I last wrote about the concept of a ‘hillbilly’ five years ago, an eternity in Internet time, but the viewing of a sensitive and thoughtful documentary on the subject, available on Hulu, returns the topic to my mind. Sally Rubin and Ashley York’s film looks mainly at eastern Kentucky, with a few segments in West Virginia, but also broadens out to include a wider examination of the stigmatization of rural people everywhere.
Most provoking for me was the segment that showed popular comedians, one after the other, using the “hillbilly” stereotype as fodder for cheap laughs. Not to mention the famous Hillary Clinton “deplorables” comment, which pretty much sealed her fate with a lot of rural voters. I found it instructive to listen to that comment today, when we can hear it in retrospect and recognize just what a condescending, self-congratulatory remark it was, as compared with 2016, when Clinton supporters felt compelled to downplay how tone-deaf it was during the heat of the campaign.
If progressive activists and politicians want to win back rural voters — and let’s not forget, the entire progressive movement began as a rural movement — they need to re-learn how to listen to those voters and not stigmatize them as backward losers who couldn’t get out of rural America like their smarter counterparts who moved to the cities and suburbs.
Oh and by the way, here’s an image from the other movie entitled “Hillbilly” that came out last year:
Yeah, I’d say we have a long way to go in the struggle to avoid rural stereotyping.