cash register screaming to be fed. Because big cities are the devil’s monkey bars, obviously.

The charms of a small town might wear down a person’s cynicism, but most folks would stop short of becoming idealists overnight and starting their whole lives over on what basically amounts to a whim (although it’s always portrayed as an awakening.) Isn’t forsaking big city life for the exact opposite a little impudent, to say the least, and possibly boneheaded?

If these people have become as successful as they’re shown to be at the beginning of the movie, then it’s at least partly due to careful planning and weighing of options. That deliberative side is never glimpsed thereafter — you never see a montage sequence of Reese Witherspoon making P&L projections to decide whether she’ll be able to comfortably retire off her small town salary. Because it would be the most boring thing in the world. This omission, though, kind of advertises spontaneous uprooting of one’s life as a valid life-option. In the end, though, who know if it’s possible to recoup on this investment; regardless of how much New York turns you into an A-hole, there’s no guarantee that exploring the calming environs of rural Kentucky will trigger any kind of reversal. You might just end up a New York A-hole in rural Kentucky.

Here are some movies that featured successful big city folk suddenly deciding to start over again in a small town: Doc Hollywood, Sweet Home Alabama, Funny Farm, Baby Boom, Cars, Jersey Girl.

Joe Berkowitz edits books and writes stuff. He also has a Tumblr.