“I’m southern born, and southern bred, and when I die, I’ll be southern dead.” These are the words of the late comedian, Lewis Grizzard, from his stand-up comedy album “On the Road with Lewis Grizzard.” The album introduces him as an “American by birth and a southerner by the grace of God.” Truly, he was a renowned representative of the Southern culture, and proud of it.
Such cultural pride tends to be labeled positively in America--for most groups. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday is a national holiday. Television devotes BET to black programming, and Lifetime to women’s programming. High school literature classes follow national reading lists filled with multi-cultural books. America’s philosophy is not only to accept all cultures into its “patchwork quilt,” but also to celebrate them. And for the most part, no one dares to publicly insult a specific cultural group out of fear of violating political correctness, being labeled as a bigot, and incurring society’s scorn.
Yet the same standard does not hold true for the southern culture. The South is often ignored, scoffed at, frowned upon, and even made fun of by the rest of America.
Television and film prestigiously represent a diverse assortment of America’s cultural groups in both fictional and actual roles--African-American doctors, female lawyers, and Japanese-American newscasters. But in what types of roles do viewers see southerners? Both television and film have given us versions of The Beverly Hillbillies, featuring country bumpkins whose smartest family member “grad-je-ated from the sixth grade.” And who can forget Billy Ray Cyrus boot-scooting across the screen on CMT in his “Achy-Breaky Heart” video? Or Jeff Foxworthy bellowing to the nation in a deep southern accent, “You Might be a Redneck?” “You might be a redneck if you go to family reunions to meet women.” “You might be a redneck if you can’t get to your relatives’ house without getting mud on your tires.”
Not that there is anything wrong with these songs and shows individually. The problem is that these images are just about the only ones that nationwide viewers see of the South. What goes through their minds when all they see of the southern culture is uneducated hillbillies and grinning, ye-hawing country vocalists in cowboy hats strumming guitars to tunes about pick-up trucks or girls named Bobby Anne Mason? Such media promotes only one idea to go through the rest of the nation’s minds: You might be a redneck if you are from the South.
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