Because I’m used to talking to hundreds of people every week at work calling from all across the country, I can usually correctly figure out what state the person is calling me from based on their accent over the phone. American accents fascinate me. Because everyone’s got one. Even if it’s simply the official “flat accent” (covers the area from Omaha, NE to Des Moines, IA to Peoria, IL) which is how news broadcasters are taught to speak. Since I am so keen to pick up on a person’s accent, I’ve noticed an odd thing about movies and TV shows. A major lack of Southern characters and the Southern accent.
First I thought it was no big deal. That maybe less people speak with a Southern accent than any other accent. Wrong. According US Census Bureau, more people live in the South than any other particular region of the country. To be exact: 36%.
It’s official: More people speak with a Southern accent in our country than any other accent, even those who have “no accent”.
Most TV shows take place in the Northeast and California. So I understand the lack of the Southern accent because of that. But if most people live in the South, why not simply make more shows that take place in the South? Is it because the other 64% of the country won’t be able to see past the stereotypes they have in their own minds? When a show does have Southern character or setting, it’s completely written into the script as a unique feature in of itself.
A few movie exceptions come to mind: Reality Bites takes place in the country’s 4th largest city: Houston, TX. And amazingly, no cliché Southern references to be found. They just made a good movie that just happens to take place in the South. And one of my favorite movies of the 2000’s is Big Fish. It takes place in Alabama, yet if the Southern accents were removed, the movie would still be the same movie. In other words, the fact it took place in the South didn’t add or take away from the movie. And that’s what I want to see more of. Just simply make more movies in the South, not movies about the South. Why not cater to the majority every once in a while?
With TV shows, this concept of “being Southern but not being blatant about it” is much rarer. The Andy Griffith Show (Mayberry, NC) and King of the Hill (Arlen, TX)l are rare examples. Take away the accents and they’re still a charming shows pointing out the quirks of life in a small town.
I will give credit to LOST. Sawyer is from Jasper, AL. He’s not portrayed as a “dumb Southerner”. In fact, his con artist lifestyle shows he’s actually a pretty clever guy.
While the Southern accent and its many unique features like “ya’ll” and “fixin’ to” may sound ignorant to others, if the Southern accent (and language) is the majority then why must it continue to be treating like the minority?
We Southerners breed the rocket scientists that send people to outer space and the moon. Florida, Alabama, and Texas contain the headquarters for our country’s space programs. We also have Atlanta which blesses the nation with fine networks including The Weather Channel, The Cartoon Network, CNN, TBS, and TNT. Plus, we don’t like unions, so we build foreign cars here providing jobs for our residents: Hyundai, Mercedes, Nissan, and BMW.
“White trash” societies are everywhere, as the Jerry Springer show proved well. But somewhere all the way because of our racist past and slower speech patterns the South has become a believable stereotype of lower class of people to many onlookers.
In my version of growing up in the South, the only racist tension I experienced was the fact that the illegal Mexicans were taking the jobs the rest of us didn’t want. And that’s everywhere. As for a different way of talking, it’s just as easy to pick on the accents of Midwesterners or New Englanders.
Beyond the branded ideas of Elvis, Dolly Parton, fried chicken, and beat-up old pick-up trucks, there lies the Real South. In closing, I have provided a tip of the iceberg list of non-stereotypical Southern people and companies:
Abraham Lincoln: born and raised in Hardin County, KY until age 21
Brad Pitt: born in Shawnee, OK; raised in Springfield, MO
Johnny Depp: Owensboro, KY
George Clooney: Lexington, KY
Dave Matthews: moved to Charlottesville, VA at age 19 (from Johannesburg, South Africa)
Jason Mraz: Mechanicsville, VA
Ed Helms and Brian Baumgartner (“Andy” and “Kevin” from The Office): Atlanta, GA
Stephen Colbert: Charleston, SC
Courtney Cox-Arquette (“Monica” from Friends): Mountain Brook, AL
Owen Wilson: Dallas, TX
Renee Zellweger: Katy, TX
Ben Folds: Winston-Salem, NC
Justin Timberlake: Memphis, TN
R.E.M.: Athens, GA
Better Than Ezra: New Orleans, LA
American Idol has been dominated by Southerners. Not only is host Ryan Seacrest from Dunwoody, GA, but for all except two seasons (the Season 9 winner was Lee DeWyze from Mount Prospect, IL, and the runner up was Crystal Bowersox from Elliston, OH), the winner and/or runner-up was from the South, and the one only who ended up during Country Music was Carrie Underwood:
Season 1: Kelly Clarkson (Fort Worth, TX)
2: Ruben Studdard (Birmingham, AL), Clay Aiken (Raleigh, NC)
3: Fantasia Barrino (High Point, NC); Diana Degarmo (Snellville, GA); Top 3 Finalist, Melinda Doolittle (Brentwood, TN)
4: Carrie Underwood (Muskogee, OK); Bo Bice (Huntsville, AL)
5: Taylor Hicks (Birmingham, AL); Top 6 Finalist, Kellie Pickler (Ablemarle, NC)
6: the exception- Jordin Sparks (Glendale, AZ)
7: David Cook (Tulsa, OK)
8: Kris Allen (Jacksonville, AR)
Coca-Cola: Atlanta, GA
Dr. Pepper: Waco, TX
Fed-Ex: Memphis, TN
UPS: Sandy Springs, GA
Wal-Mart: Rogers, AR
Disney World: Orlando, FL