Saturday, October 20, 2012

Local Tourism

Mockingbird Song by Jack Temple Kirby was a book chosen for class with a category of Ecological South and although the book twists and turns and talks of terrain and how people of the south have manipulated and worked with it, we determined that this book is as much autobiographical as it is about where one lives. It feels as if I have been labeled the California girl here in the Southern Studies program, partly because when asked where I moved from, the response is Los Angeles. I then often expand that I had lived in Minneapolis, Chicago, Savannah, Durham and Hendersonville (as well as Daytona Beach) for stints of time. My favorite response by a woman in the Southern Studies program was - ‘well more importantly, where were you born?’ and I always find myself light up when I respond Dallas. The long answer is I can usually navigate and find enough to talk about that relocation and moving from different states can be easier but people who don’t do it (and that is a majority) do not realize how regionalistic the United States can be. This same majority is impressed with all the places in Europe I can name and yes, Dublin, Madrid, and Prague are places I would return to in a heartbeat, Savannah is just as magical and special for me. An acquaintance (and fellow Southerner in LA) once talked at a dinner we were at about the importance of being a local tourist and asking everyone about this place- whatever place you are in. It’s an instant in because in his experience, everyone has some sense of civic pride for the place they reside. This thought kept running through my mind in reading Mockingbird Song where Jack Temple Kirby seems to embrace history and where he lives. All the interest in Florida shared in his book shows how he embraced retirement and relocation and change to mold it into the civic pride he expressed in the book. I am in the rocky waters of relocation where solitude and loneliness make the days and nights long. I have laid groundwork, but eagerly await festivals and events where I can get involved and meet a variety of people in the community but sadly these can’t come soon enough. I think I shall be pleasantly surprised what civic pride and what becomes endearing about this new community I have put myself in. _______________________ _________________________________

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Labels and Life and as Rebel

I have been trying to figure out what it means to be in Southern Studies and wondering what will eventually become my thesis. During my short time here, I have been driving to auctions and flea markets, reading lots of heady texts with five dollar words on the South and watching tv with Southern themes. It’s amazing that the show Honey Boo Boo has the high ratings it does, as well as the visual fact that this family needs subtitles underneath them to be able to understand them. The label I have in this new place seems to be the girl from California. People ask about culture shock, expecting an answer to be shock about the South. Instead they find out that my family is from Texas and I grew up in Dallas AND Chicago. I’ve worked in the South in Daytona Beach with other Southerners, as well as in Flat Rock and Durham, North Carolina for summer theatre. I taught in Savannah at the college and own a house there. The culture shock isn’t a West to East move, it’s a teacher back as student and an older student navigating a group of mostly younger people in a new course of study. In watching Southern themed television, it’s been about Texas. I watched and was hooked on the new Dallas, partly after working with Linda Gray and in part I was the right age this go round-I was sent to bed around the time the original Dallas aired. I enjoy seeing how the series features the city that I grew up in. It’s pure soap opera but fun. Then with a swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction, I move to the Texas themed cartoon, King of the Hill. My mother once stated that the character of Bobby “is so weird, he’s normal”, and that probably covers much of the show and its situations. The pilot was on the other day and the subject dealt with a neighborhood that gossips and a chain of circumstances that lead to child protective services looking in on the family. What shows from the creation of the show is that it is a family that loves each other (and it’s one of the funniest pilots I’ve seen). The couple can’t have anymore children and they love and support the son even though he isn’t the stereotypical all American boy (his dream is to grow up to be a prop comic). The family is loving and open enough to take in a niece and support her in her dating life and attempted career as a beautician. Although a comedy, the show depicts a loving family and supportive group of neighbors in a Texas town. The comedy comes through pointing out and playing up the stereotypes. The small Texas town and football are two other stereotypes that play through in Friday Night Lights, although popular with critics, this show never found the audience it deserved because of the misconception it was a sports show. It was so much more. Many critics felt that it really showed a partnership of a marriage. The scenes with Taylors at school and at home really portrayed something that felt pure and realistic. I could also mention the outrageous comedy of GCB but in viewing all these shows, there stereotypes exist but the foundation and the core of the show comes from loving families. _______________________ _________________________________

