kaigou: this is what I do, darling (4 no sacrifice)
[personal profile] kaigou
I've been sitting on this rant for awhile, but what-the-hell, I'm going to post. If you like to play the oppression olympics, don't read this. If you react favorably to the following statement: "immigrants have it the absolute worst in the US," then you probably won't want to read this, but maybe you should anyway. Just consider it walking the length of this post in my shoes, with citations.

Clover, Carol. Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1992.

One of Clover's chapters, Getting Even, discusses a concept she calls "urbanoia". She defines it loosely as the (horrorific/horror) archetype of the civilized city-dweller's feelings against/about the uncivilized (savage, primitive) country-dweller.
An enormous proportion of horror takes as its starting point the visit or move of (sub)urban people to the country. (The eternally popular haunted house story is typically set, if not in the country, then at the edge of town, and summer camps set in deep forests are a favorite setting of slasher films. ...) ...That situation, of course, rests squarely on what may be a universal archetype [in which the non-city] is a place where the rules of civilization do not obtain. People from the city are people like us. People from the country (as I shall hereafter refer to those people horror construes as the threatening rural Other) are people not like us.

She gives several examples of just how the rural Other is different: adult males with no immediate family connections, or extreme patriarchal rulership (with the occasional extreme matriarchal rulership), and abnormalities like "psychosexually deformed children", with "degenerate specimens [as] the material expression of family wrongness..."

She goes on to summarize the basic appearance of the rural Other, in terms of the standard elements of the genre convention:
...country people live beyond the reaches of social law. They do not observe the civilized rules of hygiene or personal habit. If city men are either clean-shaven or wear stylish beards... country men sport stubble. Likewise teeth; the country is a world beyond denistry. The typical country rapist is a toothless or rotten-toothed single man with a four-day growth. ... As with hygiene, so with manners. Country people snort when they breathe, snore when they sleep, talk with mouths full, drool when they eat. The hill people of The Hills Have Eyes do not even know how to use knives and forks. Country people, in short, are surly, dirty (their fingernails in particular are ragged and grimy), and slow ("This ain't the big city, you know, things take time," a local handyman drawls to our city heroine in The Nesting, and the city invaders of Pumpkinhead refer to the locals as "vegetables"). What is threatening about these little uncivilities is the larger uncivility of which they are surface symptoms. In horror, the man who does not take care of his teeth is obviously a man who can, and by the end of the movie will, plunder, rape, murder, beat his wife and children, kill within his kin, commit incest, and/or eat human flesh... No wonder, given their marginal humanity, country people are often nameless or known by cognomina only.

CP brought this book to my attention after I spent one dinner ranting -- and I don't mean the usual annoyed complaint-airing, I mean truly angry ranting... about a map. There are weeks where I should know better than to follow links, but I was curious, and that right there should've been a sign, but still: a map that assigns movies to states based on "one movie set there that seemed reasonably typical". (h/t: [personal profile] wordweaverlynn)

Some of them are relatively obvious: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Raising Arizona. Some of them require you be aware the filmmakers would be State Cultural Treasures (if there were such a thing): Maryland has Jon Waters (Pink Flamingos), Rhode Island has the Farrelly Brothers (There's Something About Mary), New Jersey has Kevin Smith (Clerks). Others have region as distinctive aspects of the film, like The Wizard of Oz for Kansas, Dances with Wolves for South Dakota, and A River Runs Through It (in which Montana should've gotten top billing, if you ask me, for providing such backdrops). A few make no sense to me at all, like Glory for South Carolina, a film that's about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. So a big battle takes place outside Charleston... it strikes me as odd that a film "reasonably typical" about South Carolina would star, well, yankees. But anyway.

I didn't expect that many surprises, and you probably won't see too many yourself, if you go look at the map. While you're there, take a look at the state that's down near the bottom-right, in orange. Go ahead, I'll wait, just making conversation over here while you go see.

Shouldn't be a surprise, right? I mean, Gone with the Wind is the obvious shoo-in for "reasonably typical" -- it's certainly the one that's the best known. Yeah, it's a flawed movie based on a flawed book, even if it did provide the vehicle for the first black woman to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. But if we're talking about cultural impact or regional association, it's hard to beat that one. If more recent is necessary, then maybe Driving Miss Daisy or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which aren't perfect either, but are at least a tiny bit less romanticized than Gone with the Wind.

Except -- are you back yet? -- none of the above.

Instead, the map-makers listed another movie.


I really shouldn't have been surprised, y'know? I should be used to this, but instead, all I could muster were two words. Fuck. You.

How much longer, I ranted at CP, do I have to go through this shit? I didn't grow up with this treatment from other people -- not until moving to the DC area, that is -- but when I moved to New England in my mid-twenties, I really got it in spades. I was raised to be proud of my Southern heritage, which is as flawed as anyone's and has a long way to go, but the bad parts aren't reason enough to throw out the baby with all the cultural bathwater. I had a soft Georgia accent tinged with six or seven years of living in rural mid-Virginia, and my partner was from Mississippi.

