Friday, February 27, 2009

W.Va. governor is fighting state's 'hillbilly image'

ABC's "20/20" documentary "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains" was shot in Eastern Kentucky, not West Virginia, but Diane Sawyer said it represented the economic and social ills of Central Appalachia in general, and Tony Dokoupil writes in a Newsweek Web-only story, "Chances are that the stigma of these hoary Appalachian stereotypes will tar West Virginia far more than its less mountainous neighbor."

"That's because while we know Kentucky for Louisville, bluegrass and basketball, West Virginia's perceived backwardness has been one its most durable cultural memes — an unshakable label for a state that lacks a big city, a famous musical heritage or championship team to offer as an alternative," Dokoupil opines. "That may soon change. Shedding the state's hillbilly image has become a personal crusade of Gov. Joe Manchin," right.

Manchin, in his second term, "has authorized a multimillion blast of cash and marketing aimed not only at rehabilitating the region's reputation, but also stemming a three-decade exodus of the state's best and brightest residents," Dokoupil reports. "In the next few weeks he will announce a "Come Home to West Virginia" spokesperson — the face of a new campaign to cast the state as a destination for families, entrepreneurs and young leaders." Dokoupil errs by calling the Democratic governor a Republican; perhaps he was misled by Manchin's strong pro-business attitude. He notes that the state's "Wild, Wonderful" slogan had changed to "Open for Business."

He is skeptical that Manchin can succeed: "While you and I can reinvent ourselves by revamping our Facebook page, West Virginia's overhaul may require a deeper, more delicate approach, not least because many of the state's stereotypes are both longstanding and rooted in at least some fact." He recounts those facts and Manchin's "zero-tolerance policy on the ongoing pop-culture slander of his state," then ends with an illustration that makes Manchin look like, well, a hillbilly:

The annual Road Kill Cook-Off in Pocahontas, for instance, features dishes you're unlikely to see at your local restaurant, including intestine-challenging "flat cat," "bumper bruised bear" and "deer schmear fajitas." The mere mention of it puts a hard edge in the governor's voice. "Are they still running that s––– down south?" he asks an aide in disbelief, before adding: "Well, I tell you what, if you see [the organizer], kill the son of a bitch."

No comments: