Followers

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bill O'Reilly and Appalachia

Bill O'Reilly Attacks Appalachia

Reported by Ellen - February 14, 2009 - 93 comments

There's a new part of the country that “Pro-America” FOX News hates: Appalachia. On last night's (2/13/09) O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly pronounced the region, a swath through 13 states, a lost cause and an area full of drunks. In O'Reilly's mind Diane Sawyer's interest in improving the lives of Appalachian children, via an ABC documentary about their overwhelming challenges, was nothing less than a waste of time. O'Reilly dismissed the whole subject by calling Appalachia a "culture of poverty," characterizing the adults as a bunch of substance abusers and saying that the only thing kids growing up there should do to improve their lives is “get the heck out of there.” With video.

“There is a reason why some areas remain poor, generation after generation despite massive assistance,” O'Reilly announced at the beginning of the “Unresolved Problems” segment. “There are Rocky Mountains. They're not poor there. There are Sierras. They're not poor there.” Well, maybe not AS poor. But there is certainly poverty in both areas. Maybe it's just not enough to concern millionaire, “I'm looking out for you” O'Reilly. Apparently, to merit his attention, poverty has to fall into a certain proscribed parameter: Poorer than the Rockies, not as poor as Appalachia.

“I submit to you that the culture in Appalachia harms the children almost beyond repair... There's really nothing we can do about it,” O'Reilly told Sawyer.

She had a different view, of course. She said, “The great opportunity is the information economy... These kids are as smart as the kids in India.”

“Sure,” O'Reilly agreed. “But their parents are screwed up. That's the thing... Kids get married at 16 and 17. Their parents are drunks. I'm generalizing now. (Gee, ya think?) There's a lot of meth. There's a lot of irresponsibility. There's fear to go. Look, if I'm born in Appalachia, the first chance I get, I go to Miami. Because that's where the jobs are. But they stay there. And the cycle of poverty for 200 years – boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And I don't want to sound hopeless about it but I think it IS hopeless.”

Evidently, one reason the kids should leave is so that it doesn't become too industrialized and thereby intrude on O'Reilly's sensitive sense of aesthetics. “I don't want to rebuild the infrastructure of Appalachia. I want to leave it pristine. It's beautiful,” O'Reilly said.

But, he added, “I gotta tell you, people have to help themselves, you know? They have to wise up and they have to see that there's a culture of poverty there, a culture of ignorance there. And you either leave or you try to improve it any way you can.”

Sawyer told him there are plenty of people fighting there.

O'Reilly said, “Americans should pull together. And I'm with you.”

Quite a display of Americans pulling together you just put on, Bill.

93 comments | Email this page to a friend

37 comments:

  1. Now that I've read the comments, they're about what one would expect.

    Somewhere in my files, I have government reports from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that advocate the exodus of people from the mountains (for "their own economic well-being"). Funny how such a prescription coincided with the interests of the mill owners operating in the Piedmont (among others) who needed a fresh labor pool.

    The hillbilly stereotype, and the acceptability of it, is an interesting issue. I remember when I was in library school, some professionals took great offense at the Miriam-the-librarian stereotypes that would show up in the popular media. Sometimes, their responses to those depictions only reinforced the stereotypes. It's not as prevalent as it used to be, although I recall the Sarah Palin look being described as "sexy librarian" - as if there's some sort of comical incongruence there.

    Seems to me the best "revenge" against the stereotypes is to keep the culture alive, and I think that's only possible in the context of strong community. I certainly don't know what's required to maintain community - in the 21st century. Since I don't really have the option of conecting with the culture through community, I do what I can through reading and writing and travel and hiking.

    Of course, some people "celebrate" Appalachian culture by marketing saccharine stereotypes. There are so many fine lines and shades of grey when you get into this. I still haven't decided if WCU's Mountain Heritage Day is offensive or not...

    While I'm aware of plenty that's uniquely Appalachian, I recognize as well that the stories I'm attracted to here are very similar to the stories that fascinated me where I grew up (along the Yadkin River in Stanly County, NC).

