Saturday, March 6, 2010

Anger, "Justified?"

Here we go again. As a native of Harlan, Kentucky, I am used to stereotypes. I run up against them all the time. As soon as someone knows where I was born and raised, they feel compelled to make remarks like: (looking down at my feet) "'re wearing shoes!" Or...(squinting as they pretend to take a closer look at my mouth) "You have all your teeth!" Or they ask me if I grew up with indoor plumbing. If my family tree actually forks. Do we have electricity? Phone service? Are my daddy and grandaddy and brother coalminers? I have even been asked if we have television in Harlan. Usually, I would make smart comments like, "Well, we only have ONE television in's down at the courthouse, and all of us go down there on Saturday nights to watch 'HeeHaw'." You would be surprised at how many people believed me.

If you have followed this blog for long, you will remember my anger over the Diane Sawyer piece, "Hidden America: Children of the Mountains." Oh, I was upset...and justifiably so! But now I have a new one to focus on...the latest in the long list of (inaccurate?) portrayals of my hometown.

FX will present a new series, Justified, beginning March 16th. My husband keeps saying, "Paula, watch the first episode before you get so upset." I do not need to watch the first episode to tell you how it is going to represent us. It has been done before. We know. It will make us all look like gun toting, barefoot (or boot wearing), uneducated, unethical, primitive-living, moonshine making hillbillies. I will be shocked if it is anything BUT that.

I did managed to calm down enough to watch the trailer and their video on the History of Harlan. What did I see within the first couple of seconds? A flannel-wearing man carrying a shotgun, running through the woods, looking behind him like he was running from someone. The only thing missing was his hound dog. Oh wait...they had that, too.


I was born in Harlan County to a middle class family. My father worked for the state, my mother owned her own business. My grandfather was president of a local wholesale company. My grandmother was a kindergarten teacher. All of us wore shoes. I was not allowed to use the word "ain't." If I spoke with a double negative in my sentences, I was corrected. I was educated. I grew up with a telephone AND a television in my house. I did not know any moonshiners.....well...that I knew of. My mother's father and grandfather were coal miners. Nothing to be ashamed of there! They were honest men who earned an honest living. That I know of, neither of them carried shotguns with them on a regular basis. Please.

I hope that this newest series set in Harlan does not portray the entire population with the same mentality that we are used to seeing when it comes to the media. I hope that someone did their homework and has enough intelligence to look at the place as a whole and tell your made up stories that do not portray the area as a wasteland when it comes to IQ's and morals. I am skeptical...again.

I believe the media thinks that telling the positive aspects of Harlan County won't bring them ratings. Perhaps the world would discover that our problems in Harlan are not very different from those in any other place in America. The myth would be exposed, and then who would the media have to exploit?! We cannot fight stereotypes in Eastern Kentucky with this kind of thing out there! This series is just one more nail in the coffin of my hometown...and one more slap in the face of the place and the people I love.

Come on, FX and Mr. Leonard....prove me wrong. I dare you.



Kim said...

OOOH, Paula, you know how I feel about that!!! I should watch it too, like your husband says, before I get myself all fired up and my bowels in an uproar...but the media is the public's worst enemy and the more we hear or see something over and over again, the weaker minds among us believe "sells" it, just like the more we see ruffled shower curtains and pillowcases (I have nothing against them; just came to me as an example) we think that is what we should have or want or should know.I feel everyone is so vulnerable now and I don't know why they are picking on this particular area. I hope I am wrong about what influences people's minds but I'm afraid I'm not. I will hold my judgement till I see the piece...then we will discuss this poison media if it is indeed poison.

Kim said...

Ok, I just watched the trailer and it looks like "anywhere" in the USA to me. The only thing that I noticed was the sheriff and marshall cars in abundance and alot of flannel. Wonder what Justified means>The law officials are Justified?
Most of our families, if people take time to do their genealogy as you and I have, will find out that our early relations started out in Virginia and moved on to Kentucky and then up to Ohio,Indiana and Illinois. It was either coalmining then or farming...that's what made the country grow...without those two occupations we wouldn't be here. On a lighter note, my relatives way out east think we in Indiana have American Indians around every corner. Any way the trailer looked like the counties in my state only more scenic. Will be interesting to see what damage they will do.

Kim said...

I looked up some more of it. Wow, amazing they can get a "series" out of a small town. Lots of imagination goin' into this one..I'm sure that real life a guy coming back home would have that many skeletons in his closet to work with. Again looks like anywhere in the USA to me. My,my my.

Karen said...

I can understand how infuriating this must be for you. It's the same thing as when I tell people I'm originally from New Jersey and they say, "Oh, Joisey?" It just disgusts me and I have to remind myself that it's their ignorance showing. I have relatives all over the state and not one of them pronounces New Jersey that way. It is one of the most beautiful states, 80% of which is rural, and has thousands of acres of wildlife preserves. When people show their ignorance in that way, I want to ask them if they've ever picked up a book or been to a library.

Monica said...

I've followed your blog for a while now, but I never commented. I had no idea you were from Harlan. I am too. Small world, huh?

I am waiting to watch the first episode before I make any judgements. I think I read somewhere that they filmed most of it in Somerset. I think they were downtown Harlan and in Cumberland for only one day.

It's sad that such a beautiful place gets stereotyped like Harlan does. It only takes a few people to make the whole place look bad.