why do another Trump Country Diner Story when you could do a Middle America Bath & Body Works story I'm just sayin

Oh I am obsessed with this piece from The Counter that analyzes the underlying mythology of the all-American diner and how it’s served as the publicity-perfect evergreen setting for election stories since way before it became a cliché in 2016.

Save this one for lunch; you’ll probably end up opening up one of the million links it references, but the article itself is such a comprehensive a study in the way journalistic framing works, the obvious convenience of interviewing subjects who aren’t rushing off somewhere, the enduring symbolism of white American nostalgia, and the general performance of authenticity that forever bedevils all presidential campaigns.

Here’s my favorite part:

This is what happened with the Trump Country Diner stories and why they were so maddening. They were a sleight-of-hand trick of cultural symbolism: Diners are quintessentially American, therefore the patrons in this particular diner are quintessential Americans. And yet, even before the rise of the formulaic Trump-era articles, and even after they began to wane, that trick has always been performed in one particular way, always reinforcing the same racist notion of a “Real America.”

You could find a diner that’s also a Meals on Wheels center, or one that’s a Michelin-starred bistro. You could find a working-class halal diner or a Midwest kosher diner or a red-state vegan diner or a diner in literally thousands of big-city neighborhoods rather than another small town. You could use diners to showcase virtually every ethnic group, cultural identity, or political perspective in the United States. You could use diners to showcase immigrant success stories and the benefits (and deliciousness) of cultural pluralism.

But that would mean telling a more nuanced, more complicated story—a longer route, to be sure, but one much more likely to arrive somewhere closer to the truth.

Anyway so if you are currently en route to doing a diner story and now are like well NOW how am I going to find gatherings of Real Actual Americans out in the wild if I can’t just google the nearest greasy spoon????? I happily submit to you a list of the following places, drawn personally from my 22 years of experience living in cornfield-surrounded small towns, as a free resource. They are:

  • The Bath & Body Works outlet at the mall (just make sure it’s not during the semi-annual sale. If you know, you know)

  • The nearest strip mall Quiznos or Qdoba. I don’t know why we suburbanites love chains that start with Q. Maybe it feels exotic??

  • Any United Methodist Church gathering, but you have to bring a casserole or a tray of blondies to gain entry just FYI

  • The Barnes & Noble bookstore cafe. Real ones know this is the most peaceful place to be on earth.

  • The Japanese-Thai-Korean-Chinese fusion buffet that is carrying the weight of the entire Asian-American diaspora on its shoulders and mostly succeeding. Also, it somehow offers pretty good hibachi.

  • The Super Wal-Mart, ideally on a Friday or Saturday night, when the mood is what could be best described as ~retail sociable~

  • If it’s around this time of year, track down the local high school marching band’s performance schedule. Drive to wherever the Saturday competition is. Get there by 9 a.m. at the latest. Everyone will literally all be there. Plus, band booster club food? exponentially better than any diner food.


Deez Links is a dailyish newsletter written by delia cai.

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