Once, we visited NYC friends, who walked us through Manhattan (and I'll ignore the little jibes that made it sound like they thought we still didn't have running water south of the Mason-Dixon line). The real kick in the teeth was walking past a new restaurant -- very hip, at the time -- where people were lined up. It was for, I kid you not, Soul Food. That's the moniker given to Black American home-cooking, and some racist folks will insist that whites don't eat soul food because that's what black people eat, but the menus are identical. Basically, names aside, the menu was everything my partner and I grew up eating every Sunday dinner.

As we're walking past the line of people (with no intention of going in, thanks, I prefer the real thing), our friends -- note I say friends -- say, "You probably don't want to eat there, right? After all, you're not real Southerners. You have all your teeth!"

If it weren't for the fact that I was raised not to punch people on a public street, I seriously would've considered it.

I've known people who would probably cut out their own tongue before saying anything so rude to a PoC, or a visitor from another country, or a disabled person, or any other sub-set of humanity -- yet they have no compunction, upon hearing any faint hint of an accent in my voice, asking me if any of my cousins married each other -- if not asking outright whether my then-spouse and I were first cousins ourselves. Or asking my family has indoor plumbing, or if anyone in my family graduated from high school, if they're not making comments about people who talk slow must think slow.

I've even had people tell me to my face that I must be there to interview as a receptionist, and not as a professional IT person. After all, working in IT requires intelligence, and you can't be intelligent with a Southern accent. Barring the few who'd put a different spin on it, by suggesting I should be a secretary and bestow some of that "famous Southern hospitality" on some lucky office.

Yeah, I've got your famous Southern fucking hospitality right here, asshole.

So, back to Deliverance. Clover discusses it at length, which I won't quote here. I'll just say that of the non-Southerners I've known, far too many (and one is too many, but I don't even have enough fingers and toes for the times I've had to put up with this shit) think it's funny to quote from that movie. For the specifics of Clover's analysis, however, the underlying crux of city vs country is economic as well as cultural, using money to "humiliate country people... to commit an economic and environmental" rape of the country-land.

Horror movies, Clover suggests, to either greater degree (a la Deliverance) or lesser, are pretty consistent about pivoting on this tension and resentment. It can be economic (as when city-dwellers show up to pave over natural areas to build shopping malls, thus destroying the very beauty that attracted them to the rural area in the first place, while earning them money that's denied the local folk). It can be class-based, as when it's rich city-dweller versus poor country farmer. It can be even simpler than that, as civilization (city) set at odds against the primitive (country).

But there's something else going on underneath this archetype-stereotype. Clover dissects it neatly, drawing a line between the Indian (redskin) in the western genre and the country-folk (redneck) in the horror genres:
The [western] genre rests... on a land seizure of fantastic dimensions. Although we all inhabit, as Michael Rogin has put it, a "society built on Indian graves," the original audiences for [movie Westerns] as children and grandchildren of the settlers in question, would have had an immediate stake in an account that in one stroke admits the land theft and even the genocide (the Indians in these films being depicted as decimated, displaced, and ragged band whose sad leader is given to intoning speeches about the white man's treachery) but in the next attributes to the Indian characteristics so vile and deeds so heinous that the white man's crimes pale in comparison. The modern urbanoid film is no less brazen in its admission of urban crimes against the country (dammed rivers, stripped forests, dirt-biked and snow-mobiled wilderness, mercury-filled lakes, irradiated rangeland) and by extension against those who have been economically dispossessed in the process. In both cases -- urbanoid horror and settler western -- it is as though the demonizing mechanism [of the Other] must begin by acknowledging that which must be overridden [that is, the wrongs against the Other].

This is not to say, nor does Clover say, that the transformation of redskin to redneck is a one-for-one in terms of actual victimization (so, please, no oppression olympics). The movement from the Western genre's Other to the horror genre's Other is simply one of analogous role: being the primitive Other. The difference is that while politically and socially and ethically, there are (obvious) issues about pop/cultural representations of Indians, there isn't, for country folk. Or, in Clover's words:
[It] is not just the demonizing mechanism that the city-revenge films have inherited from the western. It is the redskin himself--now rewritten as redneck. If "redneck" once denoted a real and particular group, it has achieved the status of a kind of universal blame figure, the "someone else" held responsible for all manner of American social ills. The great success of the redneck in that capacity suggests that anxieties no longer expressible in ethnic or racial terms have become projected onto a safe target--safe not only because it is (nominally) white, but because it is infinitely displaceable onto someone from the deeper South... [emphasis mine]

This sense of blame was nowhere as evident as during the years I lived in New England. It was not uncommon -- in fact, it was common enough that the partner and I had to joke about it between ourselves, or go mad from the frustration and bitterness of getting the attitude shoved into our faces regularly. People who considered themselves educated, cultured, open-minded people, would inform us point-blank that we came from a bigoted, racist place -- and then turn around and in the same breath speak derisively of porgies, spics, kikes, and other racist terms, so many racist terms that half of them I hadn't even been aware anyone used outside of old books.

(The informing-us would be, I guess, like the socio-cultural version of mansplaining. What would that be, sociosplaining?)

