Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Brief Rant about Southern Literature

H.L. Mencken characterized the entire Southern United States as "the sahara of the bozart", particularly upending the region for its lack of creativity or artistic accomplishment. That harsh critique created a firestorm of controversy in the region, arguably inspiring a period of fecundity that made Southern literature very much in vogue. William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O'Connor, Katherine Ann Porter, and Margaret Mitchell began a long tradition that mined the same themes over and over again. Shunning the rapidly industrializing urban cities, these authors focused on the agrarian past and the rural concerns of small towns.

The South of my birth and my residence was absolutely nothing like the hackneyed stereotype that so many people want to pass off as authentic. I grew weary of front porches, incestuous families, farms, overwrought dialect, and all the trappings. While those of a certain generation--the generation of my parents and grandparents, particularly--love this genre, it has long since become a stock cliche. A new generation, my own, finds nothing particularly spectacular or compelling about the old ways. As a matter of fact, I deliberately avoid most southern literature for the reasons I've spelled out in some detail earlier in this piece.

The south I know isn't all that much different from most other regions in the country. The middle class suburb in which I grew up could be easily located in just about any state in the union. Mass communication, starting with the television, has been a great leveling force. Accents are less pronounced, clothing styles are more uniform, and regional peculiarities are increasingly few in number. Some lament that this region is losing more and more of its authentic flavor, but this is a phenomenon that's hardly the domain of the south. With mass production we eat the same foods, watch the same programs, frequent the same shops, and obsess about the same things.

If Southern Literature wants to stay current, it needs to adapt to these times. Yet, in the twenty-first century, region is becoming less and less important to the dialogue. Each part of the country will always retain some of its own unique flair, but the capitalism of this modern era, individuality is being replaced by consumerist conformity, for better and for worse. If progress is a million identical Target shopping centers, one wonders what that impact will be upon popular culture, art, and all creative pursuits.

1 comment:

Liberality said...

My friend moved to Vermont a few years back and I went to visit her for a week after she settled in. One thing about that state, small though it is, the mom & pop shops are it. I think I saw one McDonald's and one Walmart the whole time I was there and that was in the capital. Most towns were small and had just locally owned small business is the standard. It was really nice if just a tiny bit more expensive.