16 May 2012

34 Years; And Why People Who Misrepresent Mother West Virginia Oughta Be Flogged


On 16 May 1978, only 34 years ago today, I opened my law office.

Snarl, Grumble, Growl:

Maybe a picture is worth 1000 words. Does that mean that pictures can mislead all the quicker?

When I need a little mind candy, I look at the cutesy little news items on AOL News, CNN, or someplace like that there.

Last week, there was a photo essay on one of the sites with the title Appalachia: Regression to the Mean.

I guess that’s a catchy title. But what the hell does it mean?  I’m not such an intellectual guy, but I do confess it looks pretty good. “Regression” denotes something pretty bad coming and “mean” may denote the arithmetic mean (which I doubt they intend) or mean as in low class or maybe even mean as in nasty.
That’s the thing about words and phrases subject of multiple meanings which are presented in an obscure manner – the writer can always claim that the reader is a nitwit who was incapable of understanding that point which dwells on some higher-level of human thought.

A number of photos were presented representing scenes from Appalachia. For my friends across the great waters, the Appalachians are the hills and mountains in the eastern United States. They run north to south from New York to Georgia, and West Virginia is the only state completely within that region. Generally, economic development in Appalachia has lagged behind that of other areas of the nation. I believe the reasons for that include the predominance of natural resources industries and transportation/access remoteness.

The photo essay did not say “This is typical Appalachia.” It did not, however, include lots of things you typically see in Appalachia. Absent a title like “Some of the unpleasant stuff you might see in Appalachia,” I think it is a fair conclusion that the photographer/preparer means to imply that these scenes are somewhat typical.

The scenes include:
  • A kid swinging on a rope at a swimming hole in a river or creek.
  • Women surrounding and touching another woman in an apparent “laying hands” presentation.
  • A “Jesus is the Answer” sign.
  • A coal miner in work clothes covered with grime and coal dust.
  • Kids playing outside a house on a swing set.
  • Two women standing clothed in a creek, apparently about to do a baptism.
  • A hog sale pen.
  • A Klan cross burning.
  • A snake handling preacher.
If you choose to accept that as Appalachia, I can’t stop you.  You can fix ignorant, but you can’t fix stupid.

The presence of the snake handler and the Klan cross suggest a negative theme.  I don’t see some of the things on the list as negative. 

The kid at the swimming hole?   Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.  The most enjoyable swimming I’ve done has been in the Monongahela River, and I remember one of those REAL LONG rope swings from when I was in high school.

The coal miner?  The guy is coming off a shift.  He’s dirty.  How the hell should a coal miner look after a shift?  Do you like things such as electricity to run your microwave?  Somebody has to get dirty to mine the fuel to turn into the electricity. 

The hog sale pen?  Did you think the bacon you ate this morning came from swine who committed suicide?

The mild religious stuff - The laying of hands, sign and apparent baptism.  It’s kinda sad that some people think these are yokel activities.  Hands & hugs is not a “magic” thing, it’s a support thing.  If people believe that it brings healing, who knows, maybe it does.  Surely it doesn’t harm the patient.  The sign?  Pretty mild as advertising goes.  And the baptism?  OK, that is pretty rural.  I don’t go for baptismal fonts.  Where you have natural water and decent weather, it seems far more meaningful TO ME to do it outside. But if you don’t like baptism, don’t get baptised.  Go to Vegas that Sunday.

The snakes and the burning crosses are just pernicious nonsense.  Why do we require a straw man to make a point?  Klan activity in West Virginia and Appalachia generally is near zero.   Is one Klansman too many?  OK, sure.  But if the choice is chasing down the last 10 Klansmen or the next 100 dealers, I know how I’ll vote.

And finally, the snake handling.  There are perhaps as many as 100 snake handling churches in North America.  Invariably, they are very small congregations.  (My theory:  Get more than a dozen people together and somebody is going to pipe up, “Hey, this is really stupid.”)

OK, I’m bitching about the negative portrayals of my home.  We already have enough challenges without the aid of brown-tinted lenses.

1 comment:

Jim N said...

Sadly, West Virginia's image problems have persisted all the years I can remember (I'm 70). Attending national and regional conferences since high school days, there have always been announcements during plenary sessions reminding the WV delegation that shoes were required in public places, and other stereotypical jabs at our culture. Sometimes we WV natives, when attending such conferences, do so with an inferiority complex, as if we believed the bad press. But after a short time in such settings, we realize that we have just as much if not more to offer than even we imagined. Even others from other states seem to notice the gathering of skill and care within WV delegations. That is, the others except for the dolts, which are not confined to West Virginia.

Perhaps the bad press dates all the way back to the time we achieved statehood, despite the umbrage felt by the First Family Virginians. Ever spend time with a hoity-toity First Family Virginian? Ugh!

No doubt, sometimes we have been our own worst enemy, the most recent debacle being a 40% vote in the most recent WV primary in favor of a prison inmate in Texas for President. Do we really need to add more fuel to the fires of misperception?

Whenever out-of-state friends visit us, they, without fail, express amazement at the contrast between what they've heard and the wild, wonderful beauty, culture and varieties of life style in these hills.

Sure we have our problems, but every time I read or watch the news, that seems to be the reality everywhere. It just may be, and I prefer to think it is, that we are genuinely working at achieving effective solutions to our difficulties. Do you suppose that's true, say, of other regions, or… Congress?