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The "Cracker Factor"

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Message Richard Rapaport
Should we call it "The Cracker Factor?" Unless explained by CNN's presence in Atlanta, or the ghost of Scarlett O'Hara rampant, how do we account for this previous year's crop of overheated, overexposed, over-the-top stories about life-supported-spouses, kidnapped children, missing high-schoolers, run-amok lacrosse teams, and run-away brides, emanating from the American South?

Wallowing in the coverage of this Confederate cornpone-ucopia has been enough of a slog. Worse, are the scoldings we Yankee/liberals seem destined to endure about our social, political, and moral shortcomings from such Southern scions as Senators Bill Frist and Saxby Chambliss, the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and former House Republican generalissimo's, Tom Delay and Newt Gingrich. It is enough to make an ex-New Englander conjure up the satanic despoiler himself; General William Tecumseh Sherman, for a second tromp through Georgia.

Georgia, not surprisingly was the home port of one of last year's ripest Rebel media megillah; the high-tailing-it of bride-to-be, Jennifer Wilbanks, who, the springtime before last, jogged away from her scheduled suburban Gwinnett County "wedding-of-the-year."

"Cold feet" was the polite take on the lady's absenting herself from the gala wedding extravaganza for 600 invited guests featuring no fewer than 14 taffetaed bridesmaids and 14 tuxedoed groomsmen. Fleeing across America by Greyhound, Jennifer's disappearance kicked-started the kind of clergy-assisted, family-spokesperson-hosted, nationally-televised sob-fest that seems to be the ritual response to real or imagined tragedy in this age of Nancy Grace-less media over-kill. "Jennifer" would soon join "Terry" and "Natalee" as 2005's last-name-not-needed poster-girls for southern-exposure, bottom-feeder journal-tainment.

The ensuing Georgia Jubilee of self-righteous hand-ringing surrounding Jennifer's disappearance provided much ammunition to those of us rooting for her to make a clean get-away. It was precisely the small-town religiosity and windy sanctimony spilling out from the small-town South that likely triggered Jennifer's bust-out in the first place.

Unfortunately, by the time she got to Albuquerque, Jennifer Wilbanks' resolve had pretty much melted in the blast furnace of national reproof. Held briefly by authorities, she recanted her shaky abduction story and returned to the smothering embrace of family, friends, and fiance'. Although Jennifer's extended clan fairly growled with disapproval, they nevertheless officially professed understanding. As the designated runaway-bride uncle/spokesperson stated with deliciously unrecognized irony, Jennifer had been possessed, not by demons (even in Georgia, this is after all, the 21st Century), but rather by "issues the family hadn't recognized."

As Sylacauga, Alabama-born Jim Nabors' "Gomer Pyle" surely would have declared: "Soo-prise, soo-prise!"

After a penitent year of dealing with those "issues," and not coincidentally becoming an ambassador for orange-vested, community-service, lawnmower-pushers everywhere, Jennifer's current news is surprisingly hope-filled. Our 'lady-of-the-doe-eyes' did not, as predicted, head down the aisle of the Peachtree Corners Baptist Church. Somehow, she found the strength to refuse to be the kind of hubby's helpmate that would logically seem to spook anyone with the instinct to hop the bus out of deep Dixie doo-doo to begin with. One year after the commotion, Jennifer and John Mason, have now officially de-affianced.

After her year in limbo, it is time for Jennifer, the recaptured and now re-released symbol of freedom-seeking Southern womanhood, to heed the words of another recent escapee. This newly-minted San Franciscan friend of mine professes that "the best thing that ever happened to me was getting the hell out of Georgia," if that is not a slightly profane redundancy.

This time last year, there were those of us hoping Jennifer's plight would prompt a sympathetic official like San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom to offer the kind of asylum that many small-town refugees seek and find in America's more forward-leaning urbs. Since Gavin felt the call to marry a national cross-section of same-sex couples at San Francisco City Hall, why not similarly bestow something like cultural amnesty on Jennifer?

Today, even if the "A-word" needs its own amnesty, a year after Jennifer Wilbanks forced repatriation to Crackerland, it seems time to renew the request to give her official guest status in California. Jennifer, honey, if you can hear us way down south in the land where cotton seems to grow in people's ears; 'you just come girl!'
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Richard Rapaport is a leading San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer.
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