Cross posted at Appalachian Scribe
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
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
Posted by John Louis Kerns at 2:04 PM
The link from John’s post below is the reason we started the HS site. This type of idiotic mentality and regional profiling is sickening and absurd but how many people outside of Appalachia see us like deformed, inbred rogues who sit on our arses all day and shoot at squirrels. I would love for all of us to show up for “casting day” and give them a real lesson in Appalachia…..talk about a clannish situation. There is a bigger system at work here where we have to deal with information, the real kind of information that can show the outside public who we are. I call on all of you to start communicating more. We at HS need to keep this going and to discuss what is important from dying languages to social awareness, from poverty to politics. We care and we are not the type to give in so let’s fill this bucket up with everything we can. Let’s start “hollering.”
As my dad once said, “it is time to start preaching.”
Damn, I am pissed.
Posted by Our Goblin Market at 10:36 AM
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I offer the following without comment, from The Pittsburgh Gazette:
A movie about to be filmed in Pittsburgh is casting Gothic characters -- including an albino-like girl and deformed people -- to depict West Virginia mountain people.Click here to read the rest.
"'Regular-looking" children need not apply.
That's the gist of an open casting call for paid extras for "Shelter," a horror film starring Julianne Moore that will begin shooting in Pittsburgh in March.
The casting call scheduled for Sunday invites "men and women of all races, 18 or older," to try out as extras, according to the announcement from Downtown-based Donna Belajac Casting. But the extras wanted for the West Virginia scenes evoke images of "Deliverance" and "The Hills Have Eyes.""It's the way it was described in the script," Belajac said Monday. "Some of these 'holler' people -- because they are insular and clannish, and they don't leave their area -- there is literally inbreeding, and the people there often have a different kind of look. That's what we're trying to get."
Posted by John Louis Kerns at 4:32 PM
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie provides a look at the trials and triumphs of life in the Appalachian foot hills. Through the experience of Dallas and Wayne, two amateur Bigfoot researchers in southern Ohio, we see how the power of a dream can bring two men together in friendship and provide hope and meaning that transcend the harsh realities in a dying steel town. -- from the official website
On the surface the film is a documentary about two Bigfoot researchers, Dallas and Wayne, and their struggles to get their material reviewed. In reality the film is about the indestructible Appalachian spirit.
I know folks may be a bit leery of this sort of documentary and the possible exploitation that we have witnessed with the Jesco White films, but I can assure you that the producers are on our side. The cinematographer is my cousin Shane Davis. Shane and the director, Jay Delaney are natives of Lucasville and the executive producer, Jeff Montavon is from Otway on the other end of Ohio SR 348. You would be hard pressed to find a more Appalachian area of Ohio and I would dare say there is no more Appalachian area period. I am sure the subjects are in good hands. As Jay told me, “My mom raised me right.” I hope that this will compare favorably to David Sutherland's Country Boys.
The film is to premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin in March. This festival is a big deal with such past premieres as V for Vendetta and this year's premiere of Harold and Kumar 2: Escape from Guantanamo Bay. The film has been given nice placement at midnight showing on the first Friday, Monday and last Saturday of the festival. As you know Austin don't start hopping till the sun goes down.
Certainly there will be the folks who laugh at Dallas and Wayne, but my faith in human beings tells me that more viewers will come away believing in these two men even if they don't believe them. Delaney says, “that the way we look at other often says more about us than it does about those others.” There may be folks on one side of the socio-political divide who raise questions about personal responsibility and such, but those of us who live by Micah 6:8 know that we may all be created equal but we are all not born into the same favorable circumstance. And even the favorable circumstance of 1950s Scioto County Ohio can turn to rust in a lifetime. Luckily for some who find themselves in less than perfect situations the ability to dream in order to find a purpose in life is not easily crushed.
Posted by Michael Tod Ralstin at 9:59 AM
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Wow. In less than two years we have reached a heck of a milestone - today we broke 100, 000 unique visits. Awesome.
To the staff of Hillbilly Savants - I am dang proud of you all.
To our loyal readers - we appreciate you all. Please keep visiting and please keep telling your friends.
Ain't it nice to be at the beginning of the Appalachian Renaissance?
