Have at ’em.
And they do.
The “trash” folder on my computer is full of deleted files sent to me by folks who just know I need to see “the women of Wal-Mart” and similar stuff that the sender feels I can use in my Southern Culture class — which some of my less-complimentary colleagues refer to as “Bubba History.”
They are just jealous that I can teach a course that is so much fun.
The class is more about other things, but redneckery plays a part, mainly to get students to think about stereotypes and how they are used.
Jeff Foxworthy has made a career type-casting the redneck.
And the by-gum History Channel serves up Swamp People as its contribution to the dissemination of redneck culture.
CMT went the reality-show route with My Big Redneck Wedding, which it followed with My Big Redneck Vacation.
But CMT made a very important statement when it made it clear that rednecks were found in places other than the South.
The first season of My Big Redneck Wedding featured couples from Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, but more pairings were from outside Dixie. Granted, one set of newlyweds was from Borden, Ind., (which is almost in Kentucky) and another was from Hunker, Pa. (And you know what they say about Pennsylvania — Philadelphia on the east, Pittsburgh on the west, Alabama in between). But the point they were making, if there was a point to be made, is that rednecks are just about everywhere — except Yale, Harvard and places like that.
In the 1960s when I was first thinking of graduate school, I thought I might apply to one of those Ivy League institutions as a minority — a Southern liberal, as liberals were defined back then. But that was before the days of affirmative action and so I ended up, much to my daddy’s chagrin, at the University of Alabama, where I was still a minority, just not as small a one.
(I recall a professor who taught the history of the Civil War at the Capstone in the ’60s who began his first lecture with “The Civil War — it is over.” About half the class dropped the next day.)
But I was talking about rednecks.
Which, I have discovered, is a confused concept.
Jeff Foxworthy says the chief characteristic of a redneck is a “a glorious lack of sophistication.”
He avoids saying “Southerners with a glorious lack of sophistication” because he has fans in places like Borden, Ind., and he would not want them to think they ain’t.
Actually, they pretty much are — or at least the two who were my fraternity brothers (basketball scholarships; they think that is a sport up there) and the mother-daughter duo who showed up at the Dew-Drop Inn out by the Stock Yard in Louisville and danced with historians who were there for a convention.
Good taste requires that the less said about that evening, the better.
Good taste (and my editor) also prevents me from making another point.
It seems, to me, here, on this topic, that people tend to confuse “redneck” with “good-old boy,” which is unfortunate, for the two are not the same.
For the clarification I cannot print, I refer you to the too-often ignored classic Southern Ladies and Gentlemen by Florence King, and especially to the chapter “The Good Old Boy and Sex.” Were it not for that chapter I would use the book in my Southern Culture class, but the chapter is there and I am too much the Victorian to be able to discuss its contents publicly, even with students who know more of the subject than I do.
So I will turn instead to the distinction drawn by the late Billy Carter, who may have been the smartest of Mrs. Carter’s boys.
Once again my memory ain’t what it used to be, but I recall back in the ’70s when being a Carter could get you a late-night talk show, Billy found himself on someone’s and that someone asked Billy what was the difference between a redneck and a good-old boy.
Billy answered with an example.
“A redneck rides down the road in his truck, drinking a beer. When he finishes, he throws the can out the window.”
“A good-old boy rides down the road in his truck, drinking a beer. When he finishes, he puts the can in a litter bag.”
Can’t get any clearer than that.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.