Wednesday, 14 February 2007

The night they drove old Dixie down

I have just watched this Top Gear clip courtesy of Duncan Borrowman


As far as I can see, the whole piece at the petrol station was fabricated. Note that we never actually hear any threats, or see anyone acting in any sort of threatening manner. The pickup full of "red-necks" with a dog that arrived was actually a bunch of Mexicans.

The woman at the petrol station was actually trying to help them out - asking them if they were trying to get themselves beat up in this "hick town"? She turned angry with them because Jeremy Clarkson "tore up her parking lot" when he sped off. She was warning the film crew that the other two muppets had better not do the same.

And finally, the cameras go off - and we get some carefully recorded walkie-talkie messages and frantic cuts of them scrubbing their vehicles.

This is an excellent class in what video editing, music and carefully selected 'beeps' can achieve for dramatic effect.

I have travelled across the American South, and found it a wonderful experience, full of genuine, honest, and extraordinarily friendly people. Admittedly my boyfriend and I didn't walk hand-in-hand down the main street of Alabama hick towns, but then again there are large portions of South London where I wouldn't do the same.

Tennessee just happens to be one of my favourite places in the world, and I would recommend it to anyone as a holiday destination. And at the risk of sounding like I have an obsession with anti-Americanism (and I am not accusing Duncan Borrowman of being anti-American), we (and I include myself in this) laugh at 'hicks' (and I don't mean Bill); we laugh at their stupidity, their backward ways, the fact they married their first cousin.

But, having been across the South - from Virginia to Louisina and back - it struck me that what we are actually making fun of is poverty and lack of education. In the state of Mississippi, 30% of adults are functionally illiterate; in Alabama it is 1 in 4. Life expectancy in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina is lower than in Mexico. The difference between the top and bottom ends of the scale in the U.S. is roughly comparable to the difference between the average life expectancy in Japan and in several countries in West Africa.

We will always laugh at rednecks; hell, they even laugh at themselves. We pulled up at a gas station in Blue Ridge, Georgia, where the wizened and toothless attendant was sat on the forecourt, believe it or not, smoking a cigarette. Upon hearing the English accent of one of my friends, he looked at us, completely deadpan, and asked:

"Why is it so hard to solve redneck crimes?

They got no dental records and the same DNA."

The South is deep red America (although this red state v blue state thing is a recent convention; for much of the past 50 years many Republicans went to great lengths to make sure Democrats were depicted as the 'red' (read pink) party. Southerners believe the most strongly in the things we commonly believe to be quintessentially American - faith and the flag, God and guns, suspicion of government (particularly the federal government) and dislike of gays. They believe in the American way, and are suspicious of foreigners.

Yet the saddest thing is that these are the same people who have been betrayed most by the American way, and left in poverty, ignorance, illiteracy and bad health. And as is so often the case, it is those who have been failed by the system who are the first to put their life on the line to defend it.

Jokes about rednecks will never stop being funny, but the reality of life in much of Alabama is rather more tragic.

New Harvard Study: Who, Where and Why Americans Live Longer or Die Sooner

*A pedant writes... Bagdad is in Florida, just outside Pensacola on the Gulf Coast, not Alabama.


Norfolk Blogger said...

They never implied Bagdad wasn't in Florida ? It was just the last major town before they left the state.

Chrisco said...

On his blog, Duncan Borrowman states that it is in Alabama.