Oh, and if you're interested, the 100,000th visitor visited from a Google search, looking for information on the Town House Grill in Chilhowie, Virginia. Delicious.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
(Image originally by Daniel L. Maw - Taken from the Knoxville Art Blog)
Tonight my friend Zac and I were wandering through the Old City of Knoxville, shooting the bull and making pseudo-intellectual observations and hanging posters. As we walked in the door of one of the Old City's fantastic establishments (support local businesses), Old City Java, we were pleasantly surprised to find some tremendous artwork hanging up throughout the business - it was a small show, but one that really deserves some attention. So, after buying a small piece for about $5 (that's right - sure, it was a "souvenier" print, but the reproduction quality is high and it supports a Knoxville artist, which is worth it in and of itself) I was like, yeah, this guy gets on the blog. His name? Daniel L. Maw.
Okay, let me drop the knowledge, tell you what I do and don't know. First, after a couple of Google searches, I found out that he is originally from Iowa and is working on his MFA in printmaking here at the University of Tennessee. His work is incredibly - beautiful, provoking, and damn does it drink deeply of the artistic genius of early 20th Century comics artists . . . if you like Segar's work (think Popeye), Krazy Kat, and early Disney comics (Mickey Mouse when his eyes were still ovals with or without pie slices), well, you'll love his work. He has an eye for detail without letting it overwhelm his images, not to mention an impressive knack for visual story-telling. Well, enough of my absurdity. Let me throw you a couple of links and quotes, let you make some judgments of your own.
“I take advantage of the pictorial vernacular of our culture to create work that by its nature communicates clearly. The ideas or events communicated, however, are unexpected, quirky, and ultimately amusing. I consider an assortment of artists and images in this pursuit, including comic artists ranging from George Herriman to Chris Ware, modern cartoons such as those produced mid-20th Century, graphic imagery seen in advertisements, and games and toys. My pieces require an authentic interaction by the viewer, either to untangle the visual cues in order to complete the story or to follow the directions in order to construct the object and solve the game.”Statement by Maw on the UTK Printmaking MFA site(Image by Daniel L. Maw)
"In my pieces, I seek to take advantage of the pictorial vernacular of our culture in order to create work that by its nature communicates clearly. The ideas or events communicated, however, are unexpected, quirky, and ultimately amusing. I consider an assortment of artists and images in pursuit of this end, including comic artists ranging from George Herriman to Chris Ware, modern cartoons such as those produced mid-20th Century by United Productions of America, graphic imagery seen in advertisements, and games and toys—especially those that are printed on paper and intended to be cut out, folded, pasted, or otherwise manipulated in order to complete. Both my 2D and 3D pieces require an authentic interaction by the viewer, either to untangle the visual cues in order to complete the story or to follow the directions in order to construct the object and solve the game."Statement by Maw on the University of Iowa's The Daily Palette
Also, you can see quite a bit of Maw's art on his MySpace page (check out the blog, trust me, there is stuff worth seeing there), not to mention his photobucket page. Oh, and if you're anywhere near East Tennessee, you need some coffee. Or tea. Or maybe a delicious soda. So hit Old City Java and catch the show, by some work. Bam. Oh, and Daniel, if you read this and you're planning to do any larger editions anytime soon, well, let me know your prices - you've got a permanent fan.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
In winter one must draw the little hickory split chair close to the hearth, for most of the heat from the great glowing fire goes up the chimney. The house may have a small window-sash immovably built in. Often there is none. The woman cooks breakfast before sun-up, and supper after dark, by the smoky light of a tiny kerosene lamp with no chimney. It is difficult to carry lamp chimneys long distances in saddle-bags.
There are many homes where even the moderate luxury of kerosene is not found. A sliver of pine knot gives an even more smoky light, and occasionally a “ladle” is used. It is preferably made by a blacksmith, an iron saucer with a handle to hang it by. Narrow strips of cotton cloth, twisted or plaited together, are laid in the ladle in grease. The end of the rag is hung over the edge and ignited. Its illumination is not measured in candle power.
The Land of Saddle-bags
by James Watt Raine
The Land of Saddle-bags is one of the three most important books from the early twentieth century that, according to Dwight Billings (a contributor to the 1997 reprint), have "had a profound and lasting impact on how we think about Appalachia and, indeed, on the fact that we commonly believe that such a place and people can be readily identified". Originally published in 1924, it was advertised as a "racy book, full of the thrill of mountain adventure and the delicious humor of vigorously human people."
