The Appalachian region of the United States, while abundant in natural resources and rich in potential, lags behind the rest of the Nation… its people have not shared properly in the Nation’s prosperity. -The Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965
“The majority of mountain people are unprincipled ruffians. There are two remedies only: education or extermination.” Editors of the New York Times, 1912. [Lovely. Thanks a lot, NYT.]
I’ve been super excited for the new Hunger Games movie and today I was asked why.
“It’s a kids book,” I was informed. “Love triangles for teenage girls…”
I shall save the rage about the dismissal of the YA genre for the moment (that’s a whole post in and of itself) and give you a reason for my love of this series that you probably aren’t expecting.
I could get into the fact that it addresses the crazy celeb culture or desensitization to violence caused by reality tv or elitism, all those deeply important issues that I love to see addressed, but it’s simpler than that.
I love this series because they are the first pieces of media I have ever consumed that take my home seriously.
I don’t know if I can give proper voice to how that feels.
You see, I come from a place referred to as Appalachia, a chronically depressed and exploited region of the United States. The history of my home is a long story of being servant to outside companies who come in to take the resources that should have made the region and its people quite wealthy. In the past that meant dangerous mine shafts and black lung. It still means those things, but now we also have the added benefits of ritualistic destruction of our mountains, piles of coal tar left haphazardly about, and the paying of criminally low amounts to put poisonous natural gas wells in our back yards.
I went to graduate school to study about information management in communities and one of the papers I did while there focused on the effect of digital divide on the rural poor. I had a professor argue the entire concept of the digital divide with me. He would not believe me that the entire world was not covered by a 4G network.
I tried to argue. Plenty of the worlds people (including some where I grew up) do not have smart phones; or cell service; or computers in their homes; some do not have running water. He would not believe me.
But living here doesn’t just mean extreme poverty, lack of access to technology and resources, and absurdly high cancer rates, it also means cultural shaming almost every time your home region is shown in the media.
Appalachia is, believe it or not, rich in history and culture. I mean, have you ever heard a song played on a mountain dulcimer? It is a true melting pot region, every bit as much as New York City. We have music, folklore and dialect that is influenced by a huge variety of ethnic groups as well as a flavor all it’s own. Our culture makes me proud to be from this region.
But whenever I see Appalachian culture mentioned in movies, television, or other places, it is always the same: banjo playing “hillbillies” with no teeth and a shotgun aimed at intruders.
[imagine an image of Fuzzy Lumpkins from Powerpuff Girls here. I loved that show, but…yeah…that guy made me uncomfortable.]
There used to be a joke between my mother and I that whenever the state or national news came to interview someone from our town, they would tell them to put on the worst thing they owned and to pretend they were high on meth before they would agree to talk with them about current events. People in my town were poor and struggling, but their conditions were constantly played for a laugh.
When I read Katniss’s annoyance in The Hunger Games that people from District 12 were always sent out in coal miner’s uniforms, I couldn’t help feeling a sting of familiarity in my gut. The people of District 12 were my people. I recognized their world and the ridicule that they knew.
As I read this trilogy, I could see that the home I love despite all it’s flaws being portrayed in a new way. These people weren’t bucktoothed half-humans hopped up on moonshine, they were strong and scrappy. They sang mountain airs and healed with the herbal medicinal traditions that we’ve passed down for generations. They struggled with their exploitative jobs and the trilogy even portrayed very real and troubling “please, sir, can I have some more?” attitude of a region that has been kicked so many times that it will take whatever it can get.
I love The Hunger Games trilogy because it did the one thing I had been begging media to do for as long as I can remember, even if I had never actually voiced this desperate plea: portray my home with the respect it deserves.