Executive editor Mimi Swartz on Texas bashing and the return of the cowboy stereotype.
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texasmonthly.com: How did you come up with the idea for this story? When did you first notice the return of the cowboy stereotype?
Mimi Swartz: The story idea came from Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith, who noticed how anti-Texan the Brits were when he visited England. I first became aware of it when the war started taking a turn for the worse.
texasmonthly.com: Did your upbringing in San Antonio instill in you a sense of Texas pride?
MS: I guess so. But I was a child when Lyndon Baines Johnson was president, and the hatred toward him around the country was also a source of shame. Texas breeds a lot of ambivalence.
texasmonthly.com: How can we as Texans change our image? Should we?
MS: The only way we can change our image is to change—to get rid of the things that the world rightly criticizes us for, like our passion for the death penalty and our failure to really value education. One person I interviewed believes Texas oil will run out in about fifteen years. Then we'll be forced to change, and if we aren't innovative, we'll face the same fate as Detroit and Cleveland.
texasmonthly.com: How did you approach this story in terms of research? How did you find all those negative articles about the state?
MS: I searched the Web and so did some great interns, Haven Iverson and Rebecca Markovits. I also called a lot of thoughtful people. Plus, I remembered many of those stories. Texans have long memories for criticism.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think this intense criticism will change after George W. Bush's term or terms in office?
MS: Yes. If Democratic candidate John Kerry wins, people's focus won't be on us. But Texas always has some way of muscling onto the national scene. God forbid we have some other freaky crime.
texasmonthly.com: Was there a rise in anti-Texas sentiment when George Bush the elder was in office?
MS: Texas never claimed him. He could rightfully claim Texas, but he grew up on the East Coast and spent much of his life in public office far from here. His Texas domicile for a while was a high-rise suite. The national press was always much too busy painting him as an aristocrat from the East to think about how Texas might have shaped him.
texasmonthly.com: Do you think the Texas bashing stems more from hatred or from mocking derision?
MS: Neither. Texas bashing is just another way to get back at Bush and at America. We're an incredibly convenient scapegoat.
texasmonthly.com: What is the most interesting thing you learned while working on this story?
MS: We are as hooked on our myth as outsiders. We love different parts of it, but it often imprisons us just as it distorts the view of those outside Texas.