    (This comment is from gulahiyi over on the blog,
    Random Thoughts from the Distant Hills. He tried repeatedly to post on this blog and failed, so he simply sent me his post and I am posting it.
    Gary

    ReplyDelete
  2. Again, this is Gary Carden posting for a friend.
    This one is jqWindnSea (John Quinnett) and again, since the blog refused to post his comment, I am posting it for him.
    Gary


    Fellow Cretins,

    Did I spell cretin right? Yeah, well, Bill-O (as Keith Obermann calls him) - isn't he just a hand
    puppet for the Right? The only rise he ever gets out of me is my middle finger. Obermann and
    Matthews and Maddow, of course, are hand puppets for the Left. To me it's all just a poorly
    scripted Punch and Judy Show. I miss the Yippies and the KKK. I miss Chicago and blood
    in the streets. I knew one of the guys who blew up the Bank of America in Santa Barbara.
    I miss him. (Or maybe I was stoned when we were introduced and it was somebody else I met.)
    It is irritating to hear such distorted, mouth-frothing nonsense coming from a media icon like
    Bill-O. Half of America eats his shit up. How does one change the shit-eating public. My dog
    likes to eat shit. I doubt I could ever change him. Which leads me to a description of O'Reilly:
    O'Reilly is a shit-eating running dog for the American Right. An interesting fact. Buncombe County
    (situated, if I'm not wrong, in Appalachia) voted overwhelmingly for Obama. He won there by over
    15,000 votes. He won in NC by 11,000 votes. NC went blue for the first time in how many years.
    Sorry, Bill-O and Fox News. Two other western NC counties went blue and Swain County came damn
    close. Like Dylan sang in that song long ago, "the times they are a-changin". I think somebody
    ought to pay Bill-O to visit Asheville for a few days. Might open up his eyes. Also Bill Mahr ought
    to get out more. I've heard him express some pretty ignorant, prejudicial stuff about rednecks and
    Appalachia. Really, these people are beyond ignorant. But the corporate guys are paying them
    big bucks to cater to the big-eyed fools lapping this shit up in their living rooms watching TV.
    Like everywhere else on the planet "Appalachia" is changing, all the time, for better or worse,
    and from my perspective mountain culture is not only alive and well, but a rich, evolving place
    that could end up saving some of our asses when the House-Of-Cards (read American Economy)
    falls completely. I mean, a good old boy can survive, and always has in these mountains. And
    I know some good old boys who, if asked in a nice why, and maybe paid something for their
    trouble, could teach some of us transplanted city fools how to grow a garden, how to switch a windshield
    wiper, how to raise chickens, how to identify sassafras and make tea, how to - in short - survive.

    Gary, I thought your responses to my poems most helpful and apt criticism. I really appreciated you
    sitting down at a dinner table and doing that. Cox also read over the poems and sent me an e-mail
    which included his reactions. His feedback was likewise excellent.

    Got to go walk my dog.

    JQ


    In a message dated 2/23/2009 1:24:50 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, sbrady@angelmed.org writes:

    Wow! This guy likes to spout off about how he’s going to kick so-and-sos ass… I’d like to let him take a shot at me! But of course I’m just an illiterate, drunken, meth-head who married his sister when she was 14 and fathered a brood of inbred hillbilly morons… what do I know?

    ReplyDelete
  3. We're still the only ethnic group in America that many people think they have the right to publicly ridicule as being ignorant--- not just uneducated or backward or ugly or poor--- but ignorant.

    Can you imagine if O'Reilley had made the same statements about _________ in __________, or ___________ in ____________, or ____________ in ______________. (Fill in the blanks with any racial or ethnic stereotypes you can imagine, the more insensitive the better.)

    How can we (as a people) ever shake this pervasive stereotype?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Betty is SO right. Yeah, we are the butt of plenty of slurs. But we may be the last tribe on earth that don't give a rat's ass what such crap says about us. We may be the last with the personal security to laugh at ourselves, and ignore everybody else. Generally, people with a brain bigger than a tumbleturd do not watch Fox TV anyway. So who, that matters to us, will come under the influence of Bill O'Reilly, or his fathead druggie compatriot, or the dead man's bones in the slinky black dress, who make up the Fox freak show? Can we change such idiots' image of us? Can we change the tastes of a shit-eating dog? Not likely. But does it matter?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Like JQ says, "a good old boy can survive." That's what I meant by a community and a culture. If things get really dire, I can pretty well tell you who the survivors will be. And, for whatever reasons, I don't worship with them at the little Baptist Church down the road or serve on the volunteer fire department with them. They're the best neighbors I could have. And so maybe that explains my own funny dance with what I consider bedrock Appalachian culture.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Why are we just pulling in our heads like turtles and pretending we don't care? That this issue is simply a personal thing? That our children and culture will survive?

