The Real South: More Like Andy Griffith, Less Like The Beverly Hillbillies

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

Country Music vs. Rap Music

There are two kinds of people in the world- those who are more prone to listen to Country, and those who are more prone to listen to Rap.  Either way, I do think that those who equally like them both are kinda weird.

My hometown is Fort Payne, Alabama.  When I was born, the town wasn’t even on the map yet.  But Fort Payne had a secret weapon that would shortly change that for us- a country music band that by 1983 would be a force to be reckoned with: Alabama.  The lead singer’s son was in my grade (192 graduating seniors for the entire city) and Randy Owen and the other band members would often drop off their kids at school themselves.  And even today, my parents’ house is only a few miles away from a few of the band member’s houses.

Needless to say, I grew up listening to Country music.  Not only Country music though- it was just something that got thrown in the mix with everything else.  Sort of like the way country music is perceived in Australia and other foreign countries that have a large country music fan base.  It’s not so much a mindset that Country music is its own entity- instead, it’s just American music that happens to be recorded in Nashville and Southern-flavored.

The Closer You Get (1983)

And that’s what Country music is to me.  Just like any other genre of music- some of it’s really good, some of it’s okay, and some of it is pretty horrible.  Some artists are classier, like George Strait and Lady Antebellum; while there are also the self-proclaimed rednecks like Hank Williams, Jr. and Toby Keith.  And just for the record, I like certain Country artists from each level of the spectrum.  I’m not too sophisticated for “Let’s Talk about Me”, assuming the song is meant to be funny.

Something I have observed is that when you ask a person what kind of music they like, you’ll generally get an answer like this: “Oh, I like pretty much all of it- classic rock, oldies, Motown, hard rock, alternative.  I even like a little (Country or Rap), but definitely not (Country or Rap).”

The people who like a little Country music tend to be the ones that will not listen to Rap; the ones that tend to like a little Rap music typically won’t listen to Country.  In other words, both Country and Rap music are polar opposites of each other, but the thing they both have in common is that they are both on the edges of mainstream.  Of course, there are people out there who pretty much only listen to Country, or only listen to Rap, but I’m talking about everyone else- people like me.

Downtown Fort Payne

Of the two examples I mentioned, I personally am the kind of person that will say, “I even like a little Country, but definitely not Rap.”  It’s not that I don’t think Rap sounds good or that rappers don’t have real talent because they typically don’t play instruments.  It doesn’t even bother me that Rap songs often use the choruses of hits from the ‘80’s, instead of coming up with their own.

For me personally, the lyrical content of Rap music is largely irrelevant to my life.  It comes across angry, violent, degrading to women, and obsessed with material possessions (I’m overaware I’m not the first person to say that).  But for all the millions of Rap fans in the world, there are obviously themes that ring true and connect to their listeners.  Rap music is relevant to millions; I’ve just not one of them.

South End of Fort Payne

While I didn’t grow up on a farm and wear Wranglers, there is much I can relate to in Country music, like its common themes of love, family, God, and simple living.  And as content as I am to listen to John Mayer and Guster and Phil Collins on a 4 hour road trip, it’s always a given that I have to slip in a Brad Paisley album into the mix.  Country music provides a lyrical grounding for me in the midst of rock songs which I love, but are better left vague in their meaning (like pretty much anything by Stone Temple Pilots or Smashing Pumpkins).

So there’s my biased opinion.  Which is it for you, though?  Which musical extreme do you identify with most- Country or Rap?  (You can either answer quietly to yourself or in the form of a passionate and/or angry comment below.) I think it’s a pretty interesting and revealing question to ask someone.  Like simply asking a person “Batman or Superman?

I am the Human Spell Check

Bring me your misspelled words and incomplete sentences.

In school, I never studied for spelling tests (at least I never needed to) and I always got a “104” (perfect score plus I got the “challenge words” right as well).  The English language, as random and pieced-together as it is, has always made sense to me.  I wasn’t too bothered with the fact that the word “know” has a silent “k” (originally it was pronounced).  Nor was I ever really annoyed with the “I before E except after C” rule.

Somehow I’ve made sense out of the consistent inconsistency of our junkyard Spumoni language, borrowed mainly from our European ancestors- and also surprisingly from Yiddish, the universal language of the Jews, being that there are almost exactly the same number of Jews living in America as there are in Israel; accordingly, the United States has the 2nd highest Jewish population in the world.  Examples of adopted Yiddish words – bagel, klutz, schlub, schmooze, schmuck, shtick, schnozzle, tush, schlong.

And I’m convinced that my love of words has a lot to do with why I don’t really have a Southern accent, despite only living in the South (AL, FL, VA, TN).  Because I know how words are supposed to sound.  It’s not “ahss”, it’s “ice”.  It’s not “Toeyohduh”, it’s “Toyota”.  To speak in any distinct accent would be to stray from the standard American way of speaking.  I’m overaware of the way I pronounce words- only in rare occasions does a hint of Alabama come out of me.

I am the person in any given room who people ask, “How do you spell ‘initiate’”?  Then immediately, the word pops up in a translucent white font outlined in black, in my head.  I am that guy.  That can always save the day in times of a spelling crisis.  In college, I was the guy that all my dorm mates would bring their papers to for me to correct them the night before they were due.  And not only was it fun for me, but I took pride it doing it.

The downside of being a human spell check: I’m horrible at math and science.

