The South as a fixture

When my mom and her family moved down here from Illinois back in the 70s, concerned relatives called and wrote asking if they needed any necessities. Is there electricity? Plumbing? Do you need us to bring you down some meat? The Depression Era South was an image still fixated in the minds of those who had never been here, including filmmakers. It was, after all, the 70s when the long chain of horror movies set in the South began, relying on ableist caricatures of Southern ‘inbreds’ to create suspense and fear.

It’s not the 70s anymore, and I think it’s fairly obvious to most everyone that we have things like electricity and meat down here, but talk about the South to anyone who’s not from here and it isn’t long until they refer to it as a backwards region that needs a Sherman’s March 2.0 to get us back into shape—despite the fact that it was things like Sherman’s March that planted us so firmly into the realm of stagnation and poverty. There’s a good portion of people who view the South as some sort of frozen fixture on the US, a weird parasite to roll our eyes at and blame for the failings of a bipartisan government.

Take the government shutdown, for example. It didn’t take long for fingers to be pointed at Southern republicans, for the region to be considered a neo-confederate haven that simply can’t catch up to the rest of the Union. I suppose it’s easy to paint any region with a broad brush, but I feel like the South is dripping with paint at this point, despite knowing plenty of people who go above and beyond in subverting the image of an overly conservative South.

I feel like it’s far too common for people to see the entire region as a single entity while ignoring the progression and changes on a state-wide, city-wide, and especially individual scale. The South serves as a sort of strawman, a ‘how not to’ for anything you could name, and while it’s definitely justified in some cases (I don’t blame anyone for being wary about race relations within the South, after all), I think it’s way too easy to take generalisations and practically cement them to the region you’re discussing. It’s gotten to the point where I look around and see changes, but no one else seems to. They refuse to.

People everywhere rely on generalisations to form opinions. After all, it’s impossible to form separate images of millions of people and use that to create an actual average. However, I also believe that this view of the South is hindering its growth; the more this is pushed on us, the more we accept it, and the more the South loses for it. Famous people are ‘from’ here, they don’t live here. Kids grow up being told that if they want to make it, they need to look elsewhere. There are plenty of economic reasons for this as well, but I think, in part at least, this image of a stagnant, unglamourous South is definitely to blame.

The Power of Music in the South

If there’s one way to bring people together in the South, it’s through music. Groups of people here may be worlds apart, but as soon as music is involved, it seems like differences are set aside in favour of appreciating art. Religion may be big in the South too, but it’d divisive in many areas, especially cities where many different faiths share the same streets. Music is different.

In the clip of Deliverance (a favourite movie of mine) that we watched, two worlds collided in a way that left much to be desired. Both parties were passive aggressive, with Appalachians being difficult and unhelpful, and the Atlanta bougies looking down on the display of rural life. Whatever enmity was shown, though, dissolved temporarily through music, when Drew played a duet with one of the local boys. For a few minutes, differences were set aside in favour of creating impromptu art. They had themselves a jam session despite previously glaring at each other! And not but 3 seconds after finishing, the boy refused to shake Drew’s hand. That may seem like a loss in my argument that music brings people together, but consider this: there was no magic understanding. They were still, essentially, ‘enemies.’ But they still played together and smiled throughout, despite having almost nothing in common. I think that’s actually a lot more powerful than some sort of magic understanding coming between them. Music brings people who loathe each other together even for a few minutes.

This is displayed in Hustle & Flow as well. Despite being friends in school, it’s pretty obvious that DJay and Key are now on separate social planes, and there’s definitely a tension between them because of this. Outside of the music production proper, they had arguments about how to go about recording and about showing respect, but once they got really working, it was easy to see that music got them working together almost flawlessly. Not only were different classes and races working together, but in a culture that seeks to keep the gender line very clear and divided, women and men were working together equally as well. This is hardly a new phenomenon, either; as was mentioned in the class lecture, this scene was meant to embody the jam sessions that took place decades earlier.

And I don’t think it’s just coincidence that these two scenes from two very different movies are incredibly similar. After all, conflict still plays a major role in DJay and Key’s relationship well into their recording sessions. I think it’s just a bit of a tradition we have. The years before my father passed away, he and I were like mixing oil and water, and it only got worse and worse as time went on, to the point where I was actively avoiding him whenever I could. Despite this, as soon as a new CD came out for a band we liked, you can bet we were listening to it together on the drive to my middle school without a hint of conflict. Music was one of the few things we still enjoyed together, despite the hostility that surrounded every other aspect of our relationship.

So I think that’s what it comes down to. In a region where conflict is omnipresent (despite our kindly smiles and ‘bless your heart’s, of course), music is kind of like a BC powder packet: temporary alleviation from something that will always be there. People say that humans are all equal under God, but I’ve seen enough to know that that’s not the case in practice. It takes something closer to home to bring people together, and I think, especially in the South, music is what’ll do it.