James Watt Raine provides eyewitness accounts of mountain speech and folksinging, education, religion, community, politics, and farming. In a conscious effort to dispel the negative stereotype of the drunken, slothful, gun-toting hillbilly prone to violence, Raine presents positive examples from his own experiences among the region's native inhabitants.
In 1906 Raine became an English instructor at Berea College in Kentucky, where one of the courses he taught was on English and Scottish ballads. He eventually submitted several course proposals - all apparently denied by the college - that would have allowed him to grant credit upon a student’s successfully collecting a certain number of ballads from the student's home territory. However, Raine persisted in his ballad collecting activities.
Raine - an actor, playwright, and author – ultimately headed Berea’s English and drama departments. He was much in demand as lecturer for cultural entertainment programs on through to his retirement in 1939. He died on February 12, 1949, age 88, in Berea, Kentucky.
The Land of Saddle-bags, by James Watt Raine, 1997, University Press of Kentucky
Orginally blogged at Appalachian History
Posted by Dave Tabler at 3:29 PM
Hey everyone, forgive my impertinence, but . . . I want to drop you some knowledge about an upcoming show of mine entitled “Lesser Demons of a Minor Artist" which is opening at Andi's Gallery & Tattoo. Specifically, it is a collection of my paintings and drawings (my work is an agglomeration of expressionism and pop art with heavy influence from the symbolist movements and classical East Asian design) which will be for sale at extremely reasonable prices. If you want to check out some of my work ahead of time, just click over to my homepage . . . most of these pieces plus several others will be up for sale at reasonable prices at the show.
UPDATE 2: I forgot to list the date and time of this little shindig. Because it is just, like, really important (John Kerns, thank-you for the wisdom). The date is February 23rd (that's this upcoming Saturday) and the time is 7PM to Midnight. Awesome
Oh, and if you miss the show opening, please feel free to visit Andi's Gallery later - the show will be up through the end of March at least.See ya' there, kids.
UPDATE: Okay, I'm an idiot - I didn't tell you the location of the gallery. Doy. Consider:
Andi's Gallery & Tattoo
7043 Maynardsville Pike
Northside Square Plaza
Gracias mon amigos . . . e.-
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
So, I've been busy lately - it has paid off, mind you - I was just offered a professorship at the University of Virginia at Wise's Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, which is pretty awesome, and I have a solo art show coming up in Knoxville (more on that later), but the crux of my lax reporting has really lain with my inability to be imaginative - I have, honestly, had trouble settling on subjects to write on. I know, I know - no excuse. But then I thought, dang it Eric, just keep it simple - choose a theme and just keep to it.
Alright then, I thought, what should I write on? Magic? Puppies? Booze? Then it came to me . . . I could write about a different town once a week, set up a bank of links, dig up events, festivals, art, the whole nine yards. Dig? Well then, where to start, where to start - I decided to pick a town randomly for my first one - the tiny (read as less than a 1,000 citizens) town of Bethany, located in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.
Why Bethany, you're asking? I mean, I've never been to Bethany, it being on the opposite end of West Virginny from where I grew up, and honestly I don't come into this knowing much at all about the place. Well, the fact that little Bethany is home to the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of West Virginia and jeepers if that's a draw I simply couldn't turn down.
So, you're wondering what I learned? Um, not tons (at least that isn't more about the college than the municipality). None the less, let me drop you some jonx:
First, the soundtrack - you're going to want to listen to some tunes while becoming a Bethany expert. I mean, unless you're anti-music. In which case you shouldn't listen to Vigilant, a garage band straight outta' Bethany. Pop rock with just enough angst and paprika to give it a twang. Like a young OkGO with faint undertones of reggae and bluegrass (whether they're intentional or not, hell, I dunno). Song you'll probably play twice? "Legalism."
(Image from Wikipedia)
Bethany College: Any mention of Bethany, from what I can tell, is more than likely to start with ol' BC. It received its charter back in 1840, though it evolved from an even earlier seminary, and it is a beautiful little campus - and its near 900 students nearly double the size of the town. You want the virtual tour? Yeah, of course you do - so click here already. There is quite a bit of content there, so you're going to want to take your time and stuff.
Oh, and hell yeah, GO BISONS!
The Disciples of Christ of West Virginia have a particularly long relationship with Bethany - they're kinda' why it is on the map - consider this.
