When Viewed from the Other Side of the Mountain: The 'Hillbilly' Stereotype in Twenty-First Century Films

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I propose to analyze and categorize the interpretations of the "hillbilly" stereotype in twenty-first century films (in both "art" films and in mainstream studio productions). In his seminal 1995 study of the portrayal of the "hillbilly" stereotype in twentieth century films (_Hillbillyland_), J. W. Williamson viewed that particular stereotype as being a rural American rather than specifically an Ozark and/or Appalachian phenomenon, and thus he identified films set in rural sections of various rural regions of the U.S. as having been equally involved in the proliferation of manifestations of the "hillbilly" stereotype. By incorporating my own research into the history of the "hillbilly" stereotype, I plan to challenge Williamson's argument by suggesting that in his effort to defend Appalachian culture from negative stereotyping (he was an Appalachian studies scholar at Appalachian State University) Williamson misinterpreted the true nature of that stereotype, which was indeed an effort by mainstream American culture, from before the American Revolution through the late twentieth century and arguably into the new millennium, to identify a distinctively "other" sectional culture within the United States--one that in its very "otherness" rendered mainstream American culture (which historically suffered from a kind of inferiority complex when it compared itself to European cultures) as inherently more "cultured" by comparison. After I critique Williamson's study, I plan to suggest the emergence of a new strain of postmodern, indeed post-"hillbilly," stereotyping practiced in certain newer, late twentieth century and early twenty-first century films, even as other twenty-first century films have rehashed old "hillbilly" stereotyping tropes borrowed from an earlier era.


Washington, DC

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