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Expositions and Reality

After reading Segregating Sound, an excerpt about Black America triggered thoughts on the modern exposition. The display boasted authenticity, plucking “real” people from their environment to another area, with the expectation they would continue their everyday life but with observers, in a city, in another district. Black America of many years past, to me, parallels the 42nd Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival where it “explored the rich culture of the Kingdom of Bhutan” and boasted “100 Bhutanese artists, dancers, craftspeople, cooks, carpenters, farmers and representatives of monastic life who celebrated the traditions that define and sustain their culture.” I’ve always been curious what a World’s Fair would look like and this type exposition seems to be our modern interpretation. We are searching for the untouched and the authentic. My coworker went to Bhutan to work at a new radio station, as the country was opening up and changing from a monarchy to a democracy. Bhutan spoke English since in the King’s wisdom, he had chosen that English be learned and American television be broadcast as the media came into this tiny Buddhist country. The coworker later brought a young Bhutanese woman over to America and Los Angeles to visit. The story meanders from there and developed into a book deal. Sadly, the author’s complaint that she never got to do long investigative stories that deserved attention- just three minute radio pieces- turned into a memoir that never explored anything deep. The book instead took a colonial and imperialistic view of the culture she visited. Forget being contemporary or enlightened in modern times, history often keeps repeating itself. She instead exploited the young woman’s story and ruined her life in Bhutan, changing European expats names but not the Bhutanese woman’s. The question is why the need for authenticity or purity of a culture? In the search for these cultures, the seeker imposes their own thoughts and notions on them. They never let it be. Anthony Bourdain and the show No Reservations make good tv but they are well aware in showing a treasure, rarity, or dying food tradition will give people the desire to visit. This desire brings money to the country and area but it can often destroy it as well. The tiny kingdom of Bhutan has rapidly changed in the last few years. The women were working on the second radio station in the country and they now have stations in the double digits. The country stayed closed to survive and then opened to survive and the floodgates have opened. The South never experienced floodgates of tourists and money but there continues to be a desire for authentic Southern Food or culture. Unfortunately, like music in Segregating Sound, media and television covering in the South seems to exploit a pocket of a backwoods culture, in its search for interesting characters. Reality tv plays on ‘true Southern’ with shows like a version of the Housewives franchise in Atlanta, Toddlers and Tiaras and the spinoff Here comes Honey Boo Boo- not to mention Duck Dynasty, and a version of Storage Wars and Pawn Stars. Our classmate mentioned scripted shows like True Blood that also molded ideas of what the region is, giving someone an idea without even visiting or living in it. The bottom line is that more people need to realize their perspectives and life experience interfere and inform travel. One should work to be as open to new experiences and culture when navigating different destinations and regions. _______________________ _________________________________

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Paris Syndrome and Dreaming of Dixie

Dreaming of Dixie talks of the idealized South and how misconceptions of the South may populate. The author, Karen Cox, suggests that the nation as a whole, bought into these ideas of what the South was or possibly more accurately, what the antebellum South was. California expert, Norman Klein writes of the art of remembering, or as the title of his book suggests, The History of Forgetting. Klein’s book focuses on tear downs, urban planning and re-creation of neighborhoods in Los Angeles. With his theories and meanderings of the text, he also gives an ‘anti tour” of Los Angeles, focusing on movies and noir novels, discussing how a majority of the population, all over the world, have a convoluted idea of what Hollywood is- this perception of what they think the city and movie making is. Reinforcing his statement of these perceptions, a student documentary based on his book has a scene of a foreign tourist posing and looking into the camera as the film makers interview Klein on a street. The tourist has this eschew idea that he will be on film or tv and faces the camera and stares at it. Odd behavior and idea but became true by that footage making the cut into the documentary. Klein has gone on to state that all in the city of Los Angeles are guilty-like a nation buying into Southern stereotypes and ideas. Dreaming of Dixie also made me recall hearing of Paris syndrome, where many Japanese visitors to the city are over come with disappointment, stress, and breakdown when interacting with the reality of a long idealized romantic European city, a dream city where a tourist finds the character to be the complete opposite of their own. This very real and extreme culture shock comes with a twenty four hour hotline to the Japanese embassy. Karen Cox reinforces this with excerpts from diaries and accounts of tourists visiting the South and it not being Southern enough. In playing into the tourists ideas to make money, Southerners were just as guilty for the myth as all the tin pan alley songs that writers who had never been to the South were creating. There have been times I have experienced something similar to Paris syndrome although I’ve never been overwhelmed with culture shock like that. Most recently, it came more in the form of disappointment. Lucille’s Barbecue was coming into our suburban Los Angeles mall. When it finally opened up my friend and I went to check it out. The food was dry and the sauces weren’t tasty. The restaurant decor has self taught and primitive art on the walls and the waiting area looks like a living room. My friend stated that we had been spoiled by good food and some of the best-best barbecue in other areas. I related that when he came to visit, I would take him to the real thing-Ajax in Oxford. It didn’t have the Southern facade but the real thing- food, art, people, and all. So often the idea or recreation can not compare to something grounded in place, and not trying to be something of a themed destination. _______________________ _________________________________