Frankly, sometimes it wasn't just implied, it was outright stated so baldly that I was too taken aback to even muster a response: to be told that the benefit of having a Southerner in the room is that everyone else gets to feel like they're not actually as bigoted as they might fear. The message: the rest of the country is willing to tolerate my extended family and socio-cultural background because we make everyone else look good in comparison. It's like a national version of the old joke about Alabama's secret motto: "At least we're not Mississippi." For the US, the secret motto of everywhere outside the Mason-Dixon line, it seems, is: "At least we're not the South."

I'm not saying I don't struggle with the same ingrained racial tensions as anyone else raised in the US. I'm not saying the South doesn't have its share of bigots. What I'm saying is that there is no place in this country that you will not find bigots, but the only place for which it's socially accepted -- expected, even -- to mock is the South.

Ah, now, we do all mock different parts of the country, don't we? Yes, this is true. But there's a big difference between someone mocking Californians by quoting from, say, Fast Times at Ridgemont High or mocking someone from Minnesota by quoting from Fargo... versus quoting Deliverance at someone from Georgia. Who, I should add, has family that does live in the rural southern part of Georgia, as well as the rural north-central part, at the headers of the Appalachians. Consider the context of the movie quote in which someone asks me about squealing like a pig: it is worlds away from mimicking the police-woman saying, "ya, ya," or some stoner ordering a pizza in the middle of English class.

The thing is, you hear this shit enough, you get this pop-culture horror-movie redneck-version enough -- not just in horror movies, but in television, and books, and radio, and conversations on the street -- and you can't get angry. You're not allowed to get angry. You're not allowed to get defensive. Why? Because the immediate and consistent reaction is: you wouldn't be angry if it weren't true. Ahah! That question about marrying your first cousin must've hit a nerve! Ahah! That question about whether your parents are inbreds who can't read more than their name, must be true! Ahah! That question about whether your grand-parents were card-carrying members of the KKK must be true! Or else why would you be so defensive?

You know what? I fucking loathe people who say that shit to me, but like Clover states far more coherently and succinctly than I've ever managed, in the US, to say such things to someone's face solely because of his or her Southern accent is considered a-okay. Even in environments where discrimination or harassment would be anathema if done to someone on the grounds of skin-tone, religion, ethnicity, orientation or just about anything else, it's perfectly acceptable to make fun of my Southern accent. I've been in business meetings where coworkers have mimicked my Southern accent in the most painfully bad Gone with the Wind-styled faux-drawl, to the point that despite much preferring the soft drawl in my voice and my family's voices, I erased my own accent rather than go through that again. By the time I left New England, no one knew I was Southern, not if I didn't say anything about my family's location, because it was the only way I had to fight back.

Not much of a fighting-back, is it, to erase your own socio-cultural background. Still, it beats having people ask me if, upon finding out I brought my lunch to work, whether it's chitlins.

Coworkers and managers and otherwise seemingly culturally-sensitive friends... asking me whether I'm eating chitlins. Or making fun of me for liking grits. (And then calling me uncultured for retorting that cream-of-wheat is considerably more disgusting by far.)

But getting angry just gets you laughed at even more, because if you try and protest -- that there are good things, damn it, about being from a rural background, in the end, it doesn't make any difference what argument you use. The stubborn strength of the Scots-Irish background that brings a strong Calvinist work ethic, the frugality of people who immigrated here and were welcomed and/or allowed to settle only in the most inhospitable places, an inventiveness and determination hiding within that cultural frugality, the strong bonds of extended family that treasures connections out to seventh and eighth cousins, the value and importance of owning land and holding onto that land as the root of all wealth... these things don't exist only in the South. They do exist nearly anywhere you find large, extended families whose cultural roots lay in agricultural-based lives. But they're not a positive, that is, they don't work as a defense if you try and retort that it's not a bad thing being Southern.

Because the minute any defense seems likely to persuade any listening audience, whomever began the mocking will shut it all down: your family owned slaves.

It's like a variant on Godwin's Law, except for the fact that no one mocks it for the false dichotomy that it really is. (If you want the history of what I mean, do searches on "slave states" and look for just when, exactly, slavery actually ended -- not abolished, but actually ended -- in northern states; if you want a sense of the racism that exists independent of any three-letter-named group, do a search on "boston school desegregation" to learn how the South was the only place where desegregation was made law, while the rest of the country -- especially New England -- continued de facto segregation until the mid-70's.)

Maybe I should call it Godwin's Law, Reversed: where the first person to throw around mention of slavery wins the argument, by pre-empting the second person's right to any refutation. Or maybe I should just say, it's a total shut-down that works so long as you fail to remember (or refuse to acknowledge) that when it comes to the history of slavery, segregation, prejudice, and bigotry in the US, there are no innocents, and any accusation is really just pot meeting kettle. Ancestry in this country means there's a good chance either there are slaves in your family tree, or slave-owners. Possibly even both.

Still, knowing that doesn't change the fact that it works, and it works because when it's used, the Southerner is outnumbered, and isn't going to be defended. Why would anyone defend the Southerner, and lose their own moral high ground, and the pleasure of scapegoating?

