Hadn’t heard the word “coasties” before sharing a few beers and cigarettes with a tough old chain-smoking rancher gal in the ranch-house kitchen outside Curlew, an eastern Washington town just 10 miles south of the Canadian border. She was complaining about the new bunch of rich people from the West Coast who had bought the next property, built a big house and moved in. They were rude and noisy, and they’d shot one of her cows that had wandered onto their land. “But they’re coasties,” she said with disgust. “That’s how they are.”
“Coasties,” what a great word. Maybe a little prejudicial sounding, maybe, but what hillbillies call “the heartland” people from the east and west coasts call “flyover country.” What we see as a vast and beautiful landscape, they tend to see as a cultural wasteland populated by menacing Neanderthals. Coasties have a tendency to refer to flyover folks as hicks and rednecks and crackers and trash and so on. Coasties is a pretty kind moniker by comparison, and it sure paints the picture. These hoitie-toities produce much of our popular culture in movies and other media, and what does that culture show?
The movie “Deliverance” shows that if you venture out from the city to go canoeing in the scenic countryside of Georgia and South Carolina, you’ll meet genetic defectives with malformed inbred crooked faces and slitted, gummy eyes, and saliva dribbling from their crooked mouths as they play banjoes on the porches of clapboard shacks. You don’t see the good and hardworking honest folks who folks who populate this country, but you do see that if you go there you will be stalked by white trash psychos who think you “got a pretty mouth” and need to be made to “squeal like a pig.”
“Straw Dogs,” the 2011 remake of the old 1971 movie of the same theme, is about a Los Angles couple that moves to rural Mississippi and gets terrorized, attacked and raped by “the workmen” hired to fix the barn roof. Well of course. Rural “workmen.” What else would coasties expect from such dirty undesirables, and yet another wave of urban movie viewers learns to fear the monsters of the midlands.
Even the light-hearted 1983 Chevy Chase movie “Vacation” has the urban family stranded by a broken down car in the western desert robbed by two greasy garage owners who demand a fortune for car repairs and menace the innocents into handing over the money. You can see the same robbery by a rural car mechanics in the 2001 movie “Rat Race,” where the guy even pulls a gun to get the stranded women to turn over the money.
It’s a theme that happens over and over in the movies, rural predators terrorizing hapless urbanites foolish enough to venture into the country.
One newspaper article back in the 1980s always stuck in my head, and I kept a copy because the reviewer’s negative response felt like it hit the nail on the head. It was a review of a traveling photo show to promote the coffee-table photo book by famous coastie photographer Richard Avedon. The title of his book was – and is, for sure copies are still around – “In the American West.” Photos of westerners, each shot against a white curtain. Every one of them was smeared with grime and looked depressed, or angry. Not a smile in the bunch. Six of them were “drifters.” I.e., Avedon found some stew bums and took photos of them that were supposed to represent country people. Several others were patients photographed in a New Mexico mental hospital.
“Sopping with melancholy,” wrote the reviewer, “this book portrays a dismal, boondock America full of unhappy people seething with hostility or slitty eyed with suspicion, wincing with hopelessness …” Why not take the same kinds of photos on the coast and call it “In the American East” and “pretend to be saying something profound about the residents of Connecticut and Ohio? Because, perhaps, it would be patently ridiculous?”
“This is hard to take for those of us who, growing up in the countryside and small towns, learned to look around us and see America’s rich and vibrant heart….We see around us no more stupidity and no less genius than in any coastal population center, no fewer smiles and good nature, no less wit, creativity and spirit of enterprise, and no less human subtlety.”
“Subtleties, however, have little chance against the cartoon images that have polluted the strangely provincial minds of many urbanites: the dismal human wasteland of “The Last Picture Show;” the murderous rednecks of “Deliverance” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the goosey, apple-cheeked naiveté of John Boy ‘I-wanna-be-a-writer-momma’ Walton.”
“What is more ridiculous than the yokel who returns from his first and last trip to New York with no tale to tell but one of rudeness, filth and inhumanity? Perhaps the metropolitan rube who returns from his trip to the country with an equally silly fable – in photographic form – of a degraded race in the hinterlands.”
Tell it, boy.
And sure be kind enough to add your own thoughts and examples on this subject. The Hillbilly Hijinks Facebook page is a good place for that too, because the comments don’t wind up way down at the bottom of the page like they do on this thing.