Saturday, May 02, 2009

Bread And Circuses

Since posting the trailer to The Wild, Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia last Friday, this blog has been overrun (if, by "overrun," I mean triple the daily traffic) by folks searching for a peek into the hillbilly lifestyle.

(At least what they presume is the typical hillbilly lifestyle.)

As I mentioned when I posted the trailer, I wasn't sure what to think. The footage was off-putting, yet strangely interesting. The behaviors depicted by the Whites were clearly over the top, but I've known others with similar lifestyles and world views; sure, the family presents as an exaggeration, but not so much that most of us living in Appalachia don't recognize something familiar about Jesco and his clan. Step outside Taylor Books, the Huntington Mall or off a college campus, then drive a few miles off the Interstate and see how long it takes you to find Jesco.

He's there.

Appalachian Being recently published a terrific commentary about this (which can be found here) in which blogger BuzzardBilly articulates quite well how cultural, societal and educational paths cross to produce the exaggerated, stereotypical lifestyle of the Whites. It's insightful, and well worth the read.

But a post published Friday by Spike Nesmith, on his blog, Blog! The Musical, caused me to flip my thoughts a bit on the White saga. In his post, Nesmith confesses to searching for and watching the video-taped death of comedian Tommy Cooper, and asks the question that made me care less about the behavior of the White family, and become more interested in the people a-google-in' up their movie trailer : "What draws us to these clips?"

What is it about the unusual, the forbidden and the shocking that causes people to seek out and watch activity we'd otherwise turn our eyes away from if witnessed in real life? It's an interesting question that deserves a thoughtful, genuine answer.

Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle may hold a clue.


Paige said...

Thanks for that Appalachian Being link. It was nice to see something that was more than a knee-jerk reaction. I really think the response to this movie, at least thus far, has been almost as interesting (and occasionally frustrating and hurtful) as the filming of the movie itself.

But, as always, I have continued learning. If you ever get jailed in Boone Co, I know exactly what to do to get you out. That's one lesson I never expected to learn.

Anonymous said...

Please update your links for my blog.


Spike Nesmith said...


I think that's it, in both cases. Morbid curiosity, and a desire to see something different from ourselves.

Inasmuch as we vain westerners like to follow the chosen ones of Hollywood and their ritzy lifestyle in the hope that we, too, might one day be strolling down that red carpet, I think we also seek out examples of what we *don't* want to be. Which, in these specific examples, would be dead or a redneck. Or a dead redneck.

In the case of the Whites, it's odd balance of the outward superiority complex which badly masks the massive inward inferiority complex the state has that comes into play. It makes the people who are from here all the more eager to see the doco, if only so they can have a little private "at least *we're* not that bad" moment, and then a public "gaw! Hollywood, making fun of West Virginia again! We're all very cultured, ACTUALLY!" moment.

But the rest of the country isn't immune from embarrassing residents; I hear lots of jokes about WV and the people who live here - many of them painfully accurate - but every state has trailer parks and rednecks and meth labs oh my.

The only difference is that other states have bigger *positive* aspects that they can point to, to avoid dwelling on the negative. All we've got is "b-b-but the leaves are nice... in October."

primalscreamx said...

"He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
I think we like to forget we're people sometimes and that we're commanded by our traditions, our cultures, our religions, even our intellects to do the right thing. We talk so much about being more than human, about raising ourselves up to become saints, angels, enlightened, whatever... Sometimes, that's not what we want at all.
The internet makes it safer to be a savage.