This is also why one of the first major arguments I had with CP, when we were dating, was when he made some throw-away comment about how he has little concern for issues of Civil War or Reconstruction, seeing how his family/s didn't get here until the 20th century. I just about went ballistic, because it doesn't matter. To become a citizen means to take up the burden of the country's history, because history doesn't stop. There is no point where you can say, "people who came after this point are no longer indicted." History begets culture, and culture begets patterns, and citizenship now means adopting those complicit patterns. This is how newcomers can pick up US-racisms, the same way they pick up Halloween customs. It's part of acculturation. You don't have to have owned slaves, or been a slave, to be complicit in continuing the damaging patterns of the past.

In fact, to claim you are exempt in some way is even more offensive, to me, especially when it's an exemption claimed by someone who was mocking Southerners only a few minutes before. It's taking the usual hypocrisy of non-Southerners -- "your family owned slaves" -- and ramping it up to a degree that words can't even begin to comprehend. Maybe because fury and frustration have so totally blown out the circuits.

(Needless to say, CP has learned that this is not a suitable way to approach the topic with me.)

Incidentally, finding the link for the movie-map coincided with participating on someone else's post, in which I mentioned -- and then was soundly mocked about -- enjoying cabbage and pork intestines (a Chinese dish), especially (as I noted in my comment) because such a dish shocks Anglo friends. I was mocked for being (roughly, I paraphrase) a privileged USian taking advantage of Othered food. That interpretation was partly my fault, because I gave no real context, and the sole reason for leaving it out is encapsulated in this post: because I honestly did not believe, and still do not believe, that just because I was participating in a conversation about Othering-food that I would not be Othered in turn.

Because, y'see, I know when it comes to Othering my social background, it's okay. I'm not PoC, I'm not a (recent or even in the last century) immigrant, I'm not a protected group. Hell, I'm even privileged! Which I am, in many ways; I'm just privileged in a way that also means I have to swallow my fury whenever I get used as the example of "someone who comes from a really racist place". Or as someone who can't be who I am because I have all my teeth. Or someone who must just be hiding any relatives who married other family-members.

I'm privileged, but with a side-order of scapegoating... and along with that comes a whole passel of cultural connotations about food. It just gets tiresome, because it's pervasive, to the point that I've even had newly-immigrated coworkers repeat cultural assumptions about Southerners. It never occurs to them that it's not okay, because USian pop culture makes it apparent in tons of ways, from movies down to stupid beer commercials, that it's a safe target. So I get: grits are what poor people eat. Do you also eat collard greens? That'd be a 'mess' of greens, right? What about chitlins? You eat pork rinds, don't you! Admit it, you like pickled pig's feet. Stated outright or merely implied, there it is: that's what poor country folk eat. When a newly-US PoC asks this of a white person and everyone else around the table laughs, the message is clear: it's okay to say these things. It's welcome, even expected! Even if the person you're asking is sitting there feeling humiliated, because it's all a joke and it doesn't matter that someone isn't laughing.

So, insert everyone else's laughter here, while I'm thinking: my grandparents worked hard to grow their own food and put it on the table, fuck you. So I didn't grow up with some fancy multi-spiced dish like what you're used to, it was good honest food. It's also food that I can't mention loving because that opens me up to this kind of shit.

The only place anyone stops short of mocking is when it's a food their culture also enjoys. I've never had an Indian friend make fun of the fact that I love okra, as it's also a staple in many Indian dishes. I've never had a Chinese friend make fun of eating pickled foods (like pickled watermelon rind), as many Chinese dishes also pickle in nearly an identical manner to how my relatives pickle their food.

But chitlins, now, there's a loaded topic, and in ways a lot of non-Southerners don't even realize, because my family didn't call them chitlins, but chitterlings. It's for the same reason that side of the family doesn't like to have their "honest food" confused with "soul food", because that would mean someone might think they eat the same thing as black people. I never said there wasn't any racism in my family, or in the South, only that everyone has it to some degree, anywhere, and that my family is no different, no matter how much I was raised to not make such racist distinctions myself. I mention it here only because I was in high school before I found out that "chitterlings" and "chitlins" are the same freaking food -- and even that, I only found out due to someone else making fun of me for supposedly eating chitlins/chitterlings.

What are they? Pork intestines.

Yes. Same thing that I love eating when it's a Chinese dish. But see, when I eat the Chinese dish, Anglo friends are startled, often even a little impressed. What they are not is ridiculing me for unintentionally letting on that I'm actually just very good at 'faking' how to use a knife and fork, or that they'd never realize I was Southern because I actually know words with more than one syllable. (Yes, I've had people say that to me.)

I didn't go into that context, though, because outside of talking with other Southerners in a Southern-only space, I'm sick of always tensing for more snide comments masquerading as pop-culture humor. So instead I got mocked for being someone using the 'exotic other' (or whatever the phrasing, I can't recall now) as a way to make myself feel better, and all I wanted to say was: fuck you, I like the dish... but I like even more being able to eat something without listening to someone insult my entire family.

Also, I really like cabbage and pork intestines because a good friend introduced me to it, so whenever I eat it (or any of the many other favorite-childhood-dishes she introduced me to), I think of our friendship. Even if I am, at the same time, gloating a little for eating something that (outside of the spices, fine, Southern cooking isn't quite that complex, being based on British cuisine which is, well, not much of a complex cuisine) is effectively a near-likeness to a dish I grew up with yet doesn't come with so many loaded negative socio-cultural implications.

