Perpetuating Stereotypes

By Mark Riffey

Today I’m going off the beaten path a little bit, but trust me… at its core, this is all about business in Northwest Montana.

You might have noticed a couple of weeks ago when editor Kellyn mentioned my gigging him on Twitter about his “all Canadians are pacifists” comment in his column about stereotypes and the B**gert episode.

Even though his comment was tongue in cheek, it echoed a common stereotype of our neighbors to the north.

They aren’t the only ones with stereotypes. Montana’s less-than-attractive one doesn’t have to be repeated, but it happens more often than any of us would like. A week later, it came up in Kellyn’s tweet stream yet again, as he lamented on Twitter about the press once again pumping air into the B**gert story.

Why the asterisks? Because I refuse to contribute to the continued chipping away at the foundation of Montana’s reputation, public relations and, ultimately, her businesses by giving those search terms even one more drop of Google juice on the topic of “Montana”.

This isn’t about busting the editor’s chops. It’s about busting yours and mine.

But it isn’t just you and me. The responsibility also rests with the various Chambers of Commerce (local and especially the state one) in the state, the various business development organizations, assorted local business groups and our largest businesses (who have the means to deal with this), much less The Governor and last but not least, our representation in Congress.

Yes Brian. You too sit by and let this happen, over and over again. The cute little dog doesn’t get near the press coverage that cabin in the woods gets.

As a group, business owners and the aforementioned groups collectively sit back and relax with a huckleberry shake as we watch others systematically pin the unab***er tail on the Montana donkey again and again on front pages, high traffic websites, radio and TV in this country and others.

It’s no different than us talking about Timbit-popping, poutine-eating pacifist Canadians. Exactly how many of those do you know? Yeah, thought so.

I figure there are probably at least three or four reclusive anarchist Canadians, but they’re likely just Calgary fans angry about Tampa Bay’s name being on the Stanley Cup, right? Hockey aside, psychotic Canadian anarchists don’t come to mind.

Yet the typical Canadian stereotype rolls easily off the tongue, just as it does for everyone else when they are regularly reminded of the wrong things about Montana.

The Wrong Things

You know what things I mean. Here’s just a sample of the not-so-happy publicity the state has received in the last month or so.

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663877/infographic-of-the-day-the-states-where-hate-groups-thrive  (Fast Company magazine – widely read by the kind of employers the state is constantly recruiting to Montana)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/usmarshals/sets/72157626579208135/ – a set of photos of items previously belonging to a resident from the MT 200 town also famous for beef jerky – something never mentioned in those stories. The auction of these items was national news for a while. Would have been easy for a group to get together and buy them outright, getting them off the auction block and out of news circulation.

Nah, we’d rather see Brian Williams parade our dirty boxers across the TV and the internet for a week.

Thirty years later, we still help them put us in a box with news like this: RT @bgazettestate: FBI investigates Unab***er in ’82 Tylenol deaths: … http://bit.ly/mmgn8o


No, I don’t suggest that we suppress the news. But where exactly was the spirited response to the Fast Company piece? Nah, we just let it slide. Where was the response to the US Marshal’s auction? Who bought all that stuff and took it out of circulation. NO ONE.

There’s nothing wrong with spirited independence, but every time you look the other way or make a Una-joke or pass on a story about “those people”, you perpetuate it.

Every time an editor says “publish that story”, not because it’s important, but because it’ll get some Google juice, you perpetuate it.

Every time our Governor fails to respond to these things, he perpetuates it.

Montana cannot continue to sit idly by and let the nation position her as “The Jerry Springer State”.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him via email at mriffey at flatheadbeacon.com.

UPDATE July 16, 2011

Let’s say you don’t believe any of this. What I just stumbled on might surprise you.

Today I was setting up a “Spark” in Google Plus. A Spark is an “area of interest” for Google to keep an eye on for me.

When I typed “Montana”, this is the list Google thought of:

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