Have Y’all Heard? Voices from the Southern Blogosphere

The Pop South Rooster Word Cloud

Writing posts for Pop South has been an enjoyable experience, and it’s also provided a means for connecting with the larger public about the ways in which the American South is represented in popular culture. This is especially important for folks like myself who work in academia, where our critics suggest that we exist in a bubble and are out of touch with the “real world.”

I, for one, have always wanted to burst that bubble and bridge the gap that exists between academia and the broader public. To put it plainly, I’ve long felt that I should be able to explain what I write about in terms that members of my family, who never went to college, can understand.

My work as a public historian–working for museums and writing exhibit text–helped me to bridge that gap. Today, my blog serves that purpose and not by “dumbing down” the intellectual considerations. A person doesn’t have to have a college degree to be smart, but I find that dispensing with the academic jargon that can separate “us” (the academics) from “them” (the general reader) is especially important in a blog whose purpose is to communicate about topics in a way that most people can understand and appreciate.

I’m happy to say that I am not alone here in the southern blogosphere, as equally like-minded folks are adding their unique take on the region and its culture. If scholars want to be relevant beyond the academy, and if southern studies wants the same, then we must take advantage of new forms of communication in order to reach the broadest possible audience.

I look forward to others joining the mix, because there’s plenty of room for new voices. For now, here’s an introduction to some southern blogs and bloggers whose writing I think you’ll enjoy:

Civil War Memory–So much of what is written about Civil War memory concerns the South and how memory of the war has shaped, and continues to shape, southern culture. In this long-running blog, historian and teacher Kevin Levin explores this topic with his readers by examining everything from new books, to popular media, to the never-ending divisiveness of the Confederate battle flag.

Cobbloviate–This is a blog hosted by James C. Cobb, Professor and Spalding Distinguished Research Professor and Spalding Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Georgia.  Dr. Cobb offers his own special take on the South and southerners and generally with a healthy dose of humor.

Field Trip South is the official blog of the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina. It is a feast for the eyes and the ears as the SFC shares the archival resources of its phenomenal collection of materials that explore “the emergence of old-time, country-western, hillbilly, bluegrass, blues, gospel, Cajun and zydeco musics.”

Interpreting Slave Life–Nicole Moore, public historian and consultant, hosts this blog on one of the South’s most prickly historical issues–slavery.  She does so without sticking her head in the sand, addressing head-on the issue of slave interpretation at historic sites across the South.

New South Negress–Zandria Robinson’s blog offers a no-holds-barred approach to issues of region, race, and culture. Dr. Robinson is a professor of sociology at the University of Memphis who teaches courses in southern studies and who offers a fresh voice on southern black cultures.  Her observations on southern hip-hop are a must read.

Off the Deaton Path–Stan Deaton, Senior Historian at the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah, is one of the newest to this genre of writing.  You may know him from his Emmy-winning role as host of Today in Georgia History, but he’s recently added blogging to his repertoire. Dr. Deaton’s blog isn’t southern specific; still, his explorations into regional issues (especially as they relate to Georgia) are worth your time.

Red Clay Scholar–Regina Bradley has a Ph.D. in Literature from Florida State University and she writes about hip hop culture, race, and the U.S. South.  She also has a great video interview series called Outkasted Conversations.  You should definitely check it out!

Southern Foodways Alliance–The SFA blog has several contributing authors who offer readers everything from a good southern story to a delicious southern recipe. You’ll learn new twists on southern foodways and discover things about the region you didn’t even know existed.

Talk About the South–Dayne Sherman is a Louisiana native and an associate professor of library science who blogs about southern history, politics, folklore and religion with a particular focus on his home state. And he has the enviable Twitter handle @TweettheSouth.

Hillbilly Redux: MTV’s “Buckwild”

A year and a half after writing an op-ed for the New York Times about the South in reality television, I am here again with the latest installment of the trend.  “Buckwild,” MTV’s newest “reality” program, is a look at the shenanigans of a group of young men and women from my home state of West Virginia.  Set in Sissonville, just outside of the state capitol of Charleston, MTV tells us that this show and this group of 20-somethings is going to take over where “Jersey Shore” left off.  My prediction:  “Buckwild” dies a quick death after the first season and none of the show’s cast members will see the kind of money that Snooki or “The Situation” has enjoyed.

buckwild
The cast of MTV’s “Buckwild”

So what do we have in “Buckwild?”  After a first look at the show, what I saw was very contrived.  The cast seemed a little nervous to be on film at all, and their conversations didn’t seem as organic as they likely are when the cameras aren’t on.  There were also several places within the first episode where you could almost hear a producer telling cast members what to do next.  “Okay, you two girls, jump in that mud hole and start wrestling.”  Because that would seem natural for two hillbillies from West Virginia.

If you’re from the state, you have a right to be embarrassed.  On the one hand, the antics of youth can be found anywhere.  But there’s always a spin when the show is set in the South, or in this case, Appalachia.

First, you have the subtitles as most of these shows have, which indicates that the people in this place speak with a foreign tongue–but mainly foreign to urban ears. (I find I am distracted and annoyed by the subtitles in southern-based reality shows, because the speech and/or accents are often perfectly understandable.)  Second, you have some activity that suggests to you that the place is a cultural backwater, literally.  Cue the hoses to create a mud pit and send in trucks to splash through it or young women to roll around in it.

Now, some would say “these people really do exist.”  Sure they do, but are they representative?  I’m from West Virginia and my cousins and their children are all hardworking, decent and smart people.  And they don’t get their kicks wallowing in mud.  Why don’t we see THAT represented?  Because then we wouldn’t have people we could laugh at.

You see, this hillbilly stereotype goes back for more than a century and has often been used for purposes of humor.  Very often this stereotype highlights the urban and rural divide in American culture.  The city slicker versus the country rube.  So, “Buckwild” just continues to perpetuate that long held stereotype, so that urban dwellers can get a cheap laugh at hick culture and feel superior about it while they do.  If MTV, or any other reality show (like “Moonshiners”) truly wanted to represent the diversity of Appalachian culture they would.  But they are content to make money by striking the same note–over and over–much to the chagrin of so many people who live far richer lives there, in those same mountains, than what is presented. That’s a shame, but I doubt we’ve seen the last of shows like these.

Cue a toothless man holding a moonshine jug with XXX marked on the side.