[If you're ever wondering about the tone when I speak of things like biting forks, it's because I have been trained from nearly birth to have as impeccable table manners as possible. Given how many people would like to believe that knives and forks are alien beings to mountain-resident Southern families, it's become a major defense mechanism. It's also why I tense up at any comments about my chopstick skills; anything remotely like a criticism sounds too similar to the usual ramp-ups to more insults about generic-Southern lack-of-civilization, lack of table-manners.]

Thing is, while being demonized in pop-culture, it's still not something that gets any credit for the demonization. You learn pretty fast, once you step outside of the South, that no one sympathizes. No one cares. Everyone's too busy making themselves feel better by dint of not-being-Southern, that they have little to gain (and, more than they'd admit, to lose) from giving you even an iota of dignity. When you add in, as Clover notes, the aspect of being "(nominally) white", that white privilege appears to create an override in other people's minds: it's okay to mock you, because you're not a protected class.

I get that I'm not a protected class (in terms of skin-color, at least). I'd just like to hear a little less about squealing pigs and marrying cousins, so I could stop feeling that defensive edge whenever I see someone's eyes light up because I slipped up and let the accent leak back into my voice.

There's one last thing, and this is just to demonstrate to anyone still skeptical about the pervasive Deliverance stereotypes, and how they've transcended horror-movie fare to permeate just about every aspect of our pop-culture.

Readers, I bring you Avatar: the Last Airbender.

That's right. The series that brought us strong female characters! The series that brought us an entire leading cast of people of color! The series that elevated and respected a complex world of diverse Asian-derived cultures! ...and it also brought us a Deliverance reboot, right there in the middle.

Season two, the episode titled "The Swamp", and we meet a group of waterbenders. See if any of this sounds familiar, because to my eyes it's a freaking checklist. Predominantly male, check. Apparently shiftless, check. Drawling slow talkers, check. Dressed in primitive (bark and leaves) garb, check. Note on this one: nearly all other in-story cultures met are shown to be civilized to some degree, with complex and stylized clothing, advanced architecture and engineering, but not the swamp waterbenders, who are barely dressed at all. Ah, and buck-teeth, check. Shortened cognominic names with no surname, check.

Oh, and the icing on the goddamned freaking cake? The swamp waterbenders kidnap the two lovable animal sidekicks and are going to eat them, if not for Aang et al rescuing the critters in time. The only thing missing is incest, but we've got the eating-of-taboo-animals right there.

And this in a series lauded for its sensitivity to cultural issues?

I'd say that's a pervasive -- and perceived-as-safe -- stereotype, when it can even show up in a children's cartoon and no one says a word.

Then again, why bother? Most of the people I've met who say such things really do believe it. Not that it's really any better to tell someone that, actually, your mother has two grad degrees and your father has four, and your sister attended one of the most prestigious schools on the eastern seaboard. It's just like the comment about having all your teeth, if a variation: "oh, well, see," you'll be told, "I was talking about all those other Southerners, not like you, you're obviously different."

Yeah, well, fuck you and your goddamn Deliverance-for-Georgia map.

A footnote from Clover's passage on the demonization-transfer of redskin-to-redneck, which might be interesting to ponder, if you're interested in such pop-culture topics. (The original, per usual footnoting, has no paragraph breaks, but I've added some here for the sake of onscreen legibility.)

[Michael] Rogin has argued that the history of demonology in American politics comprises three major moments: racial (Native Americans and blacks), class and ethnic, and cold war. Of the first two, which bear most directly on the revenge [horror] films under discussion here, he writes:
The expropriation of Indian land and the exploitation of black labor lie at the root not only of America's economic development, but of its political conflicts and cultural identity as well. A distinctive American political tradition, fearful of primitivism, disorder, and conspiracy, developed in response to peoples of color. That tradition draws its energy from alient threats to the American way of life, and sanctions violent and exclusionary responses to them. Class and ethnic divisions define the second demonological moment. The targets of countersubversion moved from the reds and blacks of frontier, agrarian America to the working-class 'savages' and alien 'reds' of urban, industrializing America. The defense of civilization against savagery still derived from repressive conditions of labor on the one hand and from internal, imperial expansion against autonomous communities on the other. But the terms of the struggle shifted from racial conflict to ethnocentric class war (Kiss Me Deadly, p. 1).

"Ethnocentric class war" is very much alive in recent horror. A number of commentators have noted the tendency of popular culture to understand the Vietnam war in White-Indian or White-Black terms (Harlan Kennedy in "Things that Go Howl in the Id," for example, or Newman in Nightmare Movies or Gaylyn Studlar and David Desser in "Never Having to Say You're Sorry"), but the displacement of ethnic otherness onto a class of whites--to my mind far and away the most significant "ethnic" development in popular culture of the last decade--has gone unnoticed. Southern Comfort (1981) goes so far as to blame the entire Vietnam experience--from initial involvement to failure--on the "redneck".

