Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Five Southern Traditions Nobody Talks About

The common experiences everyone in Dixie shares … that they don’t want the rest of the country to find out about. 

People tend to have one of two perspectives on the Southeastern United States. One perspective sees a particularly brutish, ass-backwards anti-culture, where racism and institutional classism runs rampant. The other depicts the Southland as a pastoral, picturesque wonderland, a place where all the old charms and values of yesteryear lingers on as an affront to modernity itself.

As always, the truth is really “none of the above.” Indeed, Dixie in the 21st century is both a goulash of widespread poverty and ostentatious suburban wealth, a land filled with methamphetamine and wilding out young uns and manufactured paradises where respectful youths sip sweet tea on Antebellum porches and everybody shows up on time for the annual downtown Christmas parade.

But, there are other time-honored traditions those south of the Mason-Dixon line aren't too fond of discussing with outsiders. You know, the southland ain't all gravy biscuits and crazy ass outsider art; here are five long-held Dixie traditions you probably won't hear Tennesseans or Louisianians boasting about on your next visit to Music City or 'Nawlins...

Watching Pro Wrestling with Your Racist Granny

It’s an inarguable fact: all people above the age of 62 in the American south are racist. I’m not just talking about white senior citizens, I mean all senior citizens: whether you’re the color of mayonnaise, Nesquick or Heinz 57, if you’re eligible for Social Security benefits in today’s modern South, you are indelibly a hate-filled, rancorous ethno-supremacist.

If you’ve ever wondered why Southern people, specifically the senior crowd, seem to have such a penchant for pro wrestling programming, that’s pretty much the reason why. Professional wrestling, by and large, is a gigantic universe of crude, cruel and borderline offensive racial stereotypes, all battling for metaphorical ethnic supremacy using fake violence. In fact, I probably first heard a majority of the five-star slurs thanks to my granny’s utter disdain for the Orient Express, Tito Santana and especially Ron Simmons, whom had the honor/misery of becoming the first black WCW World Heavyweight Champion.

Over the past 30 years, it’s amazing how little the professional wrestling industry has done to curb back all of the race-baiting. With a contemporary cast of characters that includes a Moslem terrorist, a gang of lawnmower riding Mexicans and an African American tag team known as “Cryme Tyme,” it’s arguably more ethnically-charged today than it was in the heyday of Sgt. Slaughter, the Iron Sheik and Saba goddamn Simba.

Having Relatives Show You How Big Their Dumps Are

The southern man takes great pride in even his most meager of accomplishments. That’s why, in the era of the Xbox and the iPad, horse shoes and cornhole remain astoundingly popular pastoral activities south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Combining that nearly biologically need to compete with a dearth of recreational resources, it’s probably not too surprising that southern folk invent some wildly unorthodox ways to outdo one another. As in, engaging in let’s see who can pee the furthest contests, which were indeed quite the popular neighborhood activities in my carefree days of youth.

But don’t think this is something that only the kids partake of. Oh, no sir-ee Bob. For reasons that completely defy explanation, I’ve noticed that true Sons of the South take enormous pride in the size, length and texture of their own excrement, having been yanked from slumber by more than one adult relative so I could marvel at their gargantuan turds coiling around the commode bowl. I had one uncle who even kept a Polaroid scrapbook of his own shit -- he was utterly convinced that one of them had to break the Guinness World Record for lengthiest poo, and eagerly awaited the day they mailed him a check for a million dollars.

Being Drunk at Wal-Mart 

Getting sloshed is definitely a Southern way of life. Likewise, frequenting America’s number one retailer is another time honored tradition for the sons and daughters of Dixie. Therefore, visiting Wally World while inebriated just makes all sort of sense, in a way that makes no sense it all. Primarily, because you’re too shit-faced to know you’re trying to carry on a conversation with an unintended checkout lane.

