Friday, August 03, 2007

Roy Blount On South (and North)

Here is a wonderful article by Roy Blount about being from the South entitled "Deep in the Heart of It: Where Sounding Dumb Doesn't Equal Being Dumb." (Thanks for the referral from the "Ghost Light" blog).

I'm quoting only a small piece of the essay here, which is very funny and very insightful in the way only Roy Blount can be. (I loved the Michael Dukakis / John Edwards story near the end). Blount tends to use the stereotypes to his advantage, sorta like Mark Twain (yeah, I'm sure I'm not saying anything particularly original there -- every humorist who uses a folksy delivery probably gets that one). Anyway, he writes about when he was young:

Here’s what happened when I moved to New York. I hadn’t unpacked my bag before people started telling me, “You’re not from around here.” Didn’t I know that? “I see you haven’t lost the accent,” they would say severely, as if I were willfully convicting myself of narrow-mindedness with every syllable I uttered.

That was awkward, but interesting. As a white Southerner I had come to terms, on my own recognizance, with being a (heartily) recovering Mr. Charlie. It kind of tickled me, as we say back home, to suddenly be an object of prejudice. Since I couldn’t see that it would keep me from doing anything I really wanted to do, it even gave me a kind of edge. Years ago at a New York cocktail party I was chatting with George “Jerry” Goodman, who wrote and spoke trenchantly about money matters under the name of Adam Smith. Nice guy. Evidently I said something that struck him as halfway cogent (so it couldn’t have been about money), because he gave me a sincerely startled look and said, “You’re not so dumb.” I have to admit, I was surprised. Not so much by his surprise as by how unselfconsciously he expressed it. He seemed to have been caught more off guard than I was, so I was able to think to myself, “You’re not so broad-minded."

I'm just sayin'...

1 comment:

Brian Santana said...

Having lived in the south for much of my life, mostly in the triad regions of NC, I lived under the impression that I had somehow escaped the southern accent of my mother and other relatives. To my mind, such accents were reserved for those who lived in the extreme eastern and western regions of the state. Such accents were synonymous with ignorance or, at least, that's how I feared others might view it--that they might see me as unsophisticated or uncultured.

It was quite a shock when I went to visit a friend in NYC many years ago. I have never had so many comments about an accent that I didn't know existed (nothing mean spirited, just an acknowledgment). Living in Washington, DC now, I still get that quite a bit as well (since most people in DC originate from someplace other than that area). My accent used to be something that I tried to downplay as much as possible because telling someone I was from NC frequently lead to a remark like "oh, that's where Jesse Helms is from, right?" Now if confronted with such a remark I say something like, "yes, but its also where Andy Griffith, James Taylor, and John Coltrane are from"--or something to that effect.

I would like to make one other point:

Despite negative caricatures of southerners that might pop up, there are also many wonderful examples of uniquely southern artists and southern works that have flourished with mainstream audiences in recent history.


Billy Bob Thornton directed the films Slingblade and All the Pretty Horses, Robert Duvall directed the brilliant film The Apostle, Tim Burton directed Big Fish (an adaptation by NC author Daniel Wallace), Maggie Greenwald directed the film Songcatcher, and NC based director David Gordon Green won a top prize at the Cannes Film Festival for his film George Washington, which was set outside of WInston-Salem, NC. In addition, Green went on to direct two other films set in rural areas: All The Real Girls and Undertow.


In terms of literature, Kaye Gibbons (whose books have been chosen for Oprah's book club), Lee Smith, and Daniel Wallace are all authors from NC who continue to write southern stories and southern characters. They have also managed to build a strong literary following. In addition, the NC based publisher Algonquin Books has been highly successful and published many bestsellers in recent years.

I don't watch that much television, so I can't speak intelligently about southern representations on it (or the current lack thereof). I also can't think of many recent southern plays, but then again, I don't claim to be an authority on contemporary theatre.

I'm sure many negative stereotypes exist, but I would only suggest that there are many southern artists who are currently prospering, producing works that counter such negative images.