Barry Graham's Blog

Poor Rural White People: The Group It’s Acceptable to Demean

By Barry Graham

Yesterday, M.V. Moorhead invited me to go to a screening of Creature with him, but I didn’t get his message in time. Judging by his review, I was fortunatethough I’m sure we’ve sat through worse films together.

Moorhead raises an important point when he writes:

The antipathy to female sexuality to which these movies cater is clear, but I’m not sure it’s ever occurred to me what a broad streak of bourgeois class hatred—fear & loathing of the rural poor—that they also carry. There are some terrific actors, such as Sid Haig & Pruitt Taylor Vince, among the grinning, gibbering, incestuous hayseeds in Creature, & they’re entertaining as usual. But this stereotype could also be put on the shelf for a good long while, all the same.

If you’ve spent any time in the rural U.S.especially in the Souththen you understand that such films as The Hills Have Eyes, and Deliverance, though exaggerations, are not extreme exaggerations. The most horrifying crimes happen in the so-called heartland, not the big cities. 

The novelists who idealize rural living are perpetuating a fantasy. The most accurate depiction of such areas that I have read comes from Daniel Woodrell, especially inWinter’s Bone, in which murderous criminality is too commonplace to be noteworthy. He does not exaggerate or overstate in any way.

So I understand why film-makers want to set stories in these places. My reservationand, I suspect, Moorhead’s toois not with where the films are set or who the killers are, but rather how they are depicted. In urban crime fiction, set in ghetto areas, it would (rightly) cause an uproar if black or Latino or Asian thugs were depicted as racist stereotypes. When it comes to rural settings, though, whether in grindhouse films likeThe Hills Have Eyes, or films with some artistic ambitions like Deliverance, it’s okay to cruelly stereotype poor white people. 

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