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Or, Everything is Basil Hayden's Down Here and Nothing Hurts
By Christopher Sloce
Section A: An Anecdote
I grew up being told that moving north, everyone would look at me like I had nine heads and they all couldn’t talk right. I got a very good taste of this when I was a senator/delegate for J.J. Kelly’s Mock General Assembly team.
During the dance, I ran back up to my room, dodging my sponsor. I sat down in the Richmond Marriott lobby with my copy of 2666 by Roberto Bolano around a bunch of people (because that’s who I was) all discussing the slight margin the gay marriage ruling passed by in our fake Virginia. I voted for it and wanted to talk to people who agreed with a ruling I felt strong about.
I spoke up. A girl from Hampton, Virginia looked at me and asked where I was from.
I said Wise, Virginia.
She said her mother was from Pound, Virginia. Then that she was surprised she was intelligent.
I went, oh.
I sat down and sulked with 2666. Until someone mentioned Twitter.
I spoke up. “Oh, what’s Twitter?” I had recently gotten one because of my obsession with Free Darko, probably the single most important influence in my adolescent life besides HBO, Faulkner, and being impossible.
“It’s like Facebook.” They looked at me. “You know what that is, right?”
They very calmly explained Facebook to me. Admittedly, I just thought it was just MySpace, but I knew it existed. I feigned ignorance of the Internet. Same thing.
They continued. I decided to interrupt their conversation with something like the following:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am very glad you have imparted the knowledge of Facebook and Twitter and the Inter-net onto me. Now that I know of its existence, I will go unto my fellow Wise County denizens. And we will get the mules to work onto their hamster wheels to create the electricity for these projects. Thank you so much.”
I walked away, near skipping. I went to the bar, drank Sprite, and watched the Magic beat the Celtics.
Even as a 16-year-old, I knew what it was. I had an idea that the South was gonna be all around me, and that I wasn’t going to escape it, no matter how hard I tried. Because even though in Wise everyone told me I didn’t talk like I was from around there, everyone everywhere else was dying to tell me how much I talked like I was from there. It was in about everything I ever did, from my voice to my demeanor to my bookshelf to my music library.
I also had an idea I looked good in a porkpie hat.
Only one of these ideas has remained.
Section B: So Why Are We Here, Anyway?
Because Blake Lively likes Southern clothing. Spend a minute on her new website, Preserve, and you'll get it right quick.
There is nothing inherently wrong with liking seersucker, bonnets, and big stupid hats, even though I favored small, stingy brimmed stupid hats. I even have no problems with bowties, even though I have a strong suspicion they are the next fedora, the next revived antiquation we use as a tell-tale sign to avoid someone.
It’s the how of Blake Lively liking Southern clothing. And the how is this:
“The term 'Southern Belle' came to fruition during the Antebellum period (prior to the Civil War), acknowledging women with an inherent social distinction who set the standards for style and appearance. These women epitomized Southern hospitality with a cultivation of beauty and grace, but even more with a captivating and magnetic sensibility. While at times depicted as coy, these belles of the ball, in actuality could command attention with the ease of a hummingbird relishing a pastoral bloom.”
Let’s go ahead and push the elephant out of the room. Blake Lively doesn’t address slavery, which is so honking obvious to anyone who has more than ten minutes with an American history book that no one around her went, “Hey Blake, you know this might be a bad idea, right?” shows probably the most terrifying, dangerous, and, in some ways, envious effects of being famous enough to have a “lifestyle magazine”: That you are so insulated from the common effects and logic of the world that no one is willing to tell you your fly is open. Who amongst us is not privy to the magic of never being called out? The magic of our worst ideas being at worst labeled as a "passion project"? It’s intoxicating, and like all intoxicants, too much can’t be good.
But beyond that, I have a personal bone to pick. I’m admitting this is personal out because along with my lid-choices, oftentimes I doubt whether I have the ability to explain the sociological and political issues of any sort of ephemera with any sort of grace. All I have is my story, my reaction.
Section C: Christopher Sloce’s Reaction
What we have going on in the South is a disparity of action and concern versus image and whether or not this has always been this way or not is something else entirely. There’s this upswing in obsession with rustic ways—teenagers wearing vests and bowties and learning instruments like the banjo and singing about stuff they’ve never experienced, listening to folk bands who all sound the same, who marry upbeat, slightly anthemic choruses to melancholy, kinda whiny lyrics, probably about losing a love or maybe an extra mandolin string. And it’s been going on for a few years now because I kind of used to be one of them. And the return of the “gentleman," as a cultural obsession, bringing the “Southern gentleman” back to life.
Beyond that, the Internet has created the sexy South. Read an issue of Garden and Gun and you get the impression that there is this large swath of the country that screams, Down here, everything is Basil Hayden’s and nothing hurts. Nothing against Garden and Gun’s aesthetics. I read Garden and Gun. I like pretty things as much as anyone. I’ll even peruse a Southern Living once and again.
The concern, though, is that if you view a certain kind of magazine and then the reality, of course, it’s no wonder you’re getting clickbait tripe like The Washington Post’s “Why the South is the Worst Place to Live in the U.S. in 10 Charts." There’s nothing Southerners like more than defending the South, especially against the horrific, terrible plight of the North. However, articles like the aforementioned are tilting at a nonexistent windmill. We know there’s poverty and crime and drugs in the South. And it gets hard to not see this clothing thing, this Southern gentleman thing, as a lame attempt to punch above the weight class. And when you get told, “punch harder," how long till you go until you ruin your knuckles?
So between Garden and Gun and “The Worst Place to Live in the U.S.," well, which one is it? Nobody can think one thing alone and then another thing in a crowd without wondering which one is true. What do you do with an entire region?
Section D: A Personal Aside, as a Conclusion
My grandfather worked in a coal mine as a mechanic. My defining image of him is as a slight ghost-haired man, shorter than everybody, washing his face and seeing the black soot mixing with the white soap and creating a grey lather. This was in the evenings, before we watched boxing. My other defining memory is the day he came home without a finger. It had gotten jammed up in some machinery. He lost his ring finger, possibly his wedding band.
This may have been around Halloween, but somehow, I had procured a sucker in the shape of a thumb that came with a rubber cover, sort of as a mold. I recall putting this thumb in the spot where the ring finger used to be, trying to figure out the logistics of using tape to keep on the replacement.
This was in the last days of a couple big coal companies in Southwest Virginia. Somebody bought a couple out. We did well, probably because my granddad built a house way back in the '70s, but “layoff” was as scary of a word as any.
And between those lay-offs and a lost thumb, there is way more to say about the South as a region than insisting on wearing a bonnet and drinking tea under a veranda. It’s a game of respectability politics. We aren’t rednecks, we say, but those guys are. Virginia’s okay, but Kentucky’s a bunch of horse philandering hillbillies. It all rolls downhill. You’re always somebody’s cousin who married his ride to work. And harkening back to the idea of a past that, in all honesty, was as much a lie as the Cleaver household and that, when it was a truth, was couched in a heinous trade is sad and backwards nostalgia for most of us.
And when Blake Lively does it? It’s none of her damn business.
#Real #BlakeLively #Preserve #SouthernPolitics #TheSouth #Virginia #SouthernCulture #VirginiaCoalMines #OldVirginny
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