Why does the countryside love stereotypes?

Tue, 25/08/2009 - 12:23
Submitted by Cavan Scott

Yesterday I noticed a slight upturn in traffic on this website. Only a small spike, but obvious all the same. A quick dip into the site’s statistics showed that a whole host of people seem to have found countryfilemagazine.com via an online shooting community. Intrigued I googled the community and tracked down a post from a relatively new poster asking his fellow members to visit the site to “address the imbalance of country sports v. non-country sports posters”. I carried on reading. Most of the posters seemed to see our forum as a new way of meeting and educating those interesting in the countryside about their hobby. All well and good, as there are many reasons people grow to love the countryside, be it through work, walking or watching wildlife. Then a few – and only a few, mind – started talking about battle cries, trench warfare and seeing how long it would take to get banned.

The admin of the site stepped in to remind them that they shouldn’t just come to our site to stir up our members.
Now, I like to think we’re a fair bunch here at Countryfile Mag and we certainly wouldn’t ban anyone for merely mentioning that they take part in a country pursuits or discussing it. Indeed, its something we want to encourage; I'd love to see people discussing their passions, be they conservationists, farmers, shooters, ecologists or ramblers.
But the short exchange brought home again how readily we all fall back into stereotypes when discussing the countryside, painting people with broad, sweeping strokes that reduce them to mere ciphers. It happens from every angle, from country folk sneering at ‘townies’, suburban wildlife lovers having a pop at those ‘toffs’ who shoot and hunt. Farmers become demonised as nature-hating monsters poisoning both the land and our food while certain areas of the agricultural business dismiss those who buy organic as hippies.
It’s the language of the school-yard, name calling to diminish the importance of an individuals point of view. After all, is it not easier to dismiss a person if we give them a label? It becomes a ‘them and us’ situation, breeding deeper mistrust and prejudice. We wouldn’t get away with it if we were talking about members of different races or religions, but as long as it’s between town and country, anyone seems fair game. Over time we start believing the stereotypes and react with outrage if someone points them out. And, dare I say it, we distract everyone from our original purpose, that of explaining our way of life to others. Is it harder to get someone to listen to you if you’ve just called them a name?
But what makes the countryside such a hotbed of labels? Is it the fear that our own way of life is being gradually eroded, the diversity of our existence being lost in the same way that independent shops on the highstreet have been replaced with the rows of the same mega-brands found in every town in Britain? Is it anxiety that we’ll soon lose our very nature?
Whatever the reason, in my personal opinion the giving of a label is the antithesis of understanding, the enemy of empathy and a positive boon to building barriers.

I hope our forum grows into a place where people can discuss matters in a robust and respectful way. It shouldn’t be a place where people are wrapped in cotton wool - after all real life isn’t like that - but it should be a place where people are able to address each other without reverting to the same old stereotypes. 


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Nowt wrong with stereotypes

Tue, 25/08/2009 - 17:01
foxy stocksy

They help us understand an increasingly complex world. That said, here's a thought about why there might appear to be polarised attitudes about matters rural. We all understand the concept of the ownership of property, yet it strikes me that for many urban dwellers 'the countyside' is something other than property which is owned by someone. It's as if 'the countryside' somehow transcends the vulgar notion of ownership. If I have an urban property with a garden, I don't want people tramping through my garden who I don't want there. So if a farmer/landowner exhibits a 'get off my land' attitude, it strikes me that it's entirely understandable.

I suppose what I'm trying to get at is that as I see it, there are two competing visions of the countryside, one utilitarian and the other idealised, and that they don't necessarily sit well with each other.

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