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January 25, 2014

Buzz misfired in Vanity Fair body slam of Duncan

DUNCAN — As the new kid in town, I’m reluctant to leap atop the ramparts to defend the honor of Duncan, Okla., my new adopted hometown.

But to heck with that. When an out-of-towner comes into your house and soils your rug, it’s on.

I speak, of course, about the article in Vanity Fair magazine about Duncan and the  killing last year of Chris Lane, the Australian who was gunned down in August.

The author of the article, the estimable Buzz Bissinger of  “Friday Night Lights fame,” put together a compelling article about the events that preceded the slaying.

He is indeed a wordsmith, and he likes high school football, too, so he’s probably an alright guy in many ways.

But he erred when he removed his reporter’s fedora and replaced it with the headwear of a social scientist (no idea what sort of hat that would be, but it could resemble a court jester’s chapeau.)

Reporters do that sometimes.  They want answers to the all-important question of Why?

This is how it goes.

The reporter blows into town, typically a place  he’s never seen before, where a tragedy  has  occurred. Facts, opinions and observations are scribbled down.

If it’s a small town in, say, Oklahoma, the townsfolks usually are friendly and willing to help an out-of-towner.  Some of them, if the reporter is lucky, feel the need to talk, in a therapeutic sense. This is good for the writer because he needs  answers on why the terrible tragedy has shattered the peace and serenity of the quiet small town where church bells ring on Sunday and flags fly on the Fourth of July.

As it turns out,  in the mind of Buzz Bissinger, the killing of the innocent Australian was caused in part by the City of Duncan, Okla.

The town is “souless,” the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” is too wide, racial intolerance has bred hopelessness and anger in the teenage boy suspects, and dangit, there’s just not enough for the young folk to do in the one-horse town!

Why, just count the number of corporate-owned eateries that are strung along the highway that cuts though the town, Bissinger observes,  and the sheer number of churches in a city the size of Duncan is far beyond the pale for any right-minded person.

The local reaction to Bissinger’s article has been predictable, but the most cogent observation was offered  by  Lauren Ellis, executive director of the United Way of Stephens County, who reminded us it was “a media piece, for entertainment ...”

Translation: what’s in the magazine ain’t necessarily so.

Maybe, just maybe, every town in America, and perhaps the world, has “the other side of the tracks” somewhere in its midst.

And could it be there are racists in every town from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine — or Portland, Ore., for that matter?

You think?

If you really want to see young people living in abject, hopeless poverty, go overseas and  visit a Third World country.

Those are the kids who deserve a little sympathy and compassion for their lot in life. If the young folk in this town, this state or this country who say they bored and that life is just too unfair  could do that, they’d thank their lucky stars they live in America — or Duncan, Okla.

(Olafson is the news editor of The Banner. His email is Steve.Olafson@duncanbanner.com and you can find him on Twitter @Steve_Olafson)

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