Local Syndrome: The Town Behind the Curtain

By on May 16, 2018

Jackson is not the quaint Wyoming hamlet it claims to be

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Whenever someone says Jackson Hole is a tight-knit community, I want to call bullshit. It’s a noble concept and certainly something a regular small town would possess, say in central Wyoming, but it’s about time we wake from that #jhdreaming.

This is no longer a regular, ole small town. Yes, it’s safer than most; yes, it’s a great place to raise kids; yes, the mountains are awesome; but a sensible little small town it ain’t. And it makes me wonder if we’ve convinced ourselves that Jackson is truly here for us.

And only us. We, the locals. The coveted members of our high-altitude society.

For it is we who have the right to dictate what is or isn’t “Jackson.” We mumble our protests in private, but wave our optimism out in public like patriots. “It’s a mere malfunction,” we might say, about the Junot Díaz library visit or a weekend of hellish construction, “but we shall push forward.”

When you build a culture out of feigning a version of Western reality to top-dollar outside visitors, you haven’t created a tight-knit community. You’ve created Westworld.

The second season of HBO’s hit sci-fi drama is currently airing, and I, like many others, enjoy getting lost in its cryptic, engaging narrative. In it, a theme park designed to replicate the Wild West is overrun by the robots who portray characters within the park, known as “hosts.” Wealthy tourists can lose themselves in the park’s offerings, which cater to their every need. However, the hosts become self-aware and fight for their survival against the humans who pull the strings. A smattering of unlucky visitors get caught in the crossfire.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

In some not-too-outlandish way, Jackson Hole is our muted version of Westworld. Here, stranger, in the Last of the Old West, you can be whoever you want to be. For a price, of course. If you want your private West Bank home, it’s yours. If you want endless opportunities for tax write-offs, look no further. If you want to ski forever, by golly, you can. In Jackson Hole, you’re not just home; you’re a part of a tight-knit community™ that will be there for you when you need it most.

I do not believe my hometown of Jackson is paradise on Earth. I do not believe that, unless in the event of a forest fire or something, we would drop everything to help one another. Yes, the farmers’ markets are cute and quaint distractions, but we are in a moment of time where eviction could mean being exiled from this community for good. And we selfishly chalk it up to just another malfunction that will work itself out eventually, regardless of the cost.

A tight-knit community would be more proactive. But we are too fearful of losing our façade of comfort to truly care about our neighbors, especially if those neighbors aren’t deemed “local” enough to begin with. As long as we’re not the victim in the equation, we tend to ignore it.

Living in Jackson Hole is the ultimate game of white-privileged Survival of the Fittest in existence. And those who win have no problem congratulating themselves. The winners will write Jackson’s history.

Call me a pessimist, a bitter, ungrateful nobody, but for whom is Jackson good for other than those who can afford to be here? Sure, our tourist dollars contribute much to the rest of the state but we are far from being even a AAA battery in comparison to California’s now fifth-largest economy in the world. Teton County’s per-capita income is almost double that of Wyoming’s per-capita total, and yet we can’t figure out how to house our workforce.

What becomes of our town when only those who can afford it can enjoy it? The locals who get priced out become mere pawns, expendable, the weakest among us,  the first to go.

Westworld is indeed fiction, but a line recently spoken by a host named Dolores gave me chills: “There is beauty in what we are; shouldn’t we too try to survive?” Now, I am in no way condoning a tactic like the hosts’ violent revolution, but I wouldn’t be miffed if I saw more Jackson locals show a little backbone.

Because if we truly are a tight-knit community, we would aim for progress on the daily. We would speak out. We would vote against the status quo and explore radical new ideas. We would actually mourn for the girl who died by suicide on the Elk Refuge Road rather than gossip about it. And we would finally make moves to curb our drastic economic divide and promote the voices around us that need to be heard.

About Andrew Munz

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