The movie is titled "hillbilly." The directors are Ashley York and Sally Rubin. Here's the synopsis:
Appalachia is no stranger to the complexity of media representation. Since our country's inception, there has been a palpable divide between Urban and Rural America. Within this great divide, certain regions are viewed as "other," and blamed for America's social ills.
Since the presidential election, the cultural divide in America has expanded. Stereotyping and slurs are rampant, finger-pointing and name-calling abound. hillbilly goes on a personal and political journey into the heart of the Appalachian coalfields, exploring the role of media representation in the creation of the iconic American "hillbilly," and examining the social, cultural, and political underpinnings of this infamous stereotype.
Some recent mainstream media articles about West Virginia
From the New York Times earlier this week (it apparently won't show-up in the actual paper until Sunday):
"West Virginia’s Small-Town Revival"
The article begins:
The American rural experience, as told by Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold, is all about becoming immersed in largely unpopulated, natural places. For weary urbanites, such places offer a chance to find solitude and reflect. Too often, it seems, the scattered towns that dot these landscapes are ignored, lost in the shadow of their wild surroundings.
So it goes for West Virginia. The mountains — and the wilderness that blankets them — are the stuff of American lore: blue forests, trout-filled creeks, pristine backcountry. For many visitors intent on hiking, biking or rock-climbing, the communities of Appalachia, with their rich folk culture and rugged individualism fail to register.
The article goes on to feature the West Virginia's small towns of Davis, Thomas and Fayetteville.
One of the problems I have with this type of feature article is that it is often condescending despite its positive portrayals. I found this article about small-town West Virginia to be somewhat of an exception.
And then there is this recent article found on the pages of the Voice of America website:
West Virginia Cook-off Celebrates Unusual Foods
about the West Virginia Roadkill Cook-off which is held annually in Pocahontas County.
Since 1991, the event has been held in the Appalachian Mountains in the small town of Marlinton. The cook-off is a celebration of food dishes Americans normally do not find in a restaurant. All the dishes are made with roadkill, meaning animals found on the side of the road after being struck by a car or truck.
Anyone can sign up to prepare food for the event. But at least 25 percent of the meat must be “wild,” meaning it came from either hunting or killing an animal, and not from a store.
This year, some of the dishes had names like “Drunken Deer in the Headlights” and “Hillbilly Mardi Gras Alligator and Turtle Gumbo.”
Is this an authentic folk culture event or a "let's cash-in on the stereotype" money-raiser? It's probably both but I lean more toward the latter:
It did not take a long time for the cook-off to become popular.
“Eighty percent of the people here are not local, they are from Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas,” said [local Chamber of Commerce president Bill] Jordan. He added that people from as far away as India and Germany have traveled to Marlinton for the festival. They come for the chance to try out food they have never had before. . . .
“It’s close to a $2 million economic impact,” says [Chamber president Ben] Wilfong. “The population of Pocahontas County is just slightly over 8,500 people, and they get about 12,000 for the event.”
One additional note: this Voice of America article appears to be geared toward those who are new to the English language. (The article is found in the "Learning English" section of the website and it includes a vocabulary list at the end.) While it does present some balance, it's not that much of stretch to believe that VOA believes that becoming part of our culture means learning its stereotypes.
I didn't comment on it at the time it aired but I think that Anthony Bourdain's “Parts Unknown" episode on West Virginia is the gold standard on this topic. As the CNN series frequently demonstrates, Bourdain's very rare gift was his ability to travel anywhere without the slightest bit of condescension. Try to catch the episode the next time it airs.
Note — Busy for a few days - no blogging until Tuesday.