You want ghosts, don't you? Yes you do, you jerks - quit making fun of me! You need them - you're addicted to post - 10PM Discovery and SciFi "paranormal investigations" shows. Rumor is that Bethany has its share - consider: 1 and 2
Finally, you want images. I know, I know - if you just wanted to "read" you wouldn't be on the "internet." Well, I got some great stuff for you - dig on . . . .
A Tour of Bethany, West Virginia: The Home of the Campbell Legacy
The Digital Library of Appalachia
A Photo Survey of Bethany
. . . and dare I forget . . .
Penny Postcards From West Virginia (see "Brook County")
Alright, alright. Not too bad, not bad at all. A definite decent first try. Two things though, both a product of this much-touted "interactivity" for which this "internet" is known. First, if you know something we need to know about Bethany, including relevant websites, post'm here - I'll try to get them amended to the post. Second, there are a helluva' lot of towns in Appalachia, not to mention a helluva' lot of subregions - I'm gonna' need some recommendations. Drop me some knowledge and you might get a prize - like, your name written on the INTERNET!!!! Woot! Regardless, do it too it, and plan on seeing another post in this series next week - and stuff.
Monday, February 11, 2008
(Image from Jefferson Bass)
So I'm scrolling through the magic of the internet this morning and, what to my wondering eyes should appear? This article on the University of Tennessee - Knoxville's "Body Farm" forensic field lab and school (by the way, Damn Interesting is a great blog - worth a real look-see). That got me to thinking, golly, I should blog on that, you know, my usual link-list and so forth. I did a search to start the process, though, and whoa. . . tons of responses, like, tens of thousands. Well, I went through the top couple hundred of options and found these doozies - hope you enjoy (oh, and hats off to everyone, the volunteers who donate their bodies to science and the scientists themselves, who make this research facility - and all the good products thereof - possible).
(Photo & Movie Tours of the Body Farm)
CNN, October 31, 2000: "Pastoral Putrefaction Down on the Body Farm"
On three acres surrounded by razor-wire and a wooden fences near the University of Tennessee Medical Center, about 40 bodies rot away at any given time. They're stuffed into car trunks, left lying in the sun or shade, buried in shallow graves, covered with brush or submerged in ponds.NPR, May 22, 2004: "Visiting Tennessee's 'Body Farm'"
WLTX (CBS), April 26, 2006: "The Body Farm"
And thanks to Dr. Bass, CSI teams also have access to a ground penetrating radar system. It can see bodies buried below concrete.The Sevier County News: "Grave Talk From the Body Farm Guys: SCN Interviews Dr. Bill Bass, Jon Jefferson"
We can look through the concrete and tell which stage of decay the body is in," Bass says. "That's interesting and sophisticated type of research. "
It was that kind of research that was used at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania field where Flight 93 crashed on September 11th.
"When you think of 9-11, that was an archaeological nightmare," says Dr. Murray Marks, an anthropologist. "Remains were not on the surface. There was a tremendous amount of debris and they were decomposing."
Salon.com, April 17, 2003: "Dead man decomposing: An excerpt from Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach."
The cadaver in the sweat pants is the newest arrival. He will be our poster man for the first stage of human decay, the "fresh" stage. The hallmark of fresh-stage decay is a process called autolysis, or self-digestion. Human cells use enzymes to cleave molecules, breaking compounds down into things they can use. While a person is alive, their cells keep these enzymes in check, preventing them from breaking down the cell's own walls. After death, the enzymes operate unchecked and begin eating through the cell structure, allowing the liquid inside to leak out.Dr. Helen (blog), January 31, 2007: "Podcast on Forensic Science"
Utne Reader, May/June, 1999: "The Body Farm"
Once a year, Bass holds a memorial service for the people who donated their bodies to the Farm. This year I'm invited to attend. A cardboard box containing the remains of a randomly selected skeleton is laid on a large conference table in an anthropology department classroom. A simple white linen cloth covers the box. The gathering is small, just a few students and professors. Also present are James McSween and his son. McSween donated his wife's body to the Farm, something they discussed before she died. He has come here to find connection and comfort with the decision he made.
After the service is over, Bass huddles with the McSweens in a corner. His tone is that of a pastor after a Sunday service--calm, reassuring. He gestures toward the door, and father and son make their way down narrow halls and stairways to the skeleton-storage room in the basement. I follow at a respectful distance. There, several long tables and desks compete for space with rows of floor-to-ceiling shelving. On the shelves are some 2,000 cardboard boxes just like the one from the memorial service.
