April 25th, 2019
“Southern man, better keep your head
Don’t forget what your good book said
Southern change gonna come at last
Now your crosses are burning fast
From “Southern Man” by Neil Young
“Well I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”
From “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
“You’re just a damn Yankee!”, true words spoken to me by Delphia Wallace.
I hate Branson. I’ve never actually been to Branson, Missouri, but I loathe the place just from reading the billboards that line Highway 65. They are disturbing. There are signs advertising something called the “Presley Country Jubilee”, which to me simply point out the dangers of inbreeding. Then there is the sign for the Dolly Parton “Stampede”. That appears to have something to do with music, fine dining, horses, and huge American flags. I don’t quite understand the message. For the denizens of the Bible Belt, there is a show titled “Samson”, with amazing special effects. Finally, there are ads for two tribute shows: “Six Million Dollar Quartet” and “Legends”. I guess that these are shows honoring musicians that have been dead long enough to now be considered wholesome entertainment. They might want to rethink the Michael Jackson tribute.
In short, the billboards highlight the worst of the stereotypes concerning southerners. The operative word here is “stereotypes”, because Southern Man isn’t really like that.
I have a bit of spent time in the South. I was sent to Alabama three times by the U.S. Army. I have made trips to visit family in Texas nearly every year for the last three decades. I’m starting get a feel for the place.
I should point out that there is no such thing as “The South”. It is not a monolithic cultural region. The laid back streets of New Orleans have little to do with the tightly-wound Baptist towns in Mississippi. Florida is much more diverse and urban than Arkansas. Texas is its own little empire.
Over the years, I have met many people in the South. They have been unfailingly polite and courteous. That’s not a bad thing. They put great emphasis on family and church. That isn’t bad either. It is true that we often have different goals and values, but the southerners are not bad folks, and they are definitely not stupid.
It is said sometimes that southerners are prejudiced. That’s true. So, are damn Yankees, like myself. I have seen a number of Confederate flags during my travels in the South. The owners of those flags can make the argument that those nasty pieces of cloth reflect their history and cultural heritage. Yeah, maybe. However, I have also seen rebel flags flapping in the breeze in upstate New York and in Wisconsin. How do those people justify flying them?
I like the South. I like the forests and the farms and the rivers. I like the barbecue and the moonshine and the jambalaya. I like the slower pace. I like the people.