The irony of writing about being a human spell check: I misspelled the word “spell check” in the title for this post by combining two words as one.  The real spell check caught it for me.

For a similar post by a similar but different writer, read

Operation: Mustache (A Social Experiment)

For three days, I had a mustache.  Life was different.

We as an American culture are quite familiar with movies where the protagonist disguises himself as something he’s not and is treated drastically different by society: 

In Tootsie (1982), a male actor in NYC pretends to be a Southern woman in order to get an acting gig on a soap opera.  In Soul Man (1986), a white guy pretends to be an African-American so he can get a college scholarship.  In Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), a San Francisco dad pretends to be an aged Scottish woman to spend more time with his kids after the divorce.  In I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007), two straight firefighters pretend to be married homosexuals for the monetary benefits.

We recognize these situations as comedy.  After recently realizing on my own that men under the age of 40 (who are not cops) can not be taken seriously, I decided to prove my theory.  For 72 hours, I lived my life as a 28 year-old mustachioed man.  Here are the results.

At work, my male and female workers under 40 did nothing but crack jokes about my mustache and talked about what a creep I looked like: 

“I don’t think it’d be a good idea for you to go near a school with a bag of candy…”

 “Where’ s your Harley?”

 “When is your wife going to put her foot down about your mustache?”

“No offense, but you totally look like a pervert with that thing.”

 “Seriously, I can’t even look at you.  In fact, step away from me…  You’re kinda freaking me out!”

However, not surprisingly, the men in my office over 40 specifically and sincerely made a point to come up to me and tell me otherwise:

“Man, I like that mustache.  Looks good on you.”

 “How long did it take you to grow that?  I wish I could have one like that.”

Though I know nothing about babies, for some reason, they always like me.  Whenever I’m near a baby in public, I make funny faces at them and they always laugh.  But Tuesday night, I was standing in line at Blue Coast Burrito with my wife when I looked behind me and saw a mother holding a baby.  I did my usual thing.  The baby didn’t smile or laugh, instead, he looked confused.  His mother turned away from me. 

And lastly, at home, well, as my wife put it:  “I’m sorry, but I just can’t take you seriously with that thing.”  It really changed the dynamics.  She graciously let me do the mustache experiment, but was just as happy as I was to shave it off last night.

Based on my experiment, Operation: Mustache, a man under 40 can not be taken seriously.  I invite other qualified young men to participate in the same experiment, but I don’t recommend it.

Needless to say, I don’t plan to grow a mustache again until I’m at least 40.  Even then…

Read the prequel, Must Not Mustache

The Awkward American Tradition of Tipping in Restaurants


Tipping isn’t a city in china…

There are certain events in life that I consider normal and common, incorrectly assuming everyone else participates in them with the same amount as passion as I do. In recent years I have been made aware that I am a “music buff”: I own well over 800 CD’s (not iTunes albums, but actual discs). As well as a “movie connoisseur”: I’m not a guy that can just sit down and enjoy a stupid movie like White Chicks. I will read multiple reviews on all the movies currently playing at the theatre, then choose the top 2 or 3 and see them all in one afternoon.

When it comes to restaurants, I’m no different in regards to my premeditated snobbery towards those eateries that are sub-par in my book. Instant disqualifiers for a restaurant: it has a drive-thru, it has an obvious theme, it’s noisy, it’s expensive for no good reason/prices aren’t listed on the menu, it’s all fried food, it’s a buffet, it’s Mexican, it’s Chinese, I have to pay to park, the actual menu is greasy, the waitress’s name is Flo, and I can see the cook smoking a cigarette as he’s cooking the food, to name a few.

If I could go back in time and influence the culture of American dining in restaurants, I would do whatever it takes in order to eliminate the social acceptance and expectance regarding food servers so that in 2009 I wouldn’t have to participate in the subconsciously awkward world of Tipping. Of all the things I don’t enjoy doing, evaluating another person’s work ability is at the top of that list. So I definitely don’t want to do it while I’m paying to eat. But even so, I pretty much just tip everyone the same percentage anyway.

During the summer of 2005 as I was saving up money to move to Nashville, I was a waiter at Western Sizzlin’ (the South’s version of The Sizzler) where I learned what all goes into serving a table of adults who act like bratty children. Hearing annoying quotes like, “This steak is still mooing at me…”, “I didn’t order pickles on my hamburger!”, and “You got any FRESH coffee?” were all part of my daily routine. (All spoken with Southern accents for dramatic effect.) That experience causes me to be especially appreciative of my waiter when I am out at a restaurant.

But now as the one being served, the whole experience of interacting with the waiter puts me into what I call Game Show Host Mode. I act like everything the waiter does is magic trick, like bringing the menu, then the drinks (as I usually rip off the restaurant by ordering free water), then taking my order, taking away the menu, etc. My response: raising my eyebrows, nodding my head, and smiling too much after each accomplished action. So over the top.

In most other situations if I acted that way, I would deserve a “Punch Me in the Face” sign more than Spencer Pratt or Dane Cook. But the environment of the restaurant and the relationship between me and the waiter excuses my overly grateful and easily amused behavior.

What if I didn’t have to feel like I’m treating my waiter like a kid, needing my exaggerated approval and acknowledgement on every little thing he does? Better yet, what if America was like most other countries in the world and just flat out didn’t associate tipping with restaurants? But ultimately, a country only has the customs that its culture allows and depends on. So when it all comes out in the wash, our society openly accepts the frivolous head game we call Tipping.