    Well, I do care--for myself, my family and friends, and my culture--and I don't know that we are surviving very well and or will survive as a culture with a shred of honor and dignity left. We are still lolling about in our insular Snuffy Smith, Lil Abner, Mammy Yokum, Daisy Duke, grits-and-possum mode as if the rest of the world does not matter; and we are being brutalized every time someone laughs at us, or asks us WHERE are you from, or rejects us for a job, or does not publish our writing because how could an ignorant hillbilly possibly have something to say.

    Remember Charles Frazier being told by a professor at the University of Colorado, "Imagine that! A hillbilly with a Ph.D.!" Even worse than the woman thinking it, in my opinion, was that she felt entitled to publicly say it right to his face. Can you imagine her saying to a person of any other racial or ethnic group, "Imagine that! A ________ with a Ph.D.!"

    As much as I loved COLD MOUNTAIN, both book and movie, I hated the "Young Mammy Yokum" portrayal of Ruby by whats-her-name who won an Academy Award for it. (Ruby in the book had a quiet strength and wisdom.) As much as I love our bluegrass music, I hated the stereotypical portrayal of ignorance in "O, Brother..." When I was in Alaska, an Eskimo woman who had seen "Songcatcher" asked me why hillbillies don't fix up their houses. She thought the buildings in that movie were really the kind in which we actually live (rather like us stereotyping Eskimos as living in ice-block igloos, I suppose, the difference being that we are stereotyped as being too dumb or lazy to fix up our houses while Eskimos are stereotyped as being intelligent enough to survive in an extreme place).

    For the past century, any company that has ever considered our region for placing a new enterprise has looked for local "hands" to do the low-level jobs, while bringing in the management and executives from outside, and now no one even considers us anymore as a place that "management" would want to bring their families or that intelligent local people would be available for employment.

    It seems that our local governments are still made up of (mostly) "good old boys" who are interested only in promoting tourism. Well, who will own the new hotels and lodging and eateries they say we need--and who will be cleaning rooms and waiting tables? The "hands," of course, are expected to do the low-level jobs. Us. This servant mentality is deeply embedded in our culture and language. He/she is "a good hand to_____," we say.

    Zell Miller of Georgia was the only well-known person I know of who has ever stood up publicly to try to end this crippling multigenerational Appalachian stereotype. He singlehandedly created enough flak several years ago to prevent television producers from creating a Beverly Hillbillies Reality Show that would have placed an Appalachian family in a Beverly Hills mansion for a year, and ridiculed them. Can you imagine if the producers had even suggested doing the same with a Beverly ________ Reality Show? (You fill in the blank with the most insensitive racial or ethnic slur you can think of.) They even advertised in our local newspapers for an ignorant mountain family, all expenses paid. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had placed such advertisements in the Atlanta or Birmingham or New York papers for an ignorant _______ family to send out to Beverly Hills and ridicule for a year.

    While other groups are trying to get the newspaper cartoonist fired this week for shooting the "stimulus plan" gorilla, O'Reilly is shooting down the future of an entire culture by perpetuating a century-old stereotype in the most egregious and offensive manner--and we ought to care, because the issue is infinitely larger than simply our own personal irritation. It is a cultural matter that will continue to affect us for generations.

    Unfortunately, not every community in our own region is supportive and caring. I have about six neighbors with whom I have lived for 59 years. (They were here for decades before we moved here.) We do take care of each other, but every one of them is now unemployed since Caterpillar and Fruit of the Loom bit the dust. They are all plowing gardens now, and they will survive, but at a price that is demoralizing for themselves and their children and grandchildren, most of whom are now on welfare since their unemployment compensation ended.

    By the way, I came home from SCC several weeks ago to find two young men (not from our community) stealing my firewood that I had spent a week cutting and stacking just so (end of the rick all neat and even). They had even brought a trailer and were blatantly tossing my firewood onto their trailer.

    In my writing classes at SCC, I have the students (for the "definition" writing method) define commonly used but ambiguous terms or ideas such as "middle class" and various racial and ethnic terms. One Japanese student recently wrote: "I sometimes wonder why people think Asian students are so smart. Most of us are just as dumb as hillbillies."

    The difference between Appalachian stereotypes and other stereotypes of numerous groups throughout the country is that we are the only ones deemed to be of low intelligence. The others are ragged upon in various ways, but not considered ignorant. And now, O'Reilly has added "immoral" and "drug-addicted" to our stereotype. Oh, my.

    By the way, I saw Dolly Parton a couple of days ago on Larry King Live. She was not like her former self in the way she talked--not one double negative or mismatched subject-verb, and not one mammy-yokum phrase. She was talking about the economic depression affecting Dollywood and what they were doing to cancel some portions of it to avoid layoffs. She sounded incredibly intelligent, and I wondered if she is trying to clean up her own Daisy Duke act.

