Friday, April 24, 2009

Thinking Small; or, My Kind of Place

This is going to be kind of stream of consciousness thing, but I just had to post. As I type, I'm sitting on a bench outside the Union County Courthouse in New Albany, just before sunset. Just soaking in the small town atmosphere, something that can get lost even in a place like Tupelo (a Certified Retirement Community, yawn). This places is pretty much dead, except for a few cars coming through, a sparsely populated coffee shop, and the Fred's (which is where I walked to get the Mountain Dew I'm now drinking). A soft breeze is cooling me.

Shoot, if this soda bottle were glass, I might feel like I was back in the '50s or something. And if I wasn't getting wi-fi on a MacBook.

Small towns tend to get a bad name, even from those who live there. They can't wait to leave, and they talk about people getting "sucked" back into it when they try to. Always something bigger and better out there, I suppose. Having been around a few years – 33 is enough for me to have a well-informed opinion on this – I might have to disagree on that one. Maybe it's because small towns fit my personality – they're quiet, laid-back, and don't seek attention, but they're dang proud of what they are and what they stand for.

I'm staring at a war memorial, the inscription of which reads, "In memory of those who gave their lives to safeguard the principles of justice, freedom and democracy." And listed on both sides are the names of those who left this little town behind and died on some foreign battlefield, from World Wars I & II to Korea to Vietnam. I'm sure big cities have such memorials, but except for The Wall, who pays them much attention? Can't help but notice this one, which reminds folks of the past, one of many things that distinguishes small towns from big cities. Another is the intimacy of the place – I didn't see many people waving at each other in downtown New York when I was there last summer.

Big cities and towns are fine, and necessary. I've got nothing against them or against those who live there and like living there. But I'll take this right here any day: An evening whose silence is broken only by the small sounds of a small town and the whispers of its past.

Today's Redneck Thought: "Everybody dies famous in a small town." – Miranda Lambert

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Accent on Intellect; or, I Ain't Dumb

Jeff Foxworthy has this bit in one of his old routines where he laments how the Southern accent doesn't jive with, say, brain surgery. "I used to say that whenever people heard my Southern accent, they always wanted to deduct 100 IQ points," he said. Indeed, Jeff, indeed.

The Southern accent apparently makes a person sound uneducated and/or dumb. It's a persistent stereotype, and it's part of the reason, I'm sure, that modern-day radio and TV announcers tend to have cookie-cutter voices that make you wonder if they're from anywhere at all. It ticks me off. (And how scary is this story?)

We've got our share of dim bulbs, but the South has produced some pretty sharp folks. I could produce a long, mind-numbing list, but I won't. Instead, I'll provide a handful of quotes – courtesy – that illustrate just how insightful and intellectual we can be. To wit:

• "A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday does not know where it is today." – Robert E. Lee

• "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." – Mark Twain

• "People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for." – Harper Lee

• "There is as much dignity in plowing a field as in writing a poem." – Booker T. Washington

And in a moment of self-indulgence, I'll offer a couple of my own sayings, which I'm sure is just a rephrasing of others' wisdom (they always enter my brain after I've observed something):

• "A measured risk isn't much of a risk at all."

• "You can never see the devil coming when you're walking in the dark."

I think part of the problem is that SoutherneFont sizers are dang funny. We mistakenly tend to separate sense of humor and intelligence – the unsmiling Ivy League professor vs. the goofy-grinning, overall-wearing redneck. But the two can co-exist. In fact, the best humor is informed by a sharp mind and observant eye. Foxworthy's a perfect example, as is the late great Lewis Grizzard. The thing is, the Southern accent lends itself to slow talking, which a fast-talking Yankee will equate with a slow mind. Couldn't be less true. Doris Betts put it perfectly: "If you are going to be underestimated by people who speak more rapidly, the temptation is to speak slowly and strategically and outwit them."

So to Hollywood, ignorant Yankees and anyone else this pertains to: Stop making every dumb character in movies and TV shows have a (bad) Southern drawl. Stop calling us "stupid rednecks/hillbillies" whenever you don't agree with our political or social views. Stop mocking country music without first trying to understand its subtle complexity and its tangled roots.

Because chances are, we're smarter than you.

Today's Redneck Thought: "The fear of God makes heroes, the fear of man makes cowards." – Sgt. Alvin C. York, a very smart Tennessean

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What's In a Word Up? or, The (Grammatical) Wackness

Being a Grammar Nazi, I'm highly critical of people abusing and manipulating the English language, or just being ignorant of the basics. Peepel who right leik this realy anoy me espeshully when they dont puncuate properly. What differance does it make? A lot, because one's command of the English language reflects on their intelligence.

However, I feel there is an equal but less disparaged linguistic offense being perpetrated: White people using urban slang. It's pretty wack, yo. Sometimes it can be funny, but usually, it just makes you cringe (this examines the difference). Like the time this elderly lady on a local department store's informercial said, "And just look all this bling-bling." Who let that woman watch "Yo! MTV Raps"?

That's what we white folks do, though. In our pathetically desperate attempts to be crunk – augmented, no doubt, by some lingering racial guilt – we hijack all urban terminology that we think will somehow disguise our intrinsic dorkiness. Oh, how often we go way too far. Fo shizzle, homeskillet, we honkies can be off the hook (or is that a good thing?). Not only do we hijack the words, we run them into the ground and keep using them years after their crunk rating has diminished (has crunk's crunk rating diminished yet?). This is similar to what we do with certain types of music once popular among black people.

I'm all for cultural understanding, but we can appreciate the creative lexicon of others without, you know, using it. Some of us – TobyMac, Eminem, Weird Al – can pull it off. I choose to embrace my white awkardness, because that's who I am. Just keepin' it real, yo.

Today's Redneck Thought: "Word to your mother." Translated: "How's your mom 'n them?"