Hollywood showed up again, only this time it wasn't to showcase a teen sensation or build a house for free. They infiltrated the lives of a local security company and plastered it all over AMC for a new reality show. But that's not the ugly part. Before the first episode of "Small Town Security" even aired, people were wringing their hands, shaking their heads in disapproval and ranting over what stunts Joan Koplan (the owner and star of the show) might pull on national television. People jumped up on their self-righteous pedestals and started hurling stones as fast as they could throw them.
"She's going to bring shame to Ringgold." "She'll embarrass all of us." "She's a freak." On and on the rocks flew. I was completely baffled. For the life of me I couldn't understand why everyone suddenly felt a personal affront by this woman's adventure. According to the peanut gallery, her reputation is somewhat tainted because of her flamboyant personality and unapologetic vulgar mouth.
So I interviewed her — and admittedly, her language could make a sailor blush. The whole JJK security staff is probably a bizarre group according to the modest standards of this little "Bible Belt" town, but even after the interview, I still couldn't make an honest connection between the show and the town. I kept thinking the majority of the viewers won't even catch where it's being filmed. Are we naive enough to think some guy in Seattle is going to be so repulsed by what he sees that he'll take note of the city and swear never to vacation here? Can we actually name the city of any of those reality shows?
I know the "swamp guys" are in a swamp, so...Louisiana maybe? I visited New Orleans last year, and scout's honor, there weren't any deranged people running around in the street shouting, "Choot'em Elizabeth! Choot'em!!" Please. "Small Town" is a cast of people. They are not the town. I don't get the fear here. Poking fun at southerners isn't a new concept.
More importantly, after I really began to listen to Joan, I learned there's a lot more to her than meets the … ears. She told me some of her life story, her hardships, her battles, her joys and her scandals. I heard about the burden she has for troubled people, and more than once she was moved to tears by love for her children and expressed sincere gratitude for kindness shown to her by others.
As I sat in her office and made friends with her staff one by one, I silently reminded myself that there are always two sides to any story. In this case, there is what flippant, narrow-minded people choose to repeat in their gossip circles, and there is reality.
Ironically, when I returned from the interview, there was an anonymous message waiting for me. Another person, disheartened by the cruel words, had wonderful things to say about Joan. She spoke about how Joan ate meals every day with her daughters at school when they were young. Seems she also donated instruments to an elementary music program. When one of the teachers had her first baby, who showed up unannounced with homemade lasagna? Scandalous, selfish, terrible Joan Koplan.
I can't be certain, but I believe some of those negative comments splattered all over the social media outlets were made by teachers who actually taught Joan's children. I wonder if they ever stopped to consider how their comments would make her daughters feel? Seems all of the good deeds far underweighed the juicy, colorful gossip, right along with sound judgement.
I acutally had a personal comment on one of my Facebook threads calling Joan and her crew "idiots," and in the very next breath that same person said, "God would be so disappointed in their behavior." Really? I suppose God is okay with namecalling and judging on Facebook, but not reality TV.
When did we become so shallow and self-centered? Why is our knee-jerk reaction to things we don't agree with or understand often negative — or automatically viewed as a personal imposition? How will it affect us or reflect on us or disturb us or annoy us? We're a busy, vain lot of people anymore.
Do we think because we live in a small town we don't have diversity in our own backyard? Ringgold isn't Mayberry, whether you want it to be or not. We have "big city" problems and "big city" needs right here in our own little town. I believe how we handle those issues is a far greater reflection on us than any reality TV show could ever be.
The bottom line, to me, is this: Joan Koplan chased her dreams and they came true. She's sleeping well at night and having the time of her life. She just happens to live in Ringgold. In the meantime, we're all living the lives we've chosen. Her fame or flop as a movie star couldn't possibly affect our personal relationships with our family, friends or even God. It's not going to contribute to our performance at work or affect our measure as a parent. So what's the point in unleashing all the hate? How could it possibly impact our day that she's the latest blurb in USA Today?
What she does or doesn't do on or off the screen isn't altering our bank accounts in the least. Well, not unless you're a local business owner who might actually profit — in case someone should happen to stop out of curiosity to get an autograph or see the JJK building. They might just buy a tank of gas or some food while they're here. I certainly fail to see how that could be a negative thing.
I actually interviewed the cast twice and not once did I ever hear Joan or the others criticize anyone else for their life choices. Furthermore, there were no reports of any of the self-righteous naysayers knocking her door down, trying to bring her Jewish hellbound soul the Gospel. If you're that convicted about her power to pollute the environment, where is the action to stop it? Hiding behind all that poor judgement, I presume?
I suppose I sound like I'm judging those who judge. Maybe so. I'm one of those "imperfect Christians." I don't understand the struggles of some people because I've never walked in their shoes. I don't have the homosexual or transgender issue figured out. I don't claim to have all the answers, but what I do have is compassion.
I learned a long time ago that everyone has a deeper story. You never know if the person sitting beside you in church or on the ball park bleachers or standing in the grocery checkout line is in pain or has a burden making life unbearable. How many Lt. Crofts are out there living in confusion or frustration? How many of us have given up on our dreams?
If we could get our snobby noses out of the air and the planks out of our own eyes long enough to love and meet our neighbors where they are, I think the world would change like it's never changed before. Judging is a choice. Focusing on the positive things about a person is also a choice. Keeping your mouth shut when you don't have anything decent to say is a most excellent choice.
Amidst all the F-bombs and sex talk and laughter while sitting over at JJK security, I also came to a personal conclusion. I can learn from a woman like Joan, even if I don't approve of every aspect of her lifestyle. I still have dreams. Big dreams. And it seems to me it would be a better use of my days to chase those dreams, rather than live perched on top of an invisible internet soapbox spreading hate and negativity about something that won't alter my course in the least. We may be a small town, Ringgold, but it should never be an excuse to be small-minded or small-hearted.
Sherry Dee Allen is a reporter for The Catoosa County News. She can be reached at email@example.com.