Wednesday, August 18, 2010

You Don't Know Me

Someone put a note up on Facebook about how a writer who used to live in Birmingham wrote a story for the New Yorker, and it mentioned Birmingham. I jumped at the chance to see my home city in fiction, rushed to the website and read a story about a kid who lived briefly in the Magic City and went to school with the "hicks" and all his schoolmates cared about his language or his culture was to learn curse words.

Now, fiction is fiction and impressions are impressions. First and foremost, I understand that everyone has their own perspective, and how they reflect that in art is their business. But my beef is this: Why does everyone, and I mean EVERYONE have to say exactly the same thing about Alabama? Anyone from outside the region, heck, even outside the state, seems to think that it's ok to have broad, sweeping generalizations and low expectations for the people they meet and things to do in the Heart of Dixie. Even people who live here feel they are not worthy, go about with their heads hung low and refer to themselves and others as "country" or "redneck." I am so sick of it I could scream. Reading this story and seeing one more instance where we Alabamians are skewered once again for being uneducated, uncultured, and xenophobic really makes me want to run outside and beat somebody up who feels this way. (See? I am proving stereotypes!)

Where are the people who write about this city and state with grace, with knowledge of the sweet and educated people who are from here? Who can mention that someone drives a truck without inferring that they are an idiot? Who can write fiction that tells the story of the real folks who inhabit this beautiful place? I walk down the street here each day and I'm surprised by the genuine, creative souls I come in contact with. None of them are bigots. None of them are crazy Southern politicians or rednecks chewing fat wads of tobacco. I am not being articulate right now because it's really gotten me amped up to read that story and be so let down and I'm afraid I'm not expressing myself well.

If people do write glowingly of the South, it is in cliches and out-of-fashion ideas. I challenge anyone to find a story or novel or article about this area that revels in the beauty of it without using one of the following cliches:
  • Humidity
  • Football
  • Sweet tea
  • Bless your heart
  • Church
  • Fried foods
  • African-American accents that sound like Butterfly McQueen
  • Endearments like, "Sugar" or "Darlin'" or "Honey"
  • Quilting
  • The Civil War (And please, if you dare refer to it as the "War of Northern Aggression" I will aggress all over you)
  • Hating "Yankees"
  • Magnolias
I just want the real deal. I've always fancied myself the person who would rise out of this insane, heaped-upon us stereotype that insists on persisting and tell the true story of the New South. I haven't yet, but beware, if I do, I will let those who have damaged the reputation of my fair land have it in the process. Not because you dare speak ill of my homeland, but because you're the one who is ignorant and you didn't do your research.

Please, any writers out there, take my challenge. Write me some fiction and poetry about the South, and make it new. Make it wonderful. And for goodness sakes - make it in the Twenty-First Century and never, never refer to Gone With the Wind. Or I will come after you.


Char said...

i wish i had writing within me besides my musings - or maybe it's that i don't have a story in me. sometimes i think i want to write about how i lived through the end of the civil rights era being sheltered from what all was really happening. and despite being new south, i really do like sweet tea and magnolias. i do hate that we are all cast as stereotypes and that i do hate that we seem to allow that as it's easier to accept it than fight it. i really hate that people outside of the south automatically deduct 10 (or more) IQ points as soon as i open my moth.

Char said...

mouth ... even

Tennessee Budd said...

So the Yankee invasion shouldn't be called that? We're to just pretend those scum didn't come down here & destroy our country?
Thanks, but I'll remember. My ancestors bled for this country.

Scott said...

Is this list final? Or can we add "BBQ" and "James Spann"?

Cabbage Babble said...

Char - It's not that I don't like sweet tea and magnolias. I love them. What I'm talking about is the fiction that exists about the South and all people can talk about in it are things like sweet tea, magnolias, and the like. I wish we could expand what people think about the South beyond stereotypes.

Scott - Yes. Although, I didn't know James Spann was well-known outside of the South!

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