    Larry asked Dolly if she remembered her childhood of poverty. She answered that yes of course she did, and she could still go back and live off the land if she had to. She still remembers, she said, how to do all the things they did when she was a child, "but I'd hate to have to do that now. I'd hate to have to break my fingernails, but I could do it if I had to."

    ReplyDelete
  7. Wow, Betty!
    What a fantastic rant! I have a mental image of you lying on the floor exhausted and gasping for breath. Thank you! That gave me much food for thought. After I have re-read your post and thought about it, I'll make some kind of response.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yeah Betty! I previously made a sarcastic, offhand comment about Mr. O’Reilly disparaging our culture, but as always you tackled it with serious zest and insight. One thing that occurred to me about people continuing to portray us through negative stereotypes is that we are a region and culture but not a distinct ethnic group, aside from the fact that many of us are Scots-Irish. We don’t have recourse to a group like the NAACP to defend us or lodge protests when we are depicted in a negative light. I fear this perception of us will continue until it dies away gradually over generations. As for Mr. O’Reilly’s comment that we should move to Miami- well I’ve been in Miami on numerous occasions and it’s nothing but a glitzy, steamy, environmental wasteland of concrete and wretched homeless people sleeping under cardboard on the streets while the ultra rich languish in their mansions along Biscayne Bay. Obviously Mr. O’Reilly doesn’t know what we’ve known all our lives- the people in Miami all want to move up here! Also, it appears he’s never read Carl Hiassen who lampoons the morons who spoiled the tropical paradise and natural wonder southern Florida once represented. One thing about it, if it all goes bust we’ll survive here. I’m not much of a gardener but I grew up hunting- if it becomes necessary I guarantee you I can still make mighty fine squirrel gravy. Maybe outlanders would consider that stereotypical too but I bet Mr. O’Reilly doesn’t know how to do that.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yeah, I've had the Florida experience, too. I stayed in a motel where I was cautioned to keep my door locked at all times and to go and come in groups of three or four. Then, I visited an reservation in the middle of the swamp where the only jobs available for young men were alligator wrestling and speed boat driving. Back on the streets of Miami, I saw more homeless/poor/and alcoholic people than I had seen in my whole life in WNC. I'll never forget Sarasota where I saw over 500 elderly folks sitting in aluminum chairs watching the sunset and over half of the local paper was obituaries. (Oh, and I am a Carl Hiassen fan, too.)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Aah, well. O'Reilly is small potatoes when considering what we as a culture are up against. I do believe that the negative stereotyping of our culture is more focused and pronounced than ever before, simply because it has become so politically incorrect to negatively stereotype other groups. We are the only culture left that people think it is all right to ridicule publicly and openly as being ignorant. Can you name any other such group? Unfortunately our real culture may fade into oblivion long before the stereotypes disappear. Children in the future may be asking, "Who exactly were the hillbillies?"

    ReplyDelete
  11. Once again, Gary has hit the nail on the head.
    But would you want the likes on Bill O' praising you and "our kind".
    Consider the source.

    Ben F. Eller

    ReplyDelete
  12. Ms. Clower's comments are perceptive and straight to the point. She is among several friends who meet periodically with the "Mountain Voices Writer's Group". I suppose Bill 'O would be shocked to learn a few of us can read and write and actually meet to celebrate such.

    Ben F. Eller

    ReplyDelete
  13. XXX testing.....

    Friends, I think the problem with getting your posts rejected by the machinery of this blog can be overcome in this manner. In the "Comment" box, click on the line that says "Your Name (Google)." The hit the "Preview" button once, and then when the red "rejected" notice pops up, hit the "Preview" button again, and then hit the "Post" button. I think that will go through.

    So, here I am trying it again, and if you are reading this, it worked!

    If you do not have a Google blog yourself, you may need to register for one. Or, Gary, the machinery problem may lie in the other "Comment " choices for those people who are trying to use one of them, and I do not know how to deal with that. I noticed that the "Anonymous" choice was successful for Ben.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Aah, man...... I may have really confused it more. In my post above, every time I used "Comment" box, I should have written "Comment as:" box. Sorry.

    So here it is again: Enter your comment in "Post a Comment" box. In the "Comment as:" box, click on "Your Name (Google)." Then click on "Preview." If the red reject notice pops up, click on "Preview" again. Then hit the "Post Comment" button.

