Us & Them: Strangers with Cameras in Appalachia

Sep 21, 2015

Credit Us & Them

I grew up in Appalachia.

Okay, I didn’t come from the kind of Appalachia that’s often associated with the stereotype of ignorant, welfare check-collecting “hicks” living “up the holler.”  I grew up in Charleston, WV, which is and was much like “Suburban Anywhere, USA.”

Even so, I’ve always been sensitive about the “dumb hillbilly” stereotype.  I remember the first time I traveled outside of my region and heard people tease me about my hillbilly accent.  This is a big reason you don’t hear much of a ‘mountain twang’ in my speech anymore. 

To this day, I still wince when I hear the jokes about toothless rednecks swilling moonshine and shacking up with their kinfolk.  I politely smile when I hear this, but truthfully, I often find some people’s attitudes about Appalachia to be cruel and condescending.

That’s how I feel based on my suburban Appalachian experience.  Imagine how people feel who live in “real Appalachia.”

Back in August, my West Virginia Public Broadcasting colleagues Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd, who produce the program Inside Appalachia, put out a wonderful episode that focused on what happens when strangers with cameras go to Appalachia.

This show gets into these hillbilly stereotypes and how some Appalachians feel the outsiders view them like animals they see on a safari or even worse, human oddities at a carnival freak show.  The way that Jessica and Roxy focus on this gets right to the heart of what we try to consider with Us & Them.  I liked it so much I just had to share it with our show’s growing audience.