11 July 2010

The Dominance of Southern Culture

"The south has produced the world's best literature. It dominates world culture. Southern culture is the most powerful and expressive in the world." ~ Timothy Tyson


"The American South is a geographical entity, a historical fact, a place in the imagination, and the homeland of an array of Americans who consider themselves southerners. The region is often shrouded in romance and myth, but its realities are as intriguing, as intricate, as its legends." ~ The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture

"The South is cultivated in collards and covered in kudzu . . . Many of us are descended from Scottish settlers and African slaves--and we usually find that we have more in common with each other than with Northern urbanites." ~ Clint Johnson

"The Southern Mind loathes abstractions . . . particularly harmful abstractions which go against the family, the organic community, ancestral customs, and religious faith." ~ Alphonse Vinh

There will no doubt be howls of disagreement from those who are obsessed with mocking and impugning Southerners--holding in special derision those Southerners who hold to a more traditional view of culture and history or who are involved in WBTS "heritage history" or "celebratory history."

Others will likely agree, but fear saying so publicly as they are apparently dealing with some burden of guilt and having to constantly explain and excuse being Southern. Reading their blog posts, essays, editorials, discussion board comments, and other commentary often remind me of what a Priest might hear in a confessional or what a psychiatrist might hear from someone on the couch. These folks seem to be conflicted: in one breath proudly proclaiming and reminding readers of their "Southernness" - ("Me too! Me too!" - and then apologizing for it with the very next breath. Some writers offer their remorse over past celebrations of Confederate history and appear to be involved in some type of self-flogging to atone for their formerly held sinful views regarding the WBTS and the South. They are a rather curious bunch in my view. I can only conclude that these individuals are overly concerned what others might think of them. Frankly, I could not care less what others think. I tend to resist the pull and tug of popular culture and trendy, faddish notions of history - both instinctively and consciously.

I often hear the question asked why so many in the South focus on the WBTS heritage aspect of Southern culture and history? After all, it was only four years. (I have to wonder why so many Northerners do the same.) Well, why not? Why do others focus on mocking every WBTS heritage event they can, making fun of the art, the reenactors, and those who attend such events?

At the same time, the mockers and the guilt-ridden proclaim to the world that there are "other" aspects of Southern heritage, acting as if they've stumbled onto some new, formerly unknown nugget of truth and revelation that will shock the world. Please, give it a rest. The sun did not rise in your eyes. Others have long seen, and are more than aware, what you assume that you're the only one seeing.

Of course, this sophomoric level of condescension toward the South is not confined to the blogosphere and internet discussion boards. It's standard fair in The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS, the networks, and all the other usual, predictable statist media outlets. It's a fact Southerners have endured for generations - to one degree or another. Then there are those individuals among us who have fled the rotting, insane, high-tax, high-crime areas of the Northeast, seeking refuge in the South. But as soon as they arrive, they begin their incessant whining and complaining against the culture and the way of life here calling on "the government" to enact laws and policies that will result in the same kind of insanity from which they just fled. I've heard some of these folks complain about the "lack of services" in rural areas of the South, or about the "smell of farms." So if things were so great where you were, why did you leave? Are these folks not cognizant of the fact that there are trade-offs?

Yet, Southern Culture dominates the American landscape. There is ample evidence of this fact. Google presents us with some of that evidence. I recently did some "comparative" searches. Here are the hit results:

Southern Culture: 441,000

Northern culture: 25,900

Southern Cooking: 352,000

Northern Cooking: 18,100

Southern Hospitality: 867,000

Northern Hospitality: 25,000

Southern Style: 1,600,000

Northern Style: 93,100

Southern Accent: 437,000

Northern Accent: 42,000

Southern United States: 1,250,000

Northern United States: 431,000

Robert E. Lee: 1,660,000

Ulysses S. Grant: 794,000

Obviously, this is not scientific and these search results contain sites outside of the topic, and the links are no doubt both positive and negative but, nonetheless, it is undeniably indicative of my overall point . . . the dominance of Southern culture. Consider also:

There is a Y'all Magazine, there is no You Gi-eeez Magazine.

There is a Southern Living Magazine. There is no Northern Living Magazine.

We have Southern Gospel music. We do not have Northern Gospel music.

There is Southern Appalachia, but nothing known as Northern Appalachia.

We have Southern Fried chicken, no Northern Fried chicken.

There are Southern manners, no Northern manners.

We have the Center for the Study of Southern Culture (Ole Miss), but no corresponding Center for Northern Culture.

We have the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (UNC Press), but no Encyclopedia of Northern Culture.

We have the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation, but no Northern Cultural Heritage Foundation.

We have a large university Documenting the American South, but none that I know of which documents the American North.

We have Southern belles, but no Northern belles. (And who wouldn't rather listen to a woman from Alabama with a soft Southern drawl talk to you over the phone vs. the nasal twang of a young lady from New Joisey?)

Membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans numbers around 33,000. If all past living members were included, it would be over 100,000.

Membership in the Sons of Union Veterans is around 3500, 1/10 of the SCV, despite the fact that approximately 2.1 million men served in the Union Army while only about 800,000 Confederates served. Why such a vast disparity in SCV and SUV membership numbers? Especially when the SCV is constantly bashed by many academic historians? (This is a question that really has me puzzled. I'm sure someone must have studied this and written about it before?)