    ReplyDelete
  15. When I taught Appalachian History, I had a lecture where I "became" a hillbilly. I removed my dental plates, put on an oversized ball cap that made my ears protrude, and told the class that my IQ was approxiamtely room temperature. Then, I told them about my hound dog, my ceramic jar with the X's on the side, my rifle and my poke hat. I showed them a few "cartoons" from Esquire and some funny cards from area restaurants...some of which are written in "hillbilly." I acquired my natural dialect and quoted a passage from Shakespeare and asked the class why they assumed that I didn't understand what I was saying, simply because of the way I talked. Yeah, that's right, I didn't talk in my classroom or in my elderhostel class the way I talk at home.

    Often, I felt that I may have changed the way the class perceived me and my culture, but it was a drop in the bucket and I doubt that it lasted because members of my classes invariably felt obliged to share a joke with me and it was invariably a joke about an ignorant hillbilly, even after all that I had said, they hadn't changed their views...even though they thought that they had.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Well, y'all, it's a pretty moot point, as I see it. Billy-O is a flat-out fool, and anybody with a lick of sense knows it. My exercise in this thing is to say, "You are a fool, Billy-O. Just keep talking and it will get more plain with every hateful word." We COULD write every sponsor who feeds him, and Fox "News", and say we've had enough -- and stick together and mean it.
    In the end, though, we don't need to pick up our pine-knots and go to war. Not when the whole eastern part of the country will be coming in here, on top of us, wanting us to show them how to survive, as this mess we are in gets worse and worse. Some things take care of themselves --

    ReplyDelete
  17. Dear Anonymous,

    I see by your use of "y'all" that you are not a native mountaineer, since that lowland southernism is not and has never been in the native highlander's lexicon. (It's a dead giveaway, one of those stereotypical words that outsiders want to hear us say--and sometimes we oblige them.)

    You are correct in declaring O'Reilly hate-filled, but he is not a fool. He has built an empire by spouting the poisonous hatred that millions of people want to hear. They do listen to him and are influenced by him, and he knows it.

    O'Reilly himself is not the issue, but he is a flash point (certainly not a moot point) for bigotry and an example of the widespread and increasingly pervasive intolerance directed toward native Appalachians since it has become so politically incorrect to publicly target other groups with such slurs.

    Why should we not pick up our pine knots and go to war against this blatant, insidious destruction of our culture? It will not take care of itself, and no one else is going to do it for us.

    For the past 125 years, especially during wars and periods of economic depression, people have come into our mountains--not to learn from us--but to exploit us as easy targets as they irreversibly destroy our forests, scalp our mountaintops, pollute our rivers, turn our community schools into mega-institutions, raise our taxes, rape our land with roads and airports and cookie-cutter shopping malls, and ultimately pollute our DNA.

    It gets increasingly harder to identify real native mountaineers, and within another generation or two, we will be gone the way of the Melungeons and other groups. Our DNA will disappear, along with our language, values, customs, ethics, and morals; and that is why it is important for writers and storytellers and videographers to work overtime now to record our rapidly vanishing culture.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I would like to mention a literary work that was published about a dozen years ago that managed to attract the ire of a host of Appalachian writers. I am talking about a massive drama entitled The Kentucky Cycle. Let me note that although the title suggests that its sole topic is Kentucky, such is not the case. The play's subject is the origin of Appalachian culture and tradition which, according to the playwright, begins in Kentucky and spread throughout the region. If I may be granted the right to simplify a bit, the play attempts to demonstrate that the evils (deceit, greed, avarice, etc.) of the beginning settlers poisoned future generations down to the present day.

    The first time that I heard of the play, I was delighted and went to considerable trouble to acquire a copy of it. I was led to believe that it was about the courage and resilience of our forefathers. Further, when it began reading it (the entire work is over eight hours long and was produced on three successive nights), I found myself moved by the beauty of the writing. Only gradually did I begin to sense something else: the dramatization of a history of Appalachia that stressed a dark corruption in the hearts of our forefathers that has fostered a diseased modern culture. In other words, the alcoholism, stupidity and "propensity for violence" that the author sees in modern Appalachia is a kind of judgment/curse visited on the whole culture for its "original sin."

    It may be that this particular work is too complex and deceptive to be discussed here, but I feel obligated to give it a shot. It was only after it received a Pulitizer Prize (sorry about the spelling) and The Kentucky Cycle began a national tour that some of us belatedly realized that this drama that was being praised by national critics (not an Appalachian in the crowd) said some things about us that not only were not true, but was doing considerable damage to our image in the eyes of the rest of the world. Protesters began to show up at the theaters, and an irate group of Appalachians began to speak out. By the time the tour had reached New York, attendance was falling off. In all fairness, that may have been due to the length of the play since sitting through three 2 and 1/2 hour performances is a daunting experience.

