Media messages that amplify cliches and affect the understanding of rural life.
As sources for stories, rural folks have rarely been portrayed in a realistic light. One of the earliest and most popular depictions of rural life in popular culture was the comic strip "Li'l Abner." Al Capp grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and his closest connection with rural life was a teenage hitchhiking trip through Appalachia. But that didn't stop him from producing the comic strip that, at the height of its popularity in the 40s and 50s, was carried by nearly 900 newspapers in the U.S. for a combined circulation of 60 million. It created the stereotype of the "hillbilly," launched the national phenomenon of Sadie Hawkins Day dances, and spawned a Broadway musical, two films and a theme park. But the strip portrayed Appalachian poor people – and rural people in general – as uneducated, stupid rubes totally lacking in worldly experience and common sense.
When television came along, the hillbilly tradition expanded into shows like "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Green Acres," "Hee Haw" and "The Dukes of Hazzard." For a time in the early 60s, these were some of the most popular shows on TV.
In the movies, hillbilly pop culture took a very dark turn with "Deliverance." The uneducated hillbilly rubes of Li'l Abner became retarded and crippled misfits and savage sexual predators in the movie. These rural sadists terrorize a quartet of Atlanta urbanites on a canoe trip.
"Deliverance" spawned a sub-genre of exploitation movies that capitalized on the fear that some urban residents feel when visiting isolated rural areas. The "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" series, "The Hills Have Eyes," and "Children of the Corn" were all premised on the fatal encounter between modern suburbanites and rural brutes.
Valerie Kaliff (left) understands that rural areas can have a sense of mystery and maybe even foreboding for urban folks. "It is unnerving to people because it is so quiet and still and you can hear the croaks or the frogs and the animals and the coyotes howl," she says. "And it is eerie for people if you're not used to it."
updated by @derek-a-peterson: 07/06/21 12:49:57PM