A Leftist Trope Conceals a Criminal

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Criminologist Stanton Samenow recently reviewed [contains spoilers -- ed] Lee Cole's debut novel, Groundskeeping, from his professional perspective and found a criminal in its central male character:

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky. (Image by Lauren Barton, via Unsplash, license.)
Reviewers describe Groundskeeping as "a wrenching examination of class differences" that addresses "the painful passage between youth and adulthood," and serves up a powerful "story about young writers in love," and is a "a forensic examination of our toxic politics." Hamilton Cain of The New York Times stated, "It's a thrill -- a relief -- to read a writer who approaches his male characters with generosity and intuition."

As a forensic psychologist, what stood out to me was the unfolding of a criminal personality in Owen, the central male character who is portrayed sympathetically. An aspiring writer, Owen falls in love with Alma, a resident teaching fellow at Ashby College near Louisville, Kentucky. Owen and Alma come from very different backgrounds, the former having grown up in rural Kentucky, the latter being the daughter of doctors who fled their native war-torn Bosnia to settle in suburban Washington, D.C. [minor format edits]
I have not read the book, but from this review and a few others at Goodreads, Owen reminds this Mississippian of a trope I'd get annoyed with from time to time in movies as I grew up: Let's call it the Noble Redneck. He's traditionally masculine -- maybe even macho because he's from the still-rugged and exotic (to those in the blue parts of the country) South/Appalachia (but sometimes just a rural or "blue-collar" background would do) -- but he has a more enlightened (read: left-wing) perspective.

I never could decide what irritated me more about this trope: The stereotyping/festishizing of my part of the country? Or seeing someone who would be regarded with bemused contempt -- except for his conformity to Hollywood values -- being held up as an example/sex object?

I could be wrong, but I gather that the Kentuckian Owen hates Trump. That in 2016 (the setting of the novel, if I recall correctly) and his professed intellectual aspiration to become a writer would make him consistent with the trope, and so make him deserving of great sympathy to the kind of audience that swoons for the Noble Redneck.

Based on Samenow's remarks, such sympathy ends up causing many readers to miss the many signs (that he lays out) that Owen has the personality of a criminal.

Psychology Today includes three key points as bullets at the start of the review:
  • People who have a criminal personality constantly deceive others.
  • What seem to be positive personality features can distract others from recognizing criminality.
  • If a criminal doesn't have enough excuses, people sympathetic to him offer more.
I am not sure all of these occur in the novel itself, but they clearly have among fans of the novel.

Whatever sympathy Owen (or a real-life criminal) might deserve -- such as for overcoming aspects of a difficult early life -- that does not in any way change the fact that he is a criminal. As a failure to exercise the virtue of justice, it can be a dangerous or even deadly mistake to lose sight of such a fact.

-- CAV

P.S. Possibly relevant: I am no fan of Trump, but he does not live rent-free in my skull the way he seems to for some Democrats of my acquaintance. I sometimes wonder if rage impairs the judgement of such people at times.

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