For a "scapegoat" analysis of Texas Chain Saw Massacre (which also gestures in the directions of the Indians), see Christopher Sharrett, "The Idea of Apocalypse in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre." The film Pumpkinhead gestures towards the blackness as well as the Indianness of the redneck subtext when it has one of the (white) city youths explain to his girlfriend why he has brought a rifle: "Because yo' never know what yo' goin' to find in the jungle--yo!"

This is not to say I walk around, primed and seeking insults about Southerners. I don't need to read into anything to find insults, not when most of the time such are pretty straightforwardly blatant. Most of the time, really, I'm working to ignore the various examples I see. In comics, in television shows and commercials, in movies, in books, in people's reactions. Some of it, I know I share (in terms of annoyance and frustration) with others whose dialect marks them in the eyes of some other group -- like the person who commented a bit ago that going into London means dealing with some bozo hearing the Irish accent and promptly trying to 'do' the person. Yeah, I get that, too. I know exactly how offensive it is, and it's why I feel incredibly hypocritical whenever my step-mother mimics the lilting accent of southern Sweden. Different language, and that could be me you're mocking.

Nor is this necessarily oppression olympics, because I'm fully aware that stripping off my own accent, and learning to mask my background by emphasizing my years in the Mid-Atlantic over my years in the Deep South, by never mentioning exactly where my grandparents or cousins or aunts 'n uncles live... that all I have to do is excise this cultural chunk, and I am stealth!American! I am generic Mid-Atlantic, sans accent, and as long as I don't show any fury when listening to someone mock another Southerner (who has not thus stripped his/her cultural weight), then no one will know.

Of course, I hate myself when that happens, but at least I'm not the one getting bullied, right?

In that sense, I know that this ability to pass as a non-scapegoat is something a lot of other cultural or racial members don't have. Me dropping an accent is practically patty-cake compared to what it'd take to change your eye shape, or your skin-color, or your hair-color, or your sex, or your sexuality, or your weight, or your age, or whatever else causes you to get the worst of an -ism. I'm aware of that. I'm aware that comparatively speaking, I should probably shut up and accept that this is just part of the way my country has chosen to work through the aftermath of a vicious and divisive Civil War and the racism before during and after and the turmoil of Reconstruction and then Civil Rights and all the other attendant experiences. It needed a scapegoat to shift the blame for having said and done all that was said and done, and my socio-cultural background was the easiest target. Perhaps there's benefit, somewhere, in having a scapegoat; perhaps it lets the overall culture blow off steam, sometimes? Perhaps there's some goodness, in the long run, that I can't see from where I stand.

But none of that changes the fact that watching those Avatar episodes really freaking hurt.

NOTE: if you are considering a comment in which: you say that you, personally, have Southern friends and they make jokes like this all the time, I won't reply because (a) this post is NOT ABOUT YOU and (b) you're blurring ingroup/outgroup humor and maybe you need to think about that more. If you raise a defense via attacking on the topics of slavery, slave-ownership, redneck-analogies, or how Others have it worse, I will DELETE your comment as oppression olympics and/or derailing.

EDIT: wtf html?

Date: 12 Jan 2011 10:44 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] taithe
Because, y'see, I know when it comes to Othering my social background, it's okay. I'm not PoC, I'm not a (recent or even in the last century) immigrant, I'm not a protected group. Hell, I'm even privileged! Which I am, in many ways; I'm just privileged in a way that also means I have to swallow my fury whenever I get used as the example of "someone who comes from a really racist place". Or as someone who can't be who I am because I have all my teeth. Or someone who must just be hiding any relatives who married other family-members.

I'm privileged, but with a side-order of scapegoating... and along with that comes a whole passel of cultural connotations about food. It just gets tiresome, because it's pervasive, to the point that I've even had newly-immigrated coworkers repeat cultural assumptions about Southerners. It never occurs to them that it's not okay, because USian pop culture makes it apparent in tons of ways, from movies down to stupid beer commercials, that it's a safe target. So I get: grits are what poor people eat.

I hope you don't mind that I take your post and think about it from an academic perspective. Currently in one of my classes I'm studying the concept of Otherness from a philosophical-anthropological slant. The points you raise here about being placed in a category of "Other" yet being unable to complain due to perceived "privilege" is rather fascinating and also extremely dismaying.

I'm tempted to use your experiences as a starting board for my paper on creating Otherness and the mythos behind the "wild, uncivilized country-dweller". I'm currently reading a book called The Idea of Africa by V.Y. Mudimbe and some of the theories he works out relate to the pervasive narratives present about the South because similar (although distinctly different) narratives are insidiously present within the concept of Africa. He articulates possible explanations for why the idea of Africa is rationalized and used commonly by Westerners (although I'd argue based on my cultural experiences that it isn't just the West that maintains this idea). Both the "South" and "Africa" are kind of lumped into monolithic mythologies and I would like to study how this myth-making began regarding Southerners.

If you feel offended at the thought of me using your post as a beginning for an academic concept paper, especially regarding a topic that is extremely personal, please let me know. I will not use any of your anecdotal information, but I may vaguely refer to your post as a source of inspiration if given your permission.


