Archived Story

Stereotypes of South change for better

Published 11:18am Saturday, January 19, 2013

People from other parts of the U.S. have always relied on stereotypes to conjure up images of people from the South. And of course, our stereotypes are “ours” because they do strike a chord of reality.

Of course, I’m speaking of beauty queens, rednecks and football champions.

In the past several weeks, Alabama has won national competitions in all three categories. Hands down.

The football contest wasn’t even close. And I doubt the redneck and beauty queen competition was much of a contest either. Wade Jones won CMT’s Redneck Island television show and Mallory Hagan may have been faking surprise when she was named Miss America.

Given our previous national stereotypes, the ones involving white hoods and fire hoses, I’m quite happy to be now living in the homeland of beauty queens, rednecks and football champs.

And while we’re all proud of those who won the national titles, who hit the pinnacle of their craft, we may not all personally know Miss America, or anybody who plays ball for Nick Saban or even Wade, though you can probably find him at Our Town Country Cupboard right now if you want to meet him.

But I guarantee we all know many people in the redneck, beauty queen and football farm squads … the formative training camps where the secrets and rituals of the trade are passed to the up-and-coming generations.

Let’s take football. Alabama deserves its reputation as a football-crazy state. It’s among the top five topics of conversation in April; it’s all we talk about in the fall. Just this year, the Lake Martin region had one of the most amazing high school football seasons in memory, with eight teams in Tallapoosa and Elmore counties going to the playoffs and packed bleachers all season. I have no doubt that Alabama will be ranked No. 1 again going into the 2013 season, and I have no doubt that Auburn, with its new coaching staff, will be climbing the national rankings again before you know it. Folks here follow locals excelling at the sport from Little League and go all the way up to the NFL.

So let’s take a look at the beauty queen stereotype. Yes, Mallory Hagan just won the Miss America title. She grew up in Opelika; her family is from Tallapoosa County. But what about the farm teams where young Southern belles get their start?

Lorin Holcombe, Miss Teen Alabama, is an Alexander City native. She held the mostly-male Rotary Club’s attention for 30 minutes this week with a speech about what it takes to compete in beauty pageants … and she did it well and stylishly.

Last weekend, this newspaper sponsored the 40th edition of its Outlook Calendar Girl pageant, scores of beautiful young ladies did a terrific job on the stage, with the assistance of their moms and friends backstage, many who were also previous Calendar Girl winners. Yes, these young ladies are beautiful, but they are also confident, poised, able to handle themselves in high-stress situations and dress in chaos.

Anyone who’s traveled across this country knows that the ladies of the South spend considerable effort on, and take great pride in, being feminine. I for one am very happy to live in a place famous for its beautiful, confident, poised women.

And then there’s the redneck stereotype. Jeff Foxworthy made a living describing it. But here are the words I’d use based on my experience living here: country, rough around the edges, hard-working, outdoorsman, full of common sense, loyal, friendly, do anything for you, self-reliant, practical, down-to-earth, the kind of guy you’d want beside you in a foxhole. Some city folks may look down on rednecks because they’re not typically suave, worldly, sophisticated or a font of etiquette and style.

But none of that matters much when you’re outdoors in Alabama … where I’m going this weekend. In fact, I’ll be at my deer camp with a number of people who work as lawyers, vice presidents and managers of companies as well as retirees, young kids and guys still working their first real jobs, all who would quickly admit to being more than a little redneck. We all enjoy the outdoors, all are trying to provide meat for the family table, and I bet every one of us wishes our necks had the opportunity to get more red, not less.

I just realized our magazines, Lake and Lake Martin Living, have featured football players, beauty queens and Wade Jones on their covers this winter.

And if you’ve seen Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron’s tattoo and girlfriend, he may just be the stereotypical Alabamian at the top of his game.

Yes, Alabama is most definitely the state of football champions, beauty queens and rednecks. I’m proud of it, and I’d bet ours could whip anybody’s.

Oh, never mind.

We’ve already done that.

Boone is publisher of The Outlook.

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