If you've yet to read the first two posts in this series, please begin here.
One might describe the image of “Country Life” as rugged, Outdoorsy, rather casual (read: Blue jeans), refined, and pastoral. For “City Life,” the average American is more likely to envision suited businessmen, cocktail parties, and cutting edge technology. Generally, the dissimilarity is that of sophistication versus naiveté. This is a broad stereotype that is simultaneously an antiquated fallacy and a modern misconception. In the world of computers and interstate highways, one may live in a rural area, but enjoy all of the benefits that an urban setting offers. Furthermore, this distinction certainly wasn’t as rigid several decades ago. From the initial habitation of the South, until well into the twentieth century, oftentimes the country was thought of as the place of greater civility. Prior to the Second World War, a common depiction of cities was that of dirty places filled with criminals and hustlers, whereas the folk of gentility lived on plantations out in the cleaner fresh air of the Rural South.
From whence did this notion of Country as Rural and City as Sophisticated arise? Why did the South so drastically make the aforementioned change after during the Post-war period? It has its origins in the Suburbs. Suburbs popped up like weeds in the era following the Second World War in response to servicemen returning stateside, often with quite a few dollars saved up. These young men coalesced with their new families (at relatively young ages, too), often times in parts of the country that were both geographically and culturally distant from the places of their origins. The common culture in the suburbs was not that of their region, but that of the country as a whole. In an era busting with patriotism and pride for the whole of the United States, these suburbs became havens for cultural homogenization.
I identify with the Urban South, but I’ve had my love affair with the Rural South.
Both of its faces define the South’s inimitable character. Each is unique, but each is also distinctly Southern, and the South wouldn’t be the wonderful region it is without either. With two unique faces that have blurred to define the one region we might ask how one would then define our land. That which is distinctly NOT Southern is the burbs. That statement is incorrect, as it would imply that there is something distinct about general suburbia; nothing is distinct about it. Applebees and Culs-de-sac and Targets may be familiar faces that one can comfortably recognize anywhere he goes, but none of these things purvey the magnificence that our fine region demands. They deliver only mediocrity. Homogenization leads to this mediocrity; and it was for this reason that I could contemplate living in the country, be drawn to the city, but never really even consider suburbia.
So does this mean that the South defined more by its rural side? Does all of this imply that the urban side of the South delivers its distinct culture? I hesitate to say either; but that which I am sure of is that the South is not defined by its suburbs. The suburbs represent the America that is non-regional, and the South is if nothing else a distinct region, and a region deservedly proud of its distinction. So, whether you see the South as a land of Pickup Trucks and Hank Williams, or you see Debutante Balls and Downtown Lunch Clubs, realize that both of these airs are important and relish the wonderful region we have down here.