    Let me see if I can conclude this lengthy post by saying that the author spent a weekend in Kentucky before he wrote the play. Most of this work's basic theme was taken from the writings of Harry Caudill, especially a book entitled Night Comes to the Cumberlands which the playwright had read. The play is still around. In fact, it was produced at Western Carolina University a few years ago and apparently, it didn't upset anyone there. There are sections of the play that are so beautifully written, they elicit tears and cheers. It is only in retrospect that Appalachian audiences begin to realize that perhaps even a destructive lie can be molded into a beautiful thing.

    Well, I'll hush. I just wanted to make the point that it isn't always the stereotypical hillbilly that may present us in an unflattering light. Sometimes, our gifted artists accomplish the same thing.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Bravo to you all!! Wonderful insights shared in the comments here! You have to give Bill O'Reily is due-he is smart and has climbed to the top in his field-however I've often thought his biggest detriment is his ego-and his comments truly prove that point to me once again. I recently heard some of the same types of comments from him on his own show-the same "Appalachians are all the same and will not work to better themselves" crap. By making these total irrational ignorant comments-he is contradicting himself when he so oft states "he's looking out for the folks" I could go on and on about how wonderful our people are and all of the injustices we've suffered-but I think you all have done a much better job on the subject than I could ever have hoped to do. The main thing that troubles me-is the point that Betty made-I'm afraid one day soon our culture will be gone and there will only be a memory of the fierce smart talented independent people of Appalachia. Again Bravo to you all!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Tipper,
    I prefer to go along with Cratis Williams, the wonderful "Dean of Appalachia." He once wrote a book about all of this and the concluding chapter
    stated the same thing that you have just said...We are going to vanish and leave not a trace behind.
    A few years later, Cratis wrote a second book that began with an apology. He was wrong, he said. We (Appalachia) is not dying. We are in transition. We are becoming something else. We are mutating (or morphing) into people who are surviving. Protective coloring. He told a dozen stories about mountain folk who had satellite dishes, shopped at Walmart, sold Amway products, but in every case, there was a core in everyone of these people that was still Appalachian. They still had mountain values. They still valued their family, their history and their tradition.

    As for giving Bill O'Reilly his due, I'm sorry, I can't do that. He is a slick, short-tempered and arrogant man who sees me and my people as degenerates. I owe him nothing but a hard time.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hillbilly stereotypes: picking up pine knots and going to war
    By Betty Cloer Wallace

    Bill O’Reilly’s recent contemptible rant against Appalachian Americans is only the latest example of the widespread and multigenerational problem of Appalachian hillbilly stereotypes. Quite simply, O’Reilly reminded the world once again that people of the Appalachian Mountains are still the only cultural group in America that many people have the audacity to ridicule publicly as being of low intelligence, and worse. 



    Can you imagine if O'Reilly had made the same despicable statements about ________ in _________, or ________ in ________, or _______ in ________. (Fill in the blanks with any racial or ethnic or cultural slurs you can imagine, the more insensitive the better.)

    How can we as a people ever overcome this pervasive hillbilly stereotype? Why do we continue to pull in our heads like turtles and pretend we don't care and that we will survive regardless of the outside world? Well, I do care—for myself, my family and friends, and my culture—and I don't believe that we are surviving very well or will survive in the future as a culture with a shred of honor and dignity if we do not rise up, en masse, and protest at every opportunity this kind of insensitive abuse.

    We continue to loll about in our insular Snuffy Smith, Lil Abner, Mammy Yokum, Jed Clampett, grits-and-possum stereotype as if the opinion of the rest of the world does not matter, even while we are being brutalized every time someone laughs at our dialect or accent, or asks WHERE are you from, or rejects us for a job, or does not publish our writing because how could an ignorant hillbilly possibly have something to say.

    A professor at the University of Colorado once said to our own Charles Frazier, "Imagine that! A hillbilly with a Ph.D.!" Even worse than the professor thinking such a misbegotten thought was that she felt entitled to publicly say it right to his face. Can you imagine her making that statement to a person of any other racial or ethnic or cultural group? "Imagine that! A ______ with a Ph.D.!"



