Census Bureau Spotlights Locavores and a Free-Market Redneck
Yesterday, I wrote about the Census Bureau’s “Portrait of America” campaign, which is collecting videos from people as part of its road tour. Today, I returned to the 2010 Census website to watch some of the videos that are already up. (Click on “See Their Stories” if you’d like to follow along.)
These videos are more professional than anything people will produce at the “Portrait of America” kiosks. They show edited interviews with rural, small-town, and urban residents. Each segment tries to convince viewers that the Census is important.
I started with “Broadway” and watched Breanne and Dave talk about their urban garden. The video briefly mentions that the Census helps determine the allocation of grant money, including the funding their garden received. But, mostly, Breanne and Dave list the fruits and vegetables they’re growing. We also get to see a close-up of their coop, and to read this message:
So you can have a say in how your neighborhood grows.
This implies that how people garden in your neighborhood is something we all have to decide collectively — and that if you don’t fill out your Census form, you won’t get to choose between strawberries and tomatoes.
Next, I turned to “Pine Road.” (Who came up with these hokey names? Well, I guess I should just be glad they didn’t call it “Highway Census.”) You can’t miss the farmer’s market. I searched the scene in vain for a raw milk distributor — maybe they’re hiding the milk in one of those coolers in fear of a sting operation.
I listened to Chris’ story — and was amused by the Census Bureau’s stereotypical depiction of free-market supporters. Chris is a taxidermist. He doesn’t have a license to do this, because his state, Texas, doesn’t license taxidermists. That seems unremarkable. Why should you have to get a license to stuff dead wildlife? Who would the license protect? The animals? They’re already dead!
Chris doesn’t think we need any more laws and regulations about taxidermy. Because of this, the website informs us in the written preview of the video, Chris is reluctant to share any information with the government. In other words, this implies, if you don’t want your state to impose a bunch of extraneous license requirements on you, you must be a paranoid Texan who doesn’t want to fill out a form about how many people live in your household. And you probably have a whole herd of dead deer behind you, too.
Then, something amazing happens. The interviewer hands Chris a Census form. Chris has never seen one of these before and doesn’t know what’s on it. (I wonder where he was when we did this 10 years ago. Maybe he was too busy hunting.) In addition to being a skilled taxidermist, Chris is also an expert speed reader. He glances at the sheet for one second, expresses astonishment that it’s only a page long, and is converted. The Census doesn’t ask any questions about income, so Chris is willing to fill it out. The interviewer doesn’t bother to inform him that we tell the government about our income on a different form, one we’re supposed to fill out more often than once a decade.
Breanne, Dave, and Chris are all entitled to their opinions. What I don’t like is that the Census Bureau is using tax dollars to produce videos about them, giving the impression that personal gardens are good uses of federal funding or that Chris’ views are representative of free-marketers. The Census Bureau should stick to its job of administering the Census. If these other people want to share their lives, they can do that on YouTube.
One last thing, in case you’re wondering: If you want to be a taxidermist in Missouri, you’ll need to buy a $30 permit.