Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Aunt Beulah Sounds Off

A pioneer-island in a world that has
no use for pioneers – the unsplit rock
of Fundamentalism, calomel
clan-virtues, clannish vices, fiddle tunes
and a hard God.
--Stephen Vincent Benét

Don't call us backward.
We walk in the same direction as you,
just not in such a hurry to discard
the old for the new.
We're content with our pace, thank you.

Sure, while you may have been the first
on your block to listen to your records in stereo,
to install an 8-track player in your Pinto,
to fill your CD tower with the latest music,
we were already making our own,
hewing out tunes on fiddle, dulcimer, and banjo,
not from woofers or tweeters, but from our own hands it flowed.

Restless and discontent city-folk
with your throw-away culture,
media-stoked and commercially corrupt,
defiling your identity,
defining yourselves with store-bought trinkets,
and what you can't buy right away, you rent,
no money down and take years and years to pay.
I'm sorry, but that's just not our way.

And we aren't so out of touch
that we don't know
about microwave ovens and bread machines,
but biscuits rise better
in four hundred degrees
of cast iron and oak kindling.
Microwaves are good for warming coffee,
but not cold kitchens in winter.
As for chopping firewood, my callused hands can deal with the splinters.

Tradition is our identity,
and change does come slow, I'll admit.
But when it does, we don't forget
how we were raised, preserving,
passing on the memories
of the way things used to be.
You say it's not your bag, and that's just fine with me.

in Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel 7 (Fall 1999) 27.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

View From Rough Ridge

One of countless scenic views along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Rough Ridge is just about a mile north of the Linn Cove Viaduct (near Linville, NC), and a short (albeit strenuous) hike up a trail. Spring and early summer is the best time to visit, as the white Mountain Laurels and pink Rhododendrons are in bloom, seen here. Late summer and early fall are also great times as the rare Blue Ridge Goldenrod and Heller's Blazing Star are in bloom, both on the Federal Endagered Species list. I'm hoping to head back up there before the leaves start changing color to get some more photos.

This view is looking south.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Bluewashing the Mountaineer

I just read an interesting article in the Winter 2007 issue of the Appalachian Journal about a trend in media and popular culture towards the portrayal of the Hillbilly or rural stereotype. Back in the late '60s, there was a huge movement in pop culture toward the portrayal of mountain and rural life, for good or bad, as seen for example in television shows such as Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Hee Haw, not to mention the extensive advertising of Mountain Dew's "It'll tickle yore innards" or "Get that barefoot feeling," ending, I believe, with the cancellation of the Dukes of Hazzard in 1984 (at the hands of a ratings battle with Knight Rider, a sleeker, more modern hot rod). Since then, the media's fascination with rural, redneck America has been in a lull. According to Douglas Reichert Powell, the author of this article, the country, rural, hillbilly stereotype is making a comeback, a renaissance if you will.

With the popularity of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, there has been a revisiting of rural stereotypes in movies and television. Powell's main focus is on the television show My Name is Earl, which milks both the noble mountaineer stereotype (country folk are essentially good people) and the hillbilly fool (country folk are ignorant, white trash, and laughable) There is also the hillbilly as monster and sexual predator stereotype (see movies such as Deliverance, A Face in the Crowd, and Baby Doll), but that could be a whole other discussion by itself. I tend to agree on most points with Powell's argument, but I feel that the stereotypes are no more in the forefront of the media today than they have been in the past 20 years, or at least I feel he didn't quite make his point in the article. Stereotypes have always served the same purpose -- to allow society to recognize an individual by attaching a group label. Granted, stereotypes always contain kernels of truth. There are people in Appalachia with bad oral hygeine who married their first cousin and live in a trailer with three or more dogs under their porch. But that doesn't mean it's fair to attach those characteristics to everyone who lives in Appalachia. I agree the most with Powell that when shows such as My Name is Earl try to challenge a white trash stereotype, there is an irony there that "[the media] need[s] the legibility, the recognizability of the stereotypes they propose to undermine in order to get the audience undermining the stereotypes with them." Despite how bad stereotypes are, then, they serve a purpose and are necessary, even for the purpose to turn right around and challenge or destroy them. Though Powell did use the term "hillbillyland" in the first first sentence of his article, he didn't give credit to the author who coined the term, J.W. Williamson, and wrote the book on hillbilly stereotypes in the media, Hillbillyland: What the Movies Did to the Mountains & What the Mountains Did to the Movies (1995).

I close with this final thought. If the masses of America need stereotypes, simple labels, to define an individual or a character in a television show, what does that say about the imagination of the American public?

Source: Powell, Douglas Reichert. "'Bluewashing' the Mountaineer: A Recent Television Trend" Appalachian Journal: A Regional Studies Review. 34:2 (Winter 2007) 206.