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June Bug and LA's Soft Bigotry

First, the film June Bug is dynamite. Second, it deals with the white, poor South.It does so at first by playing to upper class stereotypes of the sort of person most have never met. Loud laughter filled my theater as the Chicago art dealer with the cunning English accent first confronted the rubes of her new husband’s family. Just the sight of a white woman in shorts was enough to draw gales of laughter.Don’t blame the film, however, By the end of the movie the theater was silent. Even though the stereotypes were relentless and never really stopped (nobody in town appears to have gone to college), the inner strength and values of the community eventually began to break in on the hostility of the audience.And I mean hostility.There is scene set in a typical Evangelical Church social hall. It includes a hymn being sung by the male lead. You could feel the tension in the film audience when they saw white people in Church. Here was the Religious Right they so dreaded. (You knew the nature of the audience when an employee of the theater tried to steer us away from one film by saying it was “bourgeois trash.”) I have never been in a theater with a greater sense of discomfort.Evidently from the reaction of the audience the mere sight of a heavy white person in Church is comedy. When the very young pastor (one of the few attractive Southrons to appear) began to pray for the family, the tension was as great as if someone began to use the “f-word” in a Baptist church. Some tittered. Others moaned. Nobody seemed to know what to do with an experience millions of Americans share every week.In fact, the limited profanity and sexuality of the film drew no similar response nor did some of the bizarre and edgy content of the trailers. After all, in the right neighborhoods the F-word is part of daily discourse. The word “Jesus” spoken with a Southern accent is evidently still a word of power in Hollywood as it causes a sense of dread to fill the room. Black spirituality is o.k. (Of course it is only acceptable if kept to strict cartoon like images.)White spirituality that does not impact life outside of narrow boundaries is o.k. A group of people living, however inconsistently, as if Jesus is real is not o.k. At least not to the audience that watched June Bug with me.Again don’t blame the movie. It is complex and shows the flaws in all of its characters. You are not left thinking the secularist(s) in the film are good and the religious bad. In fact, the values of the South seemed more attractive to me than those of an art dealer who would ignore family to pursue the crude drawings of a mad anti-Semite in the neighborhood. The people of the area ignore him. Only the educated would bother to try to make sense of his “spiritual ravings.”Like the best of films June Bug challenged the audience (including me) to think outside of stereotypes. Even people you wanted to dislike were shown to have the image of God within. The film used stereotypes to break stereotypes and I think it worked with the audience in the movie house. Still it was hard for me to experience the prejudice I know exists.I know that my beloved West Virginia roots are the subject of either pity or disgust by much of the cultural elite. (I have never been introduced as being from West Virginia without some offensive joke . . . so in the end like many from the South you cut them off by making them yourself and attempting thereby to show their folly.)How does this prejudice work? The nice bigots feel sorry for you. The nasty ones wonder if you have basic social skills. One school leader told my parents when we came North that he was worried (without any evidence) that I was “culturally deprived.” The fact that my Dad had more formal education than he was inconsequential since it never dawned on him that it might be true.Bill Clinton understood this and his anger at those who dismissed his Arkansas roots and those who could not stop with “trailer park” jokes were one of the few things about him that I understood.However, it is one thing to know it in the abstract and another to sit in a room of people who think women who look like your recently deceased grandmother are funny just because of their culture. There is such ignorance in the “educated” elite that it sometimes boggles my mind.To cite but one example, folk not from the mountains make no attempt to understand conversational style in that region. Southron folk like to fellowship. They do so by establishing common ground. This will often begin with a statement of the obvious (the weather is always good) which can allow every person to affirm what has been said. This sort of conversation can extend for some time and only gradually evolves into something deeper. By the time the heart of the discussion is reached (in my family difficult doctrinal issues!), there is common ground and every person feels part of the dialogue. If you have not grown up with this long (and it can go on for hours) conversational style, then it sounds contrived and often foolish.How could someone just state something everyone else has already decided is true? “Yes. It is very hot.”) Are they dense? Are they slow? Such a cultural conversational style is easy to parody and make foolish. (Compare the sympathetic portrayal of this front-porch talk on the old Andy Griffith show, which got it mostly right, to more modern renditions.)Of course, religion and race are never far from the minds of those elite who hate the hill folk. Our religion is base, only our music (a real art form) is allowed any place. We are allowed to be sad and to sing. We can drive a man to pity, but never to envy in most film.Race usually consumes every film on the White south. Racism is real and I heard soft and hard forms of it as a child from folk in West Virginia. However, I did not hear it often and no more frequently than I heard polite anti-Semitism in educated secular circles in the North. Race relations seemed no better in Rochester than Charleston. When my wife and I lived by choice in a dominantly African-American neighborhood for a time, we were no more the norm in Up State New York than we would have been in Appalachia.Race is not what the Mountain people are all about. It is not what defines the experience of at least my part of the South. When Virginia left the Union, we left Virginia and like most West Virginians I can say with pride that all my male ancestors fought with Mr. Lincoln to save the Union and free the slaves.Our religion is routinely portrayed as ignorant. Anyone holding a Bible in a film is widely assumed to be a fool. It is also easy to see that the lightly educated have never actually read a King James Bible and soaked in its linguistic and philosophical profundity. How else could they get away with misquoting it so often?There is a deep cultural problem when the male lead of the film begins to sing an old film about Jesus Christ and the audience first reacts with confused laughter, groans, and confusion. An old childhood hymn, in a non-political or controversial context, is offensive. All of the elite are confused. They ask: “How should we react to this thing? Should we laugh? Or will these people t
urn out to be bigots so we can safely hate them?”June Bug allows neither option and leaves the audience thoughtful.The nearly ubiquitous soft religious bigotry of Hollywood was not a feature of June Bug, but the director was able to assume the attitude of his audience. On a previous night, good friends were forced to listen to a director rant about Christianity after a film in Hollywood the night before we saw June Bug. The director could assume full agreement to unsupported and outlandish claims about conservative religion. The audience at June Bug thought they knew what to make of the Southron folk in the film: stupid or racist or to be pitied or all three. They fell into the trap and then felt conflicted when the Church people were more loving and had better communitarian values than themselves.This soft bigotry by our elite, which includes much of the Republican elite that tries to lead Southern folk, has consequences.One wonders how much of the “George Bush is an idiot” idea comes from his Texas background and accent. Clinton was allowed to be smart because he rejected most of the ideas of his culture. Southrons are allowed to “grow” by rejecting their folk ways. Even Clinton, however, was never really allowed into the “club” and the only winning Democrat of my political life gets amazingly little respect from “high brow” leftist web sites.If we are to be one nation, let alone one nation under God, those who claim to lead us need to get over these stereotypes. They need to break free of their condescending pity and learn from millions of Americans who live good and decent lives.Everything is not perfect in mountain culture. On the whole, however, there is more to be learned than rejected in it. Government “help” is rapidly destroying the best of it. Educators who despise the values in it are re-educating the mountain children to despise it. The media we are drowning in sometimes leave us with a sense of anger and inferiority.The elite of this nation, sometimes sadly even the Christian elite, stood by while First-American culture was mocked and destroyed. Often we woke up to cultural loss from our bigotry only when it was too late. Shall we do the same with the values of the mountain South?Perhaps films like June Bug are a first step in the right direction.(The film June Bug contains rough language and is for adults. The limited sexuality in the film was, refreshingly, between a married couple.)

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