The three men work their way around a table and stop before a wall of boxes. Bass searches the labels. "Here she is," he says, and pulls down one of the boxes. He carefully removes the lid, reaches inside, and lifts out the skull. A small number is written on its base. The number matches the label on the box. Bass' tone is gentle, instructive, as if he were a gardener noting the details of a flower.
The Age, January 17, 2004: "Dead people do tell tales"
As Bass says in his new book: "We are organisms. We're conceived, we're born, we live, we die and we decay. But as we decay, we feed the world of the living: the plants, the bugs, the bacteria." When you kneel next to a rib-cage that has settled into the soil, and you can clearly see that bones are not people, and when your guide is a man who has walked so often in the valley of death, it is easy to feel comforted by that idea.The Times, October 24, 2004: "A life in the day: Bill Bass"
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
As a southerner from Appalachia who has traveled across the United States, I have become accustomed to the odd looks I receive when I open my mouth and expose my easily identifiable accent. In looks or dress I can blend in as easily in Washington or Philadelphia (my current abode...) as I can in Knoxville, TN or Boone, NC. I can be asked for directions in New York City or the Smoky Mountains, and probably be able to tell you where to go. But the moment I speak to someone to give those directions, I am immediately identified as either an outsider or a 'local', depending on the region.
My accent began to soften when I began my studies at the Univ. of Tennessee, and even more so when I relocated to Philadelphia to start work on an MA at Villanova. But every time I say something to someone in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, they give me a look that is a combination of humor, fascination, and confusion. When they inevitably ask why I'm here, and I tell them I'm a graduate student in Political Science, eyebrows get raised. No one that speaks like that could be that educated, could they? I have yet to be offended by anyone, most are simply curious. The questions of how I ended up here, where I am from, where did I do my undergrad at, etc., all give me an opportunity to talk about home, which I will gladly do.
When I tell people that the city of Knoxville (and the state of Tennessee, for that matter) can be quite cosmopolitan, they look at me with a bit of disbelief. I explain that it is home to a talented symphony orchestra, an opera, a major ballet troupe, art museums and galleries, fine cuisine from around the world, dozens of historical buildings and locations, a center of commerce, business, and banking, not to mention a major university that is not much younger than most of the Ivy League schools, and older than a few. I tell of how the people of Appalachia are not necessarily uneducated xenophobes who are stuck in the 19th century, but rather a people that have helped shape the culture, politics, and history of the United States. So many of the people I talk to do not understand that the people of Appalachia maintained the frontier spirit of individuality and ingenuity while they developed and evolved their own unique cultural identity. I explain the origins of bluegrass music in traditional Scottish and English fiddle music, combined later with African influences. I tell of the rich oral story telling tradition that has been passed down for generations, and of how people hold a deep interest in maintaining their history, genealogy, and culture.
Hopefully, through my interactions with individuals who might have only known about Appalachia via popular culture, I have done my small part to help achieve one of the goals of what this blog was designed to do: show people that Appalachia is more than just a collection of humorously stereotypical mountain folk a la the Beverly Hillbillies.
Monday, February 04, 2008
Every year, I make note of the day the frogs awaken. It means something to me and no doubt, it means something to those who keep track of such things as how wide the wooly bugger caterpillar stripes are; how many salamanders are found far from water; how low the hornets are building their nests in the trees.
I have kept track of this for a few years. In 2007, they woke on January 16th. In 2006, they started to sing on February 15th. I’m hoping, because they split the difference this year, we will get rain and grass. Of course, it may mean the weather warmed up enough that they decided to stir from the mud. They buried themselves in the quiet squishy depths of the pond only a few months ago.
They say amphibians are the sentinels of the environment. Indeed, if you want to know where we are headed, ask the frogs. They will tell you, if you will listen to their song. But you have to listen very carefully.
This evening, the hundreds of frogs I saw this morning singing in the bullfrog pond, will draw the hungry possums, raccoons and foxes to the feast. They will thin out the population to more manageable levels. February is mating season for foxes and the music of frogsong will soon give way to the yips and growls down the mountain. Nighttime will no longer be silent.
It’s the first sign of spring on my mountain. Frogsong.