Tuesday, February 26, 2008


This is one of those news stories that trips people up:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Gov. Joe Manchin and others took offense Tuesday to a planned scene from an upcoming film starring Julianne Moore that they say stereotypes West Virginians as inbreeds and carnival sideshows.

The horror thriller "Shelter" is recruiting extras with unusual physical features for a scene in a "West Virginia holler," according to Donna Belajac Casting of Pittsburgh.

The casting call said the film is looking for extras who are extraordinarily tall or short, those with unusual body shapes and unusual facial features, especially eyes, and even people with physical abnormalities as long as they have normal mobility.

"It's clear that they have no real understanding of who the people of West Virginia are," Manchin said. "And that's not only unfortunate, but in this case offensive. Certainly it doesn't sound like a movie worth watching."

The casting call also advertises for a 9- to 12-year-old white girl with an "other-worldly look ... could be an albino or something along those lines -- she's someone who is visually different and therefore has a closer contact to the gods and to magic. 'Regular-looking' children should not attend this open call."

And Hollywood wonders why people in the heartland think it looks down on them. This casting call seems to confirm the notion that, to Hollywood, hillbillies and white country folk default as freaks and people you don't want to run out of gas among, unless they're victims of sexism ("Coal Miner's Daughter"), U.S. military culture ("Deer Hunter"), or corporate greed ("Norma Rae").

Not just Hollywood, but liberal intelligentsia generally. A 2002 "New York Times" book review section ran a review of T.R. Pearson's latest novelistic journey down South to take his readers "inside the otherwise lackluster skulls of hillbillies and white trash" [reviewer's description].

Along about a third of the way through this generally glowing write-up, the reviewer opens a paragraph by noting, "Rednecks may compose the last minority that is still fair game for insult from almost any quarter." But he doesn't pick up this thread, and instead returns to the book's praise. You can almost hear the pause, the glimmer of doubt, and the "but who cares?" before he plunges on.

Some people who will defend this because there is no such thing as racism when it is directed against the white majority/patriarchy. But Appalachian whites represent a particular strain in the American mutt-mix -- largely Scots-Irish in ancestry -- and have been the butt of jokes and prejudices by the dominant white culture (see "New York Times" review above) since at least Mark Twain's day.

Here's what else you'll see as this plays out its 15 minutes of Internet fame: Somebody on the "right" will scold people on the "left" for hypocrisy for not speaking up about this when they have decried similar slurs against any other ethnicity/cultural identity.

Someone on the "left" will respond with a counter-charge of hypocrisy against the guy on the "right" for suddenly embracing a multi-culti position he has scorned in every other instance.

"Right" will shoot back that he is merely holding "left's" feet to his own fire. "Left" will reply that right is just an ignorant wingnut ...


One starts to wonder who the real freakshow is. "'Regular-looking' children should not attend this open call."