Appalachian Slumming

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Ronni Lundy wrote a response to the photo “essay” recently published on the Oxford American website, “Eyes on the South: Stacy Kranitz.”

BY RONNI LUNDY

oxfordamericanThe southern Appalachians have a densely textured complex history that has been made even more complicated to unravel by the both witting and half-witted opportunism of cheap shots like this drive-by photo “essay.” Purporting to offer something fresh (I think, the artist’s statement being barely comprehensible), Kranitz serves up the same old same old in trendy flash-lit color, with one glaring exception.

That exception is the even more grotesque than usual hillbilly-gothic image of the photographer herself playing the near-feral, barefoot, spread-legged mountain girl slut, one of the oldest and most demeaning caricatures foisted on the region, and women in general. In the longer album devoted to the photographer’s wet-dream of Appalachia on her website—with snake handlers! and strippers! and more decrepit trailers on beautiful mountainsides!—there are other posed portraits of the photographer playing dress-up in the mountains, including Ku Klux Klan Church Lady.

They may raise the question of just how staged the rest of the hillbilly-goth characters and scenes she has selected are, but they also settle the more perplexing one: What is the point of one more outsider montage of mountain folk as ultimate—and ultimately disposable—“other?” Kranitz, like the generations of “journalists” and “chroniclers” who have come in an unrelenting stream before her to find and record their pre-conceived notions, is selectively using the people of the mountains as props. The real story we are supposed to discern here is that she, the voyeur, is very very cool and somehow “special.”

It’s a time-honored hipster tradition. It’s called slumming. People have been coming to the mountains of the south to get their rocks off at the expense of the real people who live here for well over a century. We really wish you’d take your cameras and your taperecorders and your self-serving larcenous hearts and go somewhere else. Meanwhile, we’ll get back to dealing with the terrors of poisoned water, chewed up and spit-out mountains, and desperate poverty—all justified because we are, you know, not like real people.

ronnilundy

Ronni Lundy is a “writer, rocker, and cornbread fundamentalist” –  “just a Kentucky girl who likes to wander with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other.” She is also the award-winning author of five cookbooks, including Butter Beans to Blackberries: Recipes from the Southern Garden, nominated for the IACP’s Best American Cookbook Award in 1999 and Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes and Honest Fried Chicken, named one of the six essential books about Southern cooking by Gourmet magazine in 1994.

 

 



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