Thursday, April 9, 2009


[ross-spears-appalachia-poster1.jpg] This time, I am cautiously optimistic. It looks like all of the right people are on board, and when I surfed the information about how the series was created, I didn't see any bearded academics from West Virginia wearing deer-hunters suspenders and talking as though they lived in Rhodes Cove (where I live). I'm gonna be there (Thursday nights at 10:00) and we can meet back here on Friday morning and compare notes. The problem with Appalachia: the First and Last Frontier (four years ago) was the PBS version had very little to do with the book on which it was allegedly based.


  1. I hope they are showing it in other states besides Appalachia, my Mississippi station is not showing it ! DAMN !

  2. Carol, it is supposed to be a national programming. I definitely got the impression that this series was designed for a national market ... especially since much of the material is presented for the purpose of correcting misconceptions of Appalachia.
    Early in this segment, one of the commentators says that more incorrect information exists about Appalachia than any other region.

  3. After watching the first installment, I'll give it a mixed review. At least it is better than the Appalachian documentary series on PBS four years ago. That one was a real disappointment. I like Johnny Cash, but I couldn't figure out why his music was so front and center in that series.

    This was not a very slick production. In fact, I was surprised by how amateurish the production was. The soundtrack was jarring and distracting and the editing was rough. But that is easier to overlook if a good story is delivered. The filmmakers got close to that. If they had done a better job of framing their thesis, the stories might not have seemed quite so disjointed. I could see the unifying theme, but it probably went over most viewers' heads, but I suspect most people tuned out aftrer 15 minutes of tectonic plates. I suspect that a lot of folks were disappointed not to see a REAL mountaineer, like Popcorn Sutton, for instance.

    But that's part of the challenge of doing anything billed as "Appalachian"...the mass market demands comfortable stereotypes (positive AND negative, and both of which bore me to no end). One of the problems of producing an over-arching series on "Appalachia" is that in attempting to present the nuances, contradictions and ambiguities that are very much a part of the story, the end result becomes diffuse and scattered. Viewers want things in black and white terms. They want moonshiners and feuds and granny women and noble savages.

    Our neck of the woods was the "back of beyond" but it was also very much connected to the global economy (i.e. botanists and prospectors roaming these hills in the late 1700s and early 1800s). But that's more nuance than most people want to embrace.

    Watching the credits after last night's program, I wanted to know more about who funded this series and why. That would probably explain a lot.

    For what it is, so far, so good. I doubt that we'll ever see a "great" series on Appalachia, unless the focus and perspective is limited somehow.

    Three episodes to go, however, so there's still time to trot out the inbreeds and the outlaws and give the clamoring masses what they really expect from a series on the Appalachians.

  4. With considerable reluctance, I will have to conclude that Gulahiyi exactly summed up my reaction, although I'll have to trust his judgment on the soundtrack. It jarred me, too, but then I quite literally have a "tin ear" now. Gulahiyi caught me dead to rights since my eyes got unfocused during the "15 minutes of tectonic plates." I remain hopefully, though. The series can still redeem itself.
    It was nice to see familiar faces, many of which seemed to have acquired agents since I last saw them, and I found Mr. Chapman form UT Archeology Department more charming on film than he is in person. Maybe we have to get through all of that
    "billions of years ago" stuff before we can get to this region's heart.

  5. I would argue that the billions of years ago stuff IS at this region's heart and I applaud them for attempting to put human history in the context of natural history. That said, they missed the opportunity to establish this connection early on and to show WHY geology is relevant to the human story that has unfolded.
    Just one example - imagine what things would be like around here if the coal bed had extended this far south. I contend that golf course "communities" are a form of mountaintop removal, but don't quite rival the extent of the Appalachian ecocide underway just a couple of hundred miles north of here.
    I'm curious to see where they go from here.

  6. Gary, I contacted my PBs and was told it will be shown here on Monday nights at 9 p.m.
    It will start this coming Monday. At least I get to see it!

  7. Can't wait to see it. If they get it right, dare we invite Bill O'Reilly to watch it?

    Ben F. Eller

  8. Hello Gary! I'm come a-visiting. I wanted to watch that and dang it all I fell asleep on the couch! I think it had more to do with exhaustion than the programming, but I won't know unless it comes on again and I can watch it again!

    I was born in Charleston, WVA....

  9. Well, it is a four-parter and the second one will be on at 10:00 on Thursday night. I have a folklore class then, but I'll be home by 10:00, but last time, I had a hard time staying awake. I think is is going to get very interesting Thursday night.

  10. Gary, was segment #2 better than the first? I fell asleep again last night, even before it started. I need to retire again and get rested so I can stay up later. Those 8:00 AM classes are killing me this semester.

  11. Well, it did get better with the second installment, but it is still a bit heavy on "background data." I thought things livened up with the first white settlers and the subsequent conflicts. Glad to see Theda Perdue, Wilma Dikeman, Gurney Norman (that was a surprise!, Bo Taylor and Freeman Owle. I'm not accustomed to hearing Cherokees speaking with confidence and authority. Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years. I thought that the photography was heartbreakingly beautiful at times, and I enjoyed hearing the rhapsodies about the diversity or plant and animal life in this region.

  12. Well, in my opinion, they did get it right this time! The third installment was wonderful. The part that dealt with the destruction of the region's forests was outstanding. Equally impressive was the section on the demeaning portrait of mountain people by media, journalists,
    and "local color" writers. It was gratifying to finally hear the neglected truth.

  13. The final installment was fantastic! I didn't think is was possible to improve on the quality of the third episode, but they did! Everything was there - a beautiful eulogy to chestnut trees, a blistering evaluation of mountain top mining, Mother Jones, Thomas Wolfe, Ron Eller's experience with teachers who found his dialect offensive, the creation of the Smoky Mountain National Park (without mentioning Kephart) and the exploitation of Appalachia's natural resources (including people). I would like to see it again.