I originally posted the link to the Pittsburgh Gazette article without comment, mostly because after I read it, I didn’t have much to say. I knew that it was a news story that belonged on Hillbilly Savants, but I also knew full well in what direction the response to it would go, and I had nothing to add to that discussion at the time.
So, after a due period of digestion, I thought I might offer a few thoughts that many of you may find surprising. You see, distinctly missing from my emotional reaction to this story is something that many of you have already expressed: Outrage.
No, I’m not outraged. In fact, it would be a stretch to say that I am in the least bit angry. More than anything I am concerned. I am concerned that inaccurate Appalachian stereotypes are simply allowed, or even encouraged, to flourish in modern media. As I’ve noted on this site before, it has been said that harmful stereotypes of the Appalachian region are the last form of accepted cultural bigotry in
Key to this discussion is accuracy. No one would mind an Appalachian stereotype that read: Mountainous region with a shared cultural tradition, spawned from the isolation of independent mountain life, among a population that spans the entirety of American socio-economic, educational, and political spectra. That won’t make anyone angry because it’s about as honest an attempt at making a too-general statement that you can make. The problem is when images are taken from a small fraction of a people and are expanded to encompass the whole. As a society though, this is redundant. This discussion is the classic American rhetorical social struggle of the media age - and it’s time we get past it.
You see, as inaccurate as stereotypes are, they aren’t entirely void of truth. Stereotypes aren’t wholly fictional concepts inspired by the muses. Stereotypes started somewhere. Somewhere, somebody observed these characters and behaviors and reported them as typical for the region, and that’s where the lie began. Still, the simple truth is that the people we interact with everyday (and, of course, our own selves) all inhabit characteristics that an outsider would associate with the hillbilly. That cannot be ignored. Let us not forget, we named our blog after it!
Further, none of us can deny that we use these very stereotypes in order to stimulate our own amusement. Do we not enjoy listening to and singing songs about moonshine ("White Lightning," "The Ballad of Thunder Road"), or age-old mountain murder ballads ("Knoxville Girl," "The Banks of the
While stereotypes are indeed unfair, if they present some degree of truth, we must recognize it. What we, as
What these casting agents did was to flaunt their own bigotry, and they should be made aware of their stupidity. It takes an appalling degree of gullibility and ignorance in this day and age to actually let your notions of a region be dictated by a mythological stereotype. Still it happens everyday, and the fact that this type of bigotry is condoned in today’s media is the crux of the problem. It is our duty as