One of the things I’ve learned here in the South is why our country – run mostly by Southerners for the past couple of decades (if you count George W as a Texan and Texas as part of the South rather than the West, which is a close call) – is a flaming mess. Apart from the concentration on moolah as the only acceptable criterion of character or success, the chief ingredient of Southern leadership, as in all other areas of Southern life, is a belief that nothing actually has to be good as long as it looks as if it is.
I’ve had a few short-term jobs in construction over the last year or so and this Southern propensity for replacing quality with an illusion of quality shows up very clearly there. It is practically a law that, for example, if you can rebuild a staircase in 3 days but jerryrig it so it will stand for another year in a day, you don’t rebuild; you support it, paint over it, hide the temporary fix, and then everybody pretends it’s as good as new because it looks as though it is. That’s what paint and spackle are for.
But the most significant use of image is, of course, personal. If you dress in a way that suggests you are a successful and financially astute businessman, you can be a rip-off artist extraordinaire, a cheat, a thief and a con-man, and nobody will ever question what you claim as your bona fides. If you dress “like a tramp”, clearly that’s what you are. It is expected here, in a squirt of naivete hardly explainable in the 21st century, that whatever you look like you are, you are. It is as if the old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, never made it further South than Philly.