Friday, September 22, 2006

This is just one cracker's opinion.

Here's an exchange that took place last night in my Southern fiction class, while my professor was explaining the genealogy of the main characters in Faulkner's Go Down, Moses:

Crazy Professor: And here we have Uncle Buck, not to be confused with the character from the film... John Candy? Right? John Candy was in that film? He's dead now, right? Just like Chris Farley...they were friends, weren't they?
Fellow Disgruntled Classmate: No.
Crazy Professor (ignoring FDC): Yes. John Candy and Chris Farley are one and the same.

Okay, I didn't want to blog about this guy. I kept myself from writing about the first class, when he made us watch a twelve-minute documentary clip featuring James Ellroy walking around LA talking about the Black Dahlia and his dead mother. Sure, it had nothing to do with anything relating to our actual course topic, but Crazy Professor was excited about film noir and the new Black Dahlia.

I didn't say anything when I came to the page in our course packet labeled, "Top 39 Things You'll Never Hear a Southerner Say." (My favorite: "Checkmate!") I can appreciate stupid humor, even if it's of the Jeff Foxworthy kind.

I was quiet when we had to watch two scenes from A Time to Kill, which my professor lauded as "the most accurate film depiction of racism in America." I thought, "Maybe he’s just a McConaughey fan?"

I was kind of taken aback, however, when Crazy Professor started using the terms "cracker" and "white trash" to describe Southern people. "Oookay..." I thought. "Maybe he's being ironic?"

And I'll be honest: I didn't read the handouts he gave us about Sonic restaurants.

Then he started calling William Faulkner a racist because someone once said that he opposed interracial dating. I thought, "Okay, LOOK, Crazy Professor. Not only was Faulkner the greatest novelist to come out of the twentieth century, but he also wrote incredibly moving and honest portrayals of African Americans in the South without a drop of racist commentary. Also, he grew up in Mississippi in the first quarter of the century, and if your sources are true - that he was 'disgusted' by the sight of interracial couples during his tenure at UVA - you should take into consideration where he was from, the way he was taught, and the fact that seeing something like that, even though he was extremely humanitarian and not prejudiced, would be shocking. Also, JOHN CANDY AND CHRIS FARLEY WERE NOT FRIENDS THEY WERE NOT EVEN OF THE SAME GENERATION YOU IDIOT."

I realize that, yes, some of the stereotypes of the South are based on some semblance of truth, just like all stereotypes. But when you group the entire South as a land full of racist, ignorant crackers, you’re not helping anything, especially when you’re teaching these opinions to a group of students who live in Chicago and do not have any knowledge of what the South is really like.

There are about four of us from the South, and I was lucky to make friends with one last night – a woman from Athens, Georgia. She had the same frustrations as I did, and she said that she wanted to address the class and tell our classmates to take all of this information with a grain of salt. She agreed with me that there is much more overt racism outside of the South (especially in Chicago, which our professor described as the most racially segregated city in America). By associating racism exclusively with the South, however, Crazy Professor is continuing the Red State / Blue State idea that American is split into two polarized sections. The truth is that racism is not a Southern thing. It isn’t even an American issue. Racism takes place everywhere, and I find it insulting that people are ignorant enough to dilute it to being a Southern thing. (There’s a line from the song “The Three Great Alabama Icons” by the Drive-By Truckers that says, “Thanks to George Wallace, it’s always a little more convenient to play it with a Southern accent.”)

This morning I wrote a long email to Jean Cash, my professor from JMU who taught the survey course in Southern Literature, as well as courses on Flannery O'Connor and Faulkner. Before I took Southern Lit with her my junior year of college, I had already decided that I hated the South and could never live in a place full of ignorance and hatred after college. After taking the class, however, and reading William Styron, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Allen Tate, Larry Brown, Tim Gautreaux, and William Faulkner, among a long list of others, I realized that the South was not filled with the racism and stupidity the rest of the country applies to it. If I had taken this course with Mr. Crazy Professor from St. Louis who once went to grad school in Memphis, I would have still hated the South because he constantly feeds the same stereotypical images and ideas at us.

I wrote to Dr. Cash this morning for the first time in a few months, because I knew she’d be as upset as I am, and she responded with:
What you're telling me about the Southern Literature class fairly enrages me--people with that kind of patronizing attitude about the South have no business teaching Southern Literature (Memphis or no Memphis); tell him off every chance you get. You know how I hate the use of the "white trash" epithet.

So far we haven’t had a chance to speak up in class to give our own opinions or insight into what Dr. Crazy discusses, but I’m going to do my best to be assertive and give him a few of my own ideas.


J. Newberry said...

Hi. I found your blog quite by accident, through the search query "Southern literature."

Thank you so much for writing this post. I'm at UGA and working on my Ph.D. One of my areas is Southern Literature and I'm trying to come to terms with my "southerness," so to speak.

This entry really helped me shape my thoughts.

Thanks again.

roonster said...

i found this blog through the "next blog" thing a month ago or so and i have to say, coolest entry ever. southern lit. is awesome and faulkner=god. i just finished readin flannery oconnor's short stories today too.

anyway good job. i vote you slip in laxatives in Crazy's drink.

Anonymous said...

Wow...this entry reminds me 100% of when Keri made that bulletin on MySpace talking about racism and her completely misguided views. From what I've seen is that Dr. Crazy is a douchebag. It's obvious that he knows nothing about the South, and just resorts to insulting what he doesn't know based on the popular "Redneck Southerner" stereotype. What a complete jackass. I feel sorry for you having to put up with that bullshit.


Lex Ham Rand said...

Hi, Newberry! Fancy running across you here on this blog.

Hey, Tyler - I'm a Georgia-born (Macon, 1965), Athens,GA educated English major who has been wrestling with many of the same issues you describe during my 16 year tenure here in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

It is a blessing and a curse to be steeped in a literature that is considered by many to be its own genre. It can be even more distressing to hear idiots blather on and on who have no passion for the nuances, historical shades, and cultural ephemera of the art.

Great post.

Broady said...

Sounds to me like Prof Crazy should have been a Political Science scholar, not a literature scholar. What a shame that someone like that is charged with teaching southern literature. As a former student of Souther Lit, I find him disappointing, as a Southerner, I find him offensive.

I wonder what Crazy has to say about Dilsey in "Go Down Moses" -- she is based upon Faulkner's real life "nanny", whom he adored and actually had buried under a heart-shaped headstone when she passed away. The character Dilsey is wrought with such tenderness and respect, she is the emotional center of the Compson family. Lots of other examples, this is just the first that jumps out to me.

Crazy sounds very single-minded and intellectually shallow. Give'em hell.

Stella said...

Wow, at UVA we didn't have this problem. hehe. Long live the South.

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux (I found it in the bargain bin in a Japanese bookstore for like $7!!) and loved it. I'm glad as a southerner to be associated with him and his perspectives.

And people, in general, tend towards cowardice and find comfort in the majority. Seventy-five perecent of Americans live outside the Southern region, so hey we can't completely fault them their ignorance. Just ask him what exactly he's trying to prove by his derogatory remarks; does he believe that southern literature is inferior? That our writers aren't as educated and cultured as their northern counterparts?

- Anna