    As much as I love COLD MOUNTAIN, both book and movie, I hated the "Young Mammy Yokum" portrayal of Ruby by Renee Zellweger who won an Academy Award for it. (Frazier’s Ruby in the book had a quiet strength and wisdom, as do most native Appalachian people.) As much as I love our bluegrass music, I hated the stereotypical portrayal of ignorance in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

    And, when I worked in the Alaskan Arctic, an Eskimo woman who had seen a "Songcatcher" DVD asked me why hillbillies don't fix up their houses. She thought the stage-set ramshackle buildings in that movie were really the kind in which we actually live—rather like us stereotyping Eskimos as living in ice-block igloos, the difference being that we are stereotyped as being too dumb or lazy to fix up our houses while Eskimos are stereotyped as being intelligent enough to survive in an extreme place. 



    In the age of global communication, this debilitating hillbilly stereotype is pervasive even internationally, and it affects us negatively on so many levels.

    For the past century, companies that have considered our region for placing new enterprises have looked for local "hands" to do their low-level jobs, while bringing in management and executives (the “brains”) from outside; and now no one even considers Appalachia as a place where management would want to bring their own families to live or where intelligent local people might be available for employment. 



    Further compounding the problem, too many of our local governments are now made up of second-tier pseudo-leaders who are interested primarily in promoting tourism; but who, we should ask ourselves, will own the new hotels and mountaintop second-homes and assorted eateries the appointed tourist boards and self-serving chambers of commerce say we need—and who will be paying increased taxes for infrastructure to support them, and cleaning their rooms and waiting their tables and manicuring their lawns?

    The local "hands," of course, are expected to do those low-level jobs. This servant mentality is deeply embedded in our history and culture and language, and all of us have perpetuated it simply by not rising up and fighting it. “He/she is a good hand to_____," we say.



    Zell Miller of Georgia is the only well-known person who has ever stood up publicly to try to end this crippling multigenerational Appalachian stereotype. He single-handedly created enough flak several years ago to prevent television producers from creating a Beverly Hillbillies Reality Show that would have placed an Appalachian family in a Beverly Hills mansion and ridiculed them for a year. Can you imagine if the producers had even suggested doing the same with a Beverly _____ Reality Show? (You fill in the blank with the most insensitive racial or ethnic or cultural slur you can think of.)

    The reality show producers even advertised in our local newspapers for an ignorant mountain family, all expenses paid. Can you imagine the justifiable outrage if they had placed such advertisements in the Atlanta or Birmingham or New York papers for an ignorant _____ family to send out to Beverly Hills and ridicule for a year.



    While some racial and ethnic and cultural groups recently tried to get a newspaper cartoonist fired, and rightfully so, for depicting the shooting of a "stimulus plan gorilla,” O'Reilly was shooting down the future of an entire culture by perpetuating a century-old stereotype in the most egregious and offensive manner—and we ought to be outraged. We ought to care, and care deeply, because the issue is infinitely larger and more far-reaching than simply our own personal irritation with O’Reilly.

    Actually, O'Reilly is small potatoes when one considers what we as a culture are up against. This negative stereotyping of our culture is becoming more focused and pronounced than ever before, simply because it has become politically incorrect to target other groups. Think of all the other minorities in this country who are discriminated against. Are any of them summarily and publicly declared to be ignorant and of low IQ? Can you name any other such group?

    Other minorities may be insidiously stereotyped and discriminated against for assorted other reasons, but they are not blatantly and openly ridiculed as ignorant. And now, O'Reilly has added "immoral" and "drug-addicted" to our litany of Appalachian stereotypes, as well as our being unworthy to live in our own mountain homeland. Our children should move to Miami, he says. Oh, my.

    Even "rednecks," who are everywhere and are a social class rather than a culture, are not dismissed as ignorant and inferior to other people because of intelligence. In fact, rednecks are often praised for their many independent and self-sufficient attributes, except for those rednecks who also happen to be classified as ignorant hillbillies in one-gallused overalls sleeping with their sisters and the farm animals.

    Fortunately some "outlanders" do "get it" and are embarrassed by the likes of O’Reilly, but the fact remains that no one outside of an abused group can truly "feel" it without having "felt" it. No one without minority physical characteristics or other personal differences can truly "feel" that discrimination. No one outside someone with a mountain accent (or any other accent or dialect outside the prevailing norm) can "feel" a job interviewer lose interest when you open your mouth to answer a question.

    O'Reilly is hate-filled, but he is not a fool. He has built an empire by spouting the poisonous hatred that millions of people want to hear. They do listen to him and are influenced by him. While he himself is not fully the issue, he is a flash point for bigotry and intolerance, and that is why he is dangerous.