In every shitty small town in the south, the Wal-Mart is the proverbial center of the universe. In terms of footprint and daily volume, its almost always the biggest communal gathering place in the village; what the watering hole is to antelopes in the African Savannah, Sam Walton's monolithic discount department store is to poor rural and exurb people of all shapes, sizes and hues.

Growing up in a little burgh that was just then developing a taste for the crystal meth, me and my school chums spent many late evenings and early mornings. just ambling down the aisles of Wal-Mart while intoxicated. The idea, you see, was to get rip roaring drunk on cheap-o vodka in the parking lot and all of a sudden, the local depot of consumer misery turned into some sort of post-utopian wonderland, albeit one with edited gangsta rap CDs. Looking back on it, I'm not really sure what the appeal of drunkenly stumbling down the canned tomato sauce section at two in the morning was supposed to be, but it remained a popular pastime, nonetheless. Exemplifying the importance of this abstruse regional rite: I ran into a kid I hadn't seen in literally 10 years recently, and the first thing he said to me? "Hey, Jimbo, remember when we used to get drunk at Wal-Mart back in the day?"

Anticipating a Full Blown Race Riot at School

The southland is pretty much a racial powderkeg, waiting to explode at any minute. The strange thing is, despite having the most profound historical track record of racial unrest in the country, the modern southland remains the most racially diverse part of the country. In fact, the 12 states with the highest concentration of African-American residents are all in the American South, with the racial composition of local governments in Atlanta, Memphis and Birmingham looking suspiciously similar to that of the aggregate pro basketball team.

So, let’s do the mathematics on this one. It’s a two-dyad political power struggle, mounted in 300 years of racial fury. People are just jonesing to let that undercurrent of ethno-rage froth up like magma, and really, all it takes is just one teeny, tiny incident to flick off an eruption.

At my middle school and high school, our team mascot was a palette-swap of the Ole Miss Rebel -- a cartoon character clearly designed to resemble a slave owner of yore. Well, one year, our long-tenured (and white, of course) principal stepped down, and our new head honcho was an African-American. With the white folks silently uneased, the shit really hit the fan when a new design for the team mascot came out … and chuckles a plenty, the new logo was a mulleted brigadier general, with a facial complexion a few shades south of “acceptably olive.” It may sound stupid to the rest of society, but that little decision almost led to our small hillbilly hamlet turning into Ferguson, Miss. A week later, a white kid slung an eraser tip at a black kid in geometry class, and holy shit, everybody in town thought the National Guard was going to have to come in. Of course, such tempers always simmer down to a light boil, but that friction is an omnipresent element in the Southland -- one of the quaint joys that kids in Caucasian utopias like New Hampshire will never, ever comprehend.

Fearing that you May Have Unintentionally Engaged in Incestuous Activity

Yeah, yeah, we all know the stereotype, which was more or less culturally codified by countless episodes of “The Jerry Springer Show” back in the late 1990s. Southern folk, for whatever reason, have a peculiar taste for their own kin, with a cultural depiction running the gamut from innocuous first cousin French kissers all the way up to full blown sibling-humpers.

While that little stereotype is erroneous for several reasons (historically, incest has  always been an activity of the upper crust and not the lower mantle -- lest we forget, Eleanor was a Roosevelt way before she married FDR), there is an uncomfortable nugget of truth to the longstanding belief. You see, it’s not that Southern people actively seek out their own blood to bone, it’s just that so many people in small towns are somehow genetically linked that really, you’re probably only four or five leaps away from encountering some kind of distant relative.

That’s why no matter who you’re dating in the little burghs, there’s a still a slightly-above average chance you’re re-stirring your own genetic batter. I had one friend who was seduced by his sister’s hot girlfriend from out of town, only to run into her at an extended family reunion a month later. To be fair, it was a sizable leap in genetic material -- we’re talking third or fourth cousin, once removed -- but they still shared a common forbearer.

Alas, it’s a shame the South must continue to live with, if for simple geographic limitations. But as a positive? That means that for the next few decades at least, you can actually use an oblique reference to “mitochondrial eve” as a pick up-line in Ol’ Dixie.


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