We watched this documentary last night, on purpose, because I knew I’d have a LOT to say about it. And I do. Here is the IMDB for hillbilly, which is currently on Hulu.
First, for those who don’t know, I am from Knoxville, TN. This small town is located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee. My mother’s side of the family have been there for several generations, my father’s side were from Northern South Carolina and Florida. My mother’s side were hillbillies, my father’s side were white trash. (Yup, there’s a difference.) I lived in E TN until I was about 23, when I came to Atlanta to attend The Art Institute for Music Business. I never returned to E TN. Thank the gods. For the record: I do not identify as E TN, I identify as an Atlantan.
This documentary is centered on KY, where the filmmaker’s family lives, so it’s a very small slice of representation, but I can confirm that the overall attitude is the same in the whole region. And that ACCENT. Oof. The Tennessee version is a bit twangier, but similar. I do not regret losing that mess one little bit. TERRIBLE.
There is a section where they are discussing “code switching”, which is changing the way you talk to certain people, and it was hysterical! This chick was illustrating how she “talked to academics” and she did not change a thing. She *thought* she was cleaning up that nasty accent, but it was 100% the same before and after she supposedly changed it. THIS is pretty much how a hillbilly thinks in a nutshell. They *think* they are “trying” to get above the ignorance, but they are not. They do the same things generation after generation and expect different outcomes.
I grew up in E TN, I can tell you FOR A FACT that the festering resentment for EVERYONE who is not from a hillbilly’s little 10 mile radius is 100% true. Anyone from outside the community is considered OTHER and suspect. My parents opened a steak house in St Joseph MO and my mother would SEETHE in rage when they’d point out her accent. I once asked her if she thought she didn’t HAVE an accent and she sputtered and didn’t answer me. Again, this is pretty normal in that region.
Nick is from Detroit and I have a fairly neutral accent. He got TONS of shit when he moved down here, being a Yankee and all. I still have people ask me where I’m from. In the doc, the hillbillies complained vociferously about being treated as “other” by the rest of the US, but I’m here to tell you that they are EXACTLY the same way. They harass anyone who is not EXACTLY like them with the same accents and the same prejudices. They are mean, rude and nasty to “outsiders”. They tolerate NOTHING.
The documentary is attempting to establish that the media portrayal of the Appalachian people is inaccurate and is partly to blame for the continuing ignorance and poverty in the region. Well, let me tell you something: they are not “portrayed” as dirt poor and ignorant, THEY ARE. The media hasn’t “portrayed” them as anything other than what they are: racist, homophobic, misogynistic, ignorant assholes who hate everyone, but expect the government and all of the US to be nice to them and take care of them. They also excoriate the people who get the fuck OUT and/or promote getting the fuck out of there.
This is a class of people who live in a state of cognitive dissonance. They hate everyone who is not them, they hate the government, they hate the notion that others have it better, YET, YET, YET, they expect everyone to be exceptionally nice to them, to honour their idiocy and to be taken care of by the very government they hate. They voted for T**** because of their deep ignorance of how the world works. They believe what they are told because they want to believe it. They don’t want to hear that what they believe is wrong, no matter WHAT the facts are. They voted for T**** because they are dazzled by people with money who are promising them that they’ll get their share. Regardless if it’s a lie or not. And once they’ve gone down a road, it’s FACT. These people are militantly ignorant. If what they believe doesn’t line up with reality, well, they just doggedly hold on to their beliefs rather than change. These are people who’ve lived in the same shack for eight generations. They are not going to change, because that goes against the grain of who they are. It doesn’t matter if getting away from that shack would be an enlightening experience. They consider it a betrayal of all that they are – which is 100% true. And why it is 100% necessary to break the chain of HILLBILLY culture.
I sent a tweet to the woman that did the film and told her this exact thing and that I have ZERO pity for any of them.
She clearly wanted this documentary to elicit guilt from non-hillbillies, the notion that everyone has gotten it all wrong and hillbillies are not the way they are.
She is wrong, hillbillies are EXACTLY the way everyone thinks they are.
She sits with her MAGAt family during the 2016 election and cowtows to them when the Cheeto won. She goes on to say that it doesn’t mean she can’t relate to the family. (She left at 18, became a progressive and has not looked back, I might add. And clearly does NOT relate to her family.) And her family was saying, oh, it’s OK, we love you anyway, even though we think you are stupid. Her Granny went on to say that she is sorry she didn’t burp her (filmmaker) better as a baby, because she (filmmaker) is clearly DUMB. This is what you get if you dare bust out of their asinine bubble.
This is EXACTLY what my family thinks of me and how I am treated when I visit – which is why I don’t visit. I am the stupid one, because I dared to leave and I dared to question the load of bullshit I was taught growing up. That is the core of all hillbilly thought processes: everyone else is SO DUMB. Why won’t they be like WE are? And THAT, my friends, is why they are still impoverished and ignorant. Because they WANT TO BE. My family are technophobes and refuse to use any tech other than cable TV and cell phones – but ONLY flip phones, because smart phones are for dummies. And computers are for dummies, too. My mother once said to me “You are such an idiot because you use computers. You are so stupid.” And she meant every word.
So, yes, I’ve been up close and personal with hillbilly culture. And I’m here to tell you that it will not change. And they’ll vote for T**** again, because they’ve decided that he’s doing a great job and he’s rich, so OF COURSE he’s qualified to run the country. There’s no changing them and there’s no talking to them. THEY WILL NOT LISTEN.
The woman that did this documentary meant well, I’m sure, but all she did was illustrate the intransigent nature of the Appalachian culture and point out that it’s there to stay. If you want out, you MUST leave the area. Period. And when you do, you will be “other” to them, family or not. I don’t think the filmmaker really understands that. I think she gives them far more leeway and far more credit than they deserve. And she needs to lose that nasty accent, too. There is no reason to sound like that. I am a lover of accents, but I think really strong ones are counterproductive. I can turn mine on and off as it suits me. Children should be taught in school with a neutral accent, IMO, so they can truly code switch and relate to ANYONE, not just the people of their small community. But that’s just me, I have much distaste for all things hillbilly and the accent is a trigger. If you don’t want to be seen as a hillbilly, then DON’T SOUND LIKE ONE. Duh.
I encourage everyone to watch this documentary, especially if you do NOT live in the South. It will open your eyes to the deep rooted bullshit that is Appalachia. And even those who DO live here, you might learn a bit about the region that you didn’t know before. Just know that the tone is overly conciliatory to the hillbillies and it really shouldn’t be. They deserve all the bad press they get. These people are VERY MUCH average people of Appalachia. Such as it is. Take it as a cautionary tale. ;)