Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Misrepresenting Texas

I realize that most people who write stories, novels, television shows, screenplays, and the like are probably not from Texas. As such, they won't be familiar with life in the Lone Star State, and they can be forgiven if they make some minor cultural errors when using Texas as a setting. But grossly misrepresenting Texas (or any other state) in a way that can be easily fact-checked by just looking at a map is a bigger transgression.

For an example, I turn to that purveyor of refined culture, Marvel Comics.

Recently I introduced my son to my old comic book collection. Since he is still young (and since many of the titles I used to read were written for mature audiences), I have been going through the collection bit by bit and reviewing some of the titles to make sure they are appropriate. When he gets older and can handle some of the adult themes he will get the rest of the collection, but there's still plenty for him to read now, and I'm getting just as much a kick out of watching him enjoy the comics as I got out of reading them myself.

Recently I got to the section of my collection that focuses on Marvel's Punisher character (largely inappropriate for my son's age, by the way), and I came across this issue, The Punisher War Journal #16. As you can see from the cover, this episode takes place in Texas.

Yes, the "Texas Checking Account Massacre." Sure to be an enduring classic.

The story takes place in the days when savings and loan institutions were tanking, and the Punisher must go after some unscrupulous characters who have been bilking regular people out of their hard-earned cash. The main offender is a high-dollar scammer named Kelleher, and the Punisher goes to Texas to punish him.

The story opens in the fictional town of Elsinor, and here is where the first geographical mistake takes place.

The story names Elsinor as a suburb of Houston. In case you are not from Texas (and in case you may be a writer who is thinking about setting a story in Texas), Houston is here:

The troubled financial institution in the Punisher story is called "South Texas Savings and Loan", as you can see in the opening panel. This is a minor quibble, but Houston is not in South Texas, which is highlighted below:

Houston is generally considered to be in East Texas, or Southeast Texas. I know it is entirely possible that a small firm can start in one area of the state and expand to other markets, but I'm not sure that's the intent of the writer here. I think the writer just assumed Houston was in South Texas and named the S&L such for the convenience of the readers (who are probably not from Texas, either).

The second geographical error takes place on the sixth page of the story, where we see the Punisher discussing his next task with his sidekick, Microchip.

They talk about going to Houston to take care of Kelleher, and the following dialogue takes place:

The Punisher: Fix me up a file -- I'll pick him up in Houston at the trial. I'll need some bugs [listening devices] ...

Microchip: You're gonna need some bug spray. The Panhandle gets mighty itchy this time of year.
Sorry, Microman. That may be a joke, but it falls flatter than the Llano Estacado because the Panhandle of Texas is a looooong way away from Houston.

How far is it? Let me give an example that big-time writers might find useful. The Panhandle is farther away from Houston than Canada is from New York City, about twice as far, in fact.

Perhaps Microchip can be forgiven. Maybe he, as a character, is really ignorant about Texas, or maybe he just likes horrible jokes. And if that was the intent of the writer, then I should cut him a little slack. But I don't think that was his intent. I think the writer is the one who doesn't know squat about Texas, and to him the Panhandle and Houston and South Texas and any other part of the state is all the same. If that's the case, then that's just sloppy writing, and it's kind of an insult to Texas itself. Really, it's not that difficult to find a map and to take a quick look at it.

But, oh well. It's not like it's the first time Texas has ever been misrepresented in popular culture. And, in all likelihood, it won't be the last.

No comments: