I listened to the Elliot County boys’ basketball game last night. They won a tight one with too many whistles over East Carter, 73-68. Got T’d up near the end, which won’t fly in the Sweet 16 state tournament. If East Carter had hit their foul shots, etc etc.
The first this, an article by Pat Forde of Louisville, understands.
He understands basketball in my home state, and a school’s meaning to a small town, and prospects. He implies if not says how important it still is for someone from nowhere to have a chance to compete on level ground with someone from somewhere, which will happen if Elliot County faces off with Scott County. The latter has a Toyota plant, a college, some money. I used to live there and know some of the high school’s faculty rather well.
The former has the Frosty Freeze, which I don’t know. They did offer up the quote of the political year:
In October they played cards and talked politics.
“We got Bush put out and Obama put in,” declared Judy Pennington, wife of the proprietor.
When reminded that Sen. John McCain carried the state of Kentucky in 2008, Pennington shot back, “Didn’t carry the Frosty Freeze.”
I’ll root for them.
The second this, a link to some hillbilly comics of old with dumb jackass commentary from right now, I mention in passing because I read it a few days after Forde’s article. I saw it on Journalista, the blog of the magazine I write for, where Dirk rightly notes that the hillbilly is “the last socially acceptable ethnic stereotype.”
I’m not “mountain,” so my outrage would be fake. Saying “he’s mountain” just so can be a slur where I’m from, the hills just west and north of the mountains. And rural people happily poke fun at themselves with some of the same dumb stereotypes.
But they own it.
So when they tell the jokes, it’s actually funny.
The other link to my magazine is the best article on racial stereotypes I’ve ever read: R. Fiore, “The Misapprehension of the Coon Image,” in The Comics Journal #250 (Feb. 2003): pp. 99-103. In it, he outlays with absolute precision how “the suppression of racial caricature” serves as one of the “consolation prizes our society offers in lieu of actual racial equality.” When you hide all the minstrel shows and toys, you hide the fact that racists are normal people who never think twice of the nonsense they believe, and that a white American from Boston or New York in the early 20th century would have found these images not at all uncomfortable.
Hillbilly stuff you still don’t have to hide. NBC and CBS can legitimately plan a reality show ridiculing a poor rural family, and very few people blink.
Of course, the hillbilly image is not the coon image. And blacks are still not equal, poor whites are still poor. Centers of wealth and power want nothing to do with either, except to point out that Obama didn’t carry Appalachia.
Of all the art I’ve seen, my favorite art form is Our Town performed by high schoolers for an audience of their parents. So, two people, one as a high schooler, the other my parent.
One of my favorite students in the summer workshop I often taught was Luke. He hid behind longish hair and Volcom t-shirts and always said in his drawl that there wasn’t much to do in Elliott County.
So he and his friends did everything themselves. They made music and videos. Here was a whip-smart kid far, far more talented than my lazy self at his age. He played drums and guitar out of his mind and I hope he’s doing well in school. (Luke, drop me a line if you read this. Send me some music.)
One of my favorite parents in my life is my father. He played hoops in high school, around the same time as the “King” Kelly Coleman mentioned in the Forde article. Dad said, “He could hit from anywhere on the floor,” even drunk. (“Drunk,” not “dunk.”) Like poor tragic Ralph Beard, he was one of the all-time great players who ruined his own chances.
My father could shoot too, though he doesn’t drink. He held (still holds?) our high school’s scoring record, dropping 40 in a losing effort. Uncle Jim swears Dad wouldn’t pass. Dad coached my lousy shot in intramurals and took me to the Sweet Sixteen when I was a kid, where we saw Richie Farmer and some big center from Pulaski County named Billy Bob. Their local McDonald’s sponsored the team with t-shirts that read, “I want a Billy Bob Big Mac.”
Maybe if I’m lucky we’ll head back down this year and see Elliott County drop 120 on someone.