As a first generation immigrant, I was surprised how easily everyone in school (especially teachers) sort of slotted Southerners together into the caricatures that you see in the likes to Avatar. Even the history books portrayed the South with images of big bad slave states and backward conservatism. What was disturbing was the implied condoning of certain acts during the Civil War since, obviously, the North was trying to free the slaves and were the good guys. The rather blasé attitude toward Sherman's March to Sea made me go wtf as a kid. I had read about Stalin's policies before arriving to that particular section in my 10th grade history and wondered why no one else in class was disturbed by the scorched earth concept. I ended up delving into literature, particularly African American literature later that year, which illustrated that no, the northern states weren't as progressive and more accepting of minorities as you'd think and the aftermath of the Civil War had been pretty fucking bad.

Also in regards to oppression olympics -- what an unusual term. I'm a bit puzzled as to why people would hijack a commentary relating toward a specific type of cultural oppression by using the "others have it worse" rationalization. I get a bit of this whenever racism is discussed. Arguing about severity or whose oppression was worse seems rather missing the point. I remember trying to explain to my mother the historical oppression of blacks in the United States and her interjecting that Asian immigrants had just as horrible treatment from white folk and even worse once black people starting attacking East Asians. :| It makes it difficult to establish any kind of constructive discourse. I see this "you can't talk about being marginalized because you're privileged" attitude being the same kind of Missing the Point only the recipient has additional shame and guilt. It just doesn't make sense to me why it's appropriate to ever say that.

I wish it was possible that people would feel more comfortable discussing this sort of thing. The intensity of your post and the comments above indicate that this is a kind of issue that needs to be talked about because really, it's not okay to belittle or patronize other people based on X trait. I'm wondering if your friends who made those jokes could be made aware of how hurt you were?

Honestly, I don't see any goodness about having Southerners as scape-goats. Rather than blowing off steam, it seems to allow more discrete forms of racist or narrow-minded thinking even among people who consider themselves educated and tolerant.

tl;dr excellent post. You've opened up some interesting points of discussion.

Date: 12 Jan 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] taithe
Thanks! I'll start on Clover, Rogin, and the discipline of Southern Literature. I've read novels by famous Southern authors (Twain and Faulkner off the top of my head) but the setting seems to keep Southern characters inside the South, causing the characters to seem culturally insular. The only exception I can think of at the moment that displaces a Southern character is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

Having lived primarily in the northwest I've met people who've grown up in the South but they fit in well enough that I don't necessarily think of them as Southerners. Who is defined as a Southerner? I'm curious about the interactions Southerners have with other Southerners outside of their home region. Can you spot a Southerner right away or is it less obvious? Do you feel like you don't (and won't ever) quite belong in a specific region because of your Southern background and your lack gender role conformity?

You don't have to answer any of those questions if they're too personal or unintentionally offensive. If you're willing to post an open call for some more anecdotes on being-Southern though, I would appreciate it. I'm interested in seeing the variations and themes that might arise from people's anecdotes.

Date: 13 Jan 2011 06:02 pm (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
Cousin intermarriage is one of those things that happens in any place in the world where there aren't a lot of people and people don't move in or out. I was a distant cousin of my first husband (not first cousins!!!) because our families had both been in the area forever. Once a certain number of generations have gone by everyone is related to everyone else if you go back far enough.

Interestingly I am told that cousin marriage is no big whoop in the UK. So, whatever. It's the jokes about SIBLING incest and parent-child incest that piss me off.

Date: 13 Jan 2011 09:35 pm (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
Oh, lol, it's almost the same story, only we were at a family reunion and I think it was a great-aunt. :)

Date: 13 Jan 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
I can sometimes spot fellow Southerners before they open their mouths because they are chivalrous. Southern chivalry has its roots in some very unpleasant ideologies but I don't think that's what most people are actually trying to do when they stand up on the bus to let somebody's granny sit down, and I will never not be appalled when I see men in their late teens and twenties sprawled across the seats in a bus paying no attention to anything but their iPods while there are mildly disabled people, or people who are older than they are--even in their 30s--who are pregnant, carrying a lot of packages, obviously tired from a long day or trying to keep track of their kids--standing up. I know I should probably be just as appalled at young girls doing this but I'm not and there also usually aren't nearly as many of them. In California, if you say something to these men, people think you're the one being rude.

Another thing is that it's far less socially acceptable in the South to comment in public upon the appearance and dress and eating habits of strangers (even if you think nasty thoughts and gossip about it later with your friends). And to be honest I don't CARE if some nasty person on the street goes home to tell their friends about how that awful woman she saw doesn't know she's too fat to eat ice cream, I only care if I have to listen to it. Drive-by concern-trolling may be worse in the South from family and friends (the kill you with kindness thing is bitter when it's aimed at you and it's just FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, SWEETIE) but there's not so much of it IN THE STREET.

But to be honest probably the hardest thing to take is that if you don't lose or disguise your accent, people don't notice that you're just as intelligent as they are, possibly more. It's also annoying when they assume you're very racist, some kind of evangelical Christian, or a political conservative. (I have never decided if it's more annoying or less if they assume this and are happy because they expect you to be the one person in the room who will agree with them.)