The same type of disparity exists with the women's WBTS heritage groups. Why? Also, as I've pointed out before, pay attention to the full page/color ads in most Civil War related magazines. The vast majority of them cater to purchasers of Confederate Heritage art and history - ostensibly, "Lost Cause" sympathizers.

Does this reflect favoring the underdog? Is it a fascination with the bad boy of American culture, the Rebel? Or is it that Southern culture - all of it - is simply richer than any other region in the United States? To wit:

The South has given us Jazz, Rock n Roll, The Blues, R & B, Country Music, Gospel Music, Bluegrass Music, Nascar, Cajun Food, Chitlins, Hushpuppies, Fried Catfish, Barbecue, Sweet Tea, Grits, Texas Pete, Soul Food, Smithfield Hams, Moon Pies, Corn-dogs, Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi-Cola, RC Cola, Mountain Dew, Mayberry, Dixie, the Nation's Capital (God forgive us), and literally hundreds of other prominent cultural contributions that are almost innumerable.

The South dominates much of American history and culture. Why? How did this happen? And is this cultural dominance by the South (that many elites and academics look upon with such disdain) the very reason it is so often mocked and impugned? 

Your thoughts?


msimons said...

Amen and Amen again Bro Williams!

Let the Leftist, Liberal and Yankee read your post and think about it a while.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I love yankees. My Williams side hails from New England and I have 2 yankee son in laws. Of course, they came South to find good wives. ;o)

Rebel Raider said...

"The South dominates much of American history and culture. Why? How did this happen? And is this cultural dominance by the South (that many elites and academics look upon with such disdain) the very reason it is so often mocked and impugned?"

The simple answer is (I believe) that the South still has a culture upon which to draw upon. The elites which are comprised mainly of Northerners care far more about political abstractions and ideology than that of culture. This is not in any way intended to detract from the many contributions that the latest wave of yankees have brought to my region such as: gated communities,mandatory recycling, and more strip malls.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

We have a gated community in my county. But there's a difference. The gates were built to keep folks in, not keep folks out. ;O)

Chaps said...

We all know yankees who moan and complain about how much better things were up north but you couldn't get them to go back there at gunpoint!

Michael Bradley said...

The appeal of Southern culture is well seen in the song "Dixie." The narrator of the piece says "I wish I was in the land of cotton." That narrator is, in Dan Emmits original, a black man. Life in the North is not as good as anticipated and the narrator wants to go back "down South."

Of course, all Southern people understand this but few yankees do. They are frustrated by what they cannot fathom and so they dispaarage it.

Stephen Clay McGehee said...

I don't know that I have ever seen the case laid out so clearly and concisely as you have done here. Southern culture has, for so long, been equated with a single-wide with an old washing machine and a junked pickup on blocks out front. Thank you for putting numbers together and laying it all out in a logical order.

Stephen Clay McGehee
Confederate Colonel

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you Stephen, but others have done a much more thorough job than I have.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Michael. Enjoyed your recent piece in Blue/Gray.


pedrog said...

I think part of the problem is that there is so much to the North. Are you saying New England, the old Northwest (the Mid-West), or the Mid-Atlantic? The South is a bit smaller and maybe a bit easier to get a grasp of. One might say that there is a separate culture in each of these three sub-regions.

However, the South has so many disparate parts to it, the Piedmont, the Appalachian South, the Deep South, which are you referring to? In the case of the Appalachian region, it has many cultural similarities to its neighboring regions which include the middle of Appalachia, ie West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

P.S. Aren't there a lot of "elites" that work at those interesting centers of southern culture??

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


"which are you referring to?"

The collective whole. PA - yes, similar because many Scots-Irish and Germans came South from PA.

"P.S. Aren't there a lot of "elites" that work at those interesting centers of southern culture??"

Yes, many of them transplants.

gringo jack said...

I had a professor once, long ago, who claimed that the south was unique in the world because at one point, following the civil war (and to this day, in some parts of Mississippi) it was at once both American and Third World. The Southerner had lost a war, had starved, had been a slave (black southerners, that is), had his land taken, had a government imposed upon him which he did not elect. We are all familiar with the "urban renewal plan" that devestated the South almost as much as that foolish war. But, at the same time, it melded us into something finer and purer than the rest of the nation. I am proud to be a Southerner, and I'll wave that standard everywhere I go.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you GJ. Love the audio.

thesouthwillblogagain.com said...

Just saw this site! Great post. I too am a Virginian, although Mississippi educated, a proud Southerner and a historian.

I dealt with the liberal anti-South snark my whole life. Only I have a M.A. in history and know American history so I can go virtual Preston Brooks on them. Although sometimes I use humor against them (Lewis Grizzard taught me that)

There are other parts of the country that are nice, but the South is home. And it still stands for tradition, family, church, land, and honor.

Enjoyed reading this,

Mark AKA "Southern Blogger"

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Mark - I hope y'all will chime in on a regular basis. Plenty of heated discourse here!

Peter MacHare said...

I know this is old, but I just had to chime in on this post because it is so good. When I think of the reasons I'm most proud to be an American, the ones that first come to mind are:

Louis Armstrong
Duke Ellington
Howlin' Wolf

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

My grandfather loved the Satch.

Virginia Lady said...

Just saw this and I think it is great. Thank you.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

And thank you VL.