More to Appalachia than the TV stereotypes
by Bailey Richards
Every now and then we at The Hazard Herald are contacted by employees of major television networks or news stations. We tend to get excited thinking of the good things these opportunities could bring to the region. A popular miniseries like that of the Hatfield and McCoys can bring tourism and industry, but in Hazard, that is never what they want.
I’ll freely admit that I am not from here originally, and because of that I often face the Dukes of Hazard, Moonshiners, Snake Man, Duck Dynasty, Turtle Man jokes when I show back up in my hometown. I always laugh it off as people who just don’t know the area and are trying to be humorous, and honestly they mean nothing by it.
It isn’t their fault entirely. Any flip of the channel nowadays will bring you to dozens of pseudo-documentaries. They show goofy mountain people living an odd way of life and saying hilarious catch phrases.
I will admit that I also find some of these shows entertaining, but the difference is I know this is entertainment and not reality. I know this because I live here. I walk down Main Street. I have co-workers and friends here, and an everyday example of normal. The only impression I have of the region is not formed based on the toothless Turtle Man.
I write stories all day long about the good interesting people, about the good works of public servants. Yet in my time in Hazard my mom has only called me twice about news she has seen in Cincinnati about my town. The first was when two homosexuals were kicked out of the Pavilion, the second was when a pill was found on a pizza at Papa John’s.
These impressions leave a mark. Intentional or not, people think of Appalachia the way they are shown on these programs.
Yesterday I received a call from the BBC America out of California and their development team at Mac Worldwide that helps to create their programing. They asked about a story I did of a man living off the grid. I told them about my amazing interview with an incredibly interesting man. Ted Baker is a world traveler, an engineer, has raised a baby deer, has a coyote as a pet, lives in an amazing cabin he built himself, and lives completely off the gird with both his power and his food.
Baker is one of the most interesting people I have ever met, and I would love to watch a series about him. However, when I said that he didn’t live an intentionally hard life, but instead was a highly educated man who chose to simplify his life, they passed him by saying he was not mountain man enough.
A few months back a call came from another network asking if we knew of any established “good ole boy” networks. And before that someone asked if we knew how to get up with members of the Duke family. I wish I could say these were prank phone calls, but they were from reputable national television stations like Discovery Channel and History Channel.
The BBC was perhaps the most honest in their call, saying that they were looking for the stereotypical Appalachian as a way of showing the unique culture to the rest of the country. She said that Appalachia was so big right now and her boss was very interested in Hazard. However, my invitation to come visit was not immediately taken.
I completely understand the appeal of the area. The beauty of the mountains, the friendly people, the potential oozing from a region on the verge of an economic boom or bust; I see draw. It is why I have chosen to make this my home. But these things are not what is shown to the rest of the world.
This is truly an incredible area of the country where people are close, help one another, and deal with their economic difficulties as best they can, and normally without silly catch phrases. There is an entertaining story of the mountains, a story of resiliency, a struggle for new industry, a love of the land and a connection to the outdoors that is not being told.
People like Ted Baker are the true mountain men and are the story that should be shown on TV despite his lack of beard and goofy one-liners. He is an example of the potential and the reality of the area, and shows what we are and can be regardless of if the BBC thinks he isn’t enough of a caricature of a bad stereotype.
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