I enjoyed your essay .
Paul W
11

Thank you, Paul, for taking the time to read my article, and for offering such insightful comments. I appreciate your feedback. You make some really great arguments, but I do want to clarify why I have chosen to use stereotypes in the conversation, and to express why I do not feel I am making a straw man, as you termed it.

In my opinion — and as I spoke of in the essay — the culture that has been created for us in the media and pop culture (not by us as individuals in the Appalachian communities) have created the cultural reference by which many base their assumptions of our region. Television specials like CBS’ “Christmas in Appalachia” (1969, during Johnson’s war on poverty) or the 2009 ABC special with Diane Sawyer “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains” focus SOLELY on certain aspects of daily life for some in the area: that we’re poor, and white, living in deplorable conditions with poor hygiene, etc. In it’s portrayal, by leaving out the “other” side of Appalachian life, it paints all of Appalachia to be this way. Obviously, for a region stretching from the deep south to Maine, this can not be the true experience for everyone. But there is little mention of the “other” Appalachia.

You’re right to say that most Americans living in cities do not think about Appalachian culture (no more than most rural Appalachians think of culture outside of the area). However, when the media/entertainment industry takes aspects of ones culture and presents it in a “this is how it is” kind of fashion, it sort of forces its way into our conscience as that’s who these people are, that’s what their everyday life is like — and, by extension, this is their culture. And while they may not be conscientiously sitting around thinking about our culture, seeing a set of false “hillbilly” teeth at a grocery store vending machine, as one in these comments suggested, or watching reruns of Hee Haw or Beverly Hillbilly's or movies like Wrong Turn or comedians like Tevor Noah telling jokes about a “creepy” West Virginia — little seedlings of misconception get planted, which can result in direct action that causes the cultural shift (like the elimination of our dialect by being corrected by teachers for “mispronouncing” words — like saying holler instead of hollow — or using the “incorrect” word — like poke for a bag after being directed to do so with the intention of making Appalchian children appear “smarter.”)

I’ll give you another example. During childhood, my father was fond of watching Western movies, many set in Texas. My experience with what Texas was like — Texan culture — was that of a rogue desert with white cowboys in spur-clad boots and Natives wearing head decorations clashing with the aforementioned white cowboys. That was the Texan culture I knew from television. So when an African American student from Texas moved to our school district, I was surprised when he showed up in khakis and sneakers. My experience was limited to what I was seeing in the television shows. Sounds silly, and any rational person would think that it is, but as a child I was influenced by the media into thinking that this was the way — the “culture” if you will — of Texans, because, like you noted, as an average Appalachian, I wasn’t thinking directly about Texan culture, so instead of learning about it, I ate what was spoon fed to me on TV.

I know the idea sounds a bit loose. But perhaps this gives you an idea of why I chose stereotypes as the launch board for a conversation on the killing of my culture. I hope, at least. Thanks again for reading, and for offering your very constructive feedback. I appreciate it more than you can ever know!