I also think that if you're not in a large city where there's ethnic food and places that do serve Southern food, food can be difficult. In the Midwest, where a lot of food is cooked in ways that are German, Eastern European or Scandinavian in origin, it's very different from Southern food and it's not easy to adjust to. Southerners are as likely to enjoy Mexican food or Chinese food or Indian food as anyone else, but the typical Midwestern/North American diet is very different from the typical Southern diet, so if you're stuck in an area where you can't get anything else without going to a lot of trouble and expense it can contribute to your sense of alienation. The thing I remember most about living in Northern Ohio was feeling like I was going to throw up because all the food was so gross and eating at Taco Bell and Chinese restaurants a lot.

Date: 13 Jan 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
Oh good LORD.

(One of my worst 'adaptation to California' moments was when I went to Fog City Diner and asked for a glass of iced tea. I had already learned that there was no such thing as sweet tea unless it came from a soda fountain with lemon, which I don't care for, pre-added, but they assured me that they brewed it themselves and did not add lemon. But it was late and I was very tired and I was not even remotely prepared to face the tall glass of iced GINSENG tea that was put in front of me. And they were shocked that I didn't want it and was upset. Since then I always ask whether the tea is brewed or comes out of the soda fountain and whether or not it is actually tea or some other herbal concoction.)

Date: 14 Jan 2011 02:56 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] taithe
Ahaha I can totally sympathize with those sudden cravings for home food.

Honestly, Southern food is as exotic and "international" up north as any another non-regional cuisine if not more so. In Seattle people are really used to Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean/Japanese that it's less exotic than Cajun/Creole/Appalachian cuisine. I've asked locals where I could find gumbo and was met with blank stares. The only place I managed to find gumbo was a German restaurant specializing in beer. (Internet's suggesting I visit a Caribbean place instead.)

I did notice that buttermilk biscuits, peach cobbler, and country fried steak can usually be found in mom and pop restaurants.

Another side note regarding cuisine: my friend's family is from the South and thought my family was completely nuts for eating catfish raw. Apparently the only proper way to prepare catfish is to fry the heck out of it. :P

Date: 13 Jan 2011 05:02 pm (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
A lot of the 'why I left' stuff sounds REALLY familiar. I am way too plain spoken for a woman -- but then I also get some of that out here in California, so whatever.

I can tell someone to go to Hell and make them look forward to the trip, but I have to be beyond usual levels of angry to do it.

Date: 13 Jan 2011 09:47 pm (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
It's almost impossible to talk about justifiable historical anger resulting from Reconstruction and not be accused of racism or of supporting racism, when the fact is, even if a war is wholly a just war, it is still wrong to abuse conquered people.

Date: 14 Jan 2011 02:11 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] taithe
...when the fact is, even if a war is wholly a just war, it is still wrong to abuse conquered people.

Absolutely. I've written entire papers and debated with people on this exact point.

My major isn't at all history related and it's been years since I've taken a course on American History. I've seen Reconstruction mentioned a couple times now so I'd like to ask what specifically ignites historical anger? I ask as a pseudo-Northerner because my understanding of Reconstruction is that the Southern states were a mess after the war and Reconstruction policies were supposed to bring the South back into the Union. Although my high school textbooks never really gave this impression, I do recall conversing with a teacher about the overall effect of Reconstruction, which he stated was utter failure. I don't remember why he constituted Reconstruction being a failure beyond a few hazy details about social upheaval and harsh economic policies.

Also it would be interesting to learn about Reconstruction from the perspective of someone who's been taught about the Civil War from the South.

Date: 15 Jan 2011 08:01 am (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
I have generally seen and heard the word 'carpetbaggers' applied to white people.

Date: 15 Jan 2011 07:59 am (UTC)
tiferet: cute girl in pink dress captioned "not all bad girls wear black" (Default)
From: [personal profile] tiferet
I don't really have the time and energy to do a full account of Reconstruction Fail 101, but the Southern states were a mess after the war in part because there were atrocities, and in parts of the South Reconstruction was extremely heavy-handed and punitive. Because of the moral aspects of the war (slavery, although many white Southerners never owned slaves), the fact of the conquest, and the desire to punish Southerners for their rebellion, you had people in charge who were very angry and thought that they were justified in whatever they did.

It's not hard to find this material online, although you do have to be weigh the biases of whoever's writing the sites you visit; there's also a lot of reading to be done in the library. I encourage you to look into it and form your own opinions.

Date: 15 Jan 2011 11:09 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] taithe
Thanks! I was actually researching about Reconstruction when I asked the question. I was looking more for personal opinions in this post rather than historical facts or an essay. I wanted to compare what people thought with what historians (throughout various periods) have interpreted. You've summarized the gist of what I found rather succinctly.

Date: 16 Jan 2011 11:32 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] taithe
Ack! I am aware now that I've been rather insensitive in my inquiries of Reconstruction. But thank you for providing a thoughtful response. I hope my paper can articulate some of the frustrations and hypocrises inherent in the modern mythology of the Deep South. It's particularly depressing to think how some of my brighter teachers and peers are so disparaging of Southerners. Part of it is due to some perceived political antagonism -- but rooted in that antagonism are implicit cultural assumptions about the South that aren't necessarily tied to politics.

In a few weeks I'll be presenting some of the basic ideas for my paper to a class of peers and a professor. Hopefully it will launch some discussion and get people to at least pause.


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