Monday, August 06, 2007

Wrap-Up: Southern and Rural Stereotypes

While there are many who feel this conversation has gone on long enough, I think what has gone on long enough is certain bloggers' obsession with small aspects of my initial post to the exclusion of the larger idea, which has been virtually ignored or, alternately, dismissed as "not a problem" by those that it does not affect.

Over the course of the past week and a half, I have, with the "aid" of my fellow bloggers, fine tuned my original ideas. It was my belief that that was one of the valuable things about the blogosphere -- that ideas could be honed through discussion, and thus improved. Apparently not the case. Whatever is written first represents your most important statement on the subject, and before you are allowed to continue you must first "apologize" for perceived offenses to the Blogging Big Brothers who will descend like a swarm of buzzing locusts and fill your comments box with about a million questions and a lot of table pounding. This is especially true if the work "New York" is used in terms anything less than adulatory.

All of which is to say that I will not be allowing, in the future, bloggers to turn the discussion of ideas into discussions about perceived personal offenses and individual styles. This blog is called "Theatre Ideas," not "Theatre Owies." As a step in that much-to-be-desired direction, I will no longer be accepting comments from Joshua James, who seems to feel the need to badger me personally, and worse to badger those readers who would like to share their ideas in my comments box. As much as I would like to, I am going to resist the temptation to refute all the misrepresentations Joshua has made of my statements all over the blogosphere. To do so would be to take him ore seriously than he deserves. Suffice to say his voice will not be heard on this blog anymore. I have been loathe to take this approach in the past, because it seemed sort of rude and unsporting. But after the last ten days, I have come to the conclusion that thats why gives us a delete button.

Below you will find a breakdown of the larger idea into its constituent parts.

Executive summary
: Stereotypes about the south and rural areas are perpetuated through the stories (film, television, theatre, etc) we tell ourselves about ourselves and through the stories that we DON'T tell ourselves about ourselves. Stereotypes are destructive if they are not sufficiently balanced by other images.

Read on for a more thorough explanation. After this, something new -- if not an entirely new topic, then at least some new variation -- will follow. I will not continue to bicker in comments about past posts, personal offenses, or critiques of style -- those who wish to do so should go to Mac's of Joshua's blogs, where I'm certain their will be much rejoicing -- they probably can benefit from the traffic. I will use the delete button until this is policy is observed.

To the hundred of readers who have been visiting this site daily, and are now thoroughly tired of the verbal fisticuffs between me and a few very persistent commenters, I apologize, and hope to have the opportunity to shift your attention elsewhere very soon.

    The argument

1. Contemporary southern and rural experiences are under-represented in the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves (film, television, theatre).

2. When southern or rural experiences are portrayed, the focus is often on subject matter or characterizations that reinforce a stereotype.
  • Definition of stereotype
    • an exaggerated image
    • of a subordinate group
    • created and perpetuated by a dominant group
    • repeated throughout the culture without significant balancing
  • Examples of stereotypes of the South
    • Racism
    • Incest
    • Violence
    • Stupidity
    • Backwardness
  • Examples of stereotypes of rural areas
    • Narrow-mindedness
    • Stupidity
    • Lack of imagination
    • Lack of education
    • Insularity

3. Under-representation magnifies the stereotypes, because they are not countered or balanced by other images. Thus, images that might, under different conditions, be viewed as harmless comic exaggerations, for instance, are made to carry ideological baggage since they are one of the few representations of the group.

4. Many of these stereotypes have longstanding historical roots
  • The southern stereotype has roots in the propaganda of the Civil War and its aftermathThe rural stereotypes come from a longstanding historical conflict between City and Country

5. Stereotypes reflect the structure of and struggle for cultural dominance in a society

6. While the perpetuation of stereotypes can be actively and willfully undertaken, more often it is done unthinkingly, reflecting the fact that the stereotype has passed into the national vocabulary as harmless and based on truth

7. Stereotypes are not harmless
  • They undermine self-esteem
    • People, especially young people, become ashamed of where they live or the way they talk, for instance
  • They lead to prejudices that can play out in discrimination
    • For example, unwillingness to cast actors with a regional accent unless the part is specifically from that region (reflecting a belief that a "universal," "transparent" accent reflects a northern norm)

8. Stereotypes are not "based in truth" -- they reflect a normative judgment and exaggeration based on the perceptions of a particular dominant group (in another context, the stereotypes about African-Americans as they appeared in minstrel shows, or the stereotypes about Native Americans based on European sensibilities, reflected dominant white culture's judgments of the minority culture)

9. Stereotypes, and the prejudices that result from them, are often the result of lack of information
a. Many people do not have personal contact with people from rural or southern America that might balance stereotypes

10. In lieu of personal contact, the information they receive about these groups comes through the stories they see and hear
  • Representations in the news media
  • Representations in film and television
  • Representations in theatre

11. These media are centered in the large urban areas of New York and Los Angeles
  • Film -- LA
  • Television -- LA and NY
  • Theatre -- NY

12. Those who live and work in these media in NY and LA are unlikely to have regular contact with people from the south or from rural areas, and thus are prone to subscribe to the same stereotypes as the rest of the country

13. Because they have access to the megaphone of the mass media or the stage, those who live and work in the media in NY and LA are able to broadcast those stereotypes to the nation
  • Television shows
  • Films
  • Plays that tour
  • Plays that are widely acknowledged by the mass media, and that garner additional productions around the country

14. Thus, the stereotypes are reinforced, and the cycle continues


Anonymous said...

As a southerner in college, I can say that I do feel out of place sometimes with my accent in school. The cycle you describe really makes me see how I have become stereotyped this way. Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

Having my BS. and being from the south I have one thing to say. Stop being a baby because someone is mean to you. Sure stereotypes are bad but come on people, grow some thick skin and move on in your day. It makes me sick to hear people moan about being oppressed and how it hinders them, often suggesting that society offer them some sort of hand out for the trouble.

P.S. stereotyped since birth and doing just fine, and guess what no one had to help me.

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