    Yes, O’Reilly is a catalyst, but he is not the source of our problem. We are. We are to blame for not doing everything we can to root out such ignorant O’Reilly-type bigotry, to expose it for what it is, and then to replace it by honoring who we really are—by honoring our centuries-old heritage of persistence, perseverance, courage, loyalty, and love of freedom nourished for generations by our Scottish, English, Irish, German, Welsh, and Cherokee ancestors.

    Why can we not pick up our pine knots and go to war against this blatant, insidious destruction of our culture? It will not take care of itself, and no one else is going to do it for us. 



    For the past 125 years, especially during wars and periods of economic depression, people have come into our mountains to exploit us as easy targets as they irreversibly destroy our forests, scalp our mountaintops, pollute our rivers, turn our community schools into mega-institutions, raise our taxes, rape our land with roads and airports and cookie-cutter shopping malls, and ultimately pollute our DNA. 



    It becomes increasingly harder to identify real native mountaineers, and within a few more generations our real culture, like that of the Melungeons, may fade into oblivion long before the stereotypes disappear. Our centuries-old physical characteristics will be gone, along with our language, values, customs, ethics, and morals; and that is why it is important for writers and storytellers and videographers to work overtime now to record our rapidly vanishing culture, to record who we are.

    Children in the future may be asking, "Who exactly were the hillbillies? Where did they live? Where did they come from? Where did they go?" And their mothers will respond, “You must not say that ‘H’ word. It is politically incorrect.”

    Let us now pick up our pine knots and go to war—to save ourselves.

    ___________________

    Betty Cloer Wallace resides in Western North Carolina and is a direct descendant of Roderick Shelton, first English settler in Madison County, NC. She teaches writing and literature in a local community college.

    bettycloerwallace@runbox.com

    2/27/09

    ReplyDelete
  22. O'Reilly proves himself, as ever, an uninformed, misinformed, malinformed idiot who does no research whatsoever into his subjects and mouths off without eloquence or intelligence for the benefit only of his Ottoman-Empire-sized ego, and his wallet. Other than that, I have no problem at all with his comments. If, however, he really wanted to know what he was talking about on that particular subject, he might check out the many excellent publications, artists, scientists, professors and professionals, universities and colleges, museums and culturally special and unique shops of Appalachia. There are even a few websites that are also outstanding from the region and present those myriad and spectacular instances of inspiration and genius on-line too. Thank you for sharing this further evidence of ignorant insanity on the right with us. Or we'uns, as we sometimes say when lapsing lazily into the cozy warmth and familiarity of regional venacular. Blessings.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Now, that is a beautifully stated, balanced comment! I wish I could say things that conclusively, clearly and well. Thank you,
    Jeannette

    ReplyDelete
  24. Reading through some of these comments, I have to observe that Appalachians need to learn how to speak out and up for themselves more strongly and with a little more levity and wit too. They're great, in other words, and made my day despite everything else. Long live the hills. Especially these days.

    ReplyDelete
  25. wonderful work! the way you discuss the subject i'm very impressed. i'll bookmark this webpage and be back more often to see more updates from you.

    ayumi
    www.brfe.net

    ReplyDelete
  26. spot on with this write-up, i like the way you discuss the things. i'm impressed, i must say. i'll probably be back again to read more. thanks for sharing this with us.

    Lee Shin
    www.trendone.net

    ReplyDelete
  27. I like your post a lot! You should write some more on this!Great job coming with such terrific post!


    genra
    inspgift.com

    ReplyDelete
  28. i like the way to structured your blog and the discussion as well

    www.joeydavila.net

    ReplyDelete
  29. I love surfing and reading articles. Glad I found yours. You have an awesome blogs. I enjoy reading it. Keep posting.

    Benjie
    www.imarksweb.org

    ReplyDelete
  30. I really enjoyed reading your article. I found this as an informative and interesting post, so i think it is very useful and knowledgeable. I would like to thank you for the effort you have made in writing this article.


    edupdf.org

    ReplyDelete
  31. Every person has the passion in any aspects or things. If you love something and it came in front of you it completes your day and your mood turns into something you won't expected. I love your work and I want to read more about it. Visit my site if you have time . Thank you.

    triciajoy.com

    www.triciajoy.com

    ReplyDelete
  32. This is just the information I am finding everywhere. Thanks you. I just subscribe your blog.


    www.gofastek.com

    ReplyDelete
  33. Love it! Very interesting topics, I hope the incoming comments and suggestion are equally positive. Thank you for sharing this information that is actually helpful.


    ufgop.org
    ufgop.org

    ReplyDelete