The South of the Mind
American Imaginings of White Southernness, 1960–1980
University of Georgia Press 2018
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in FilmNew Books in HistoryNew Books in MusicNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Popular CultureNew Books Network October 31, 2018 Zeb Larson
When talking about the American South in the second half of the twentieth century, popular discourse tended to fall into one of three camps (on occasion, two might coexist simultaneously): the “Vicious South” which was violent and regressive, the “Down Home South” which was traditional and family oriented, and the “Changing South” which was moving past its earlier racial strife. While the Vicious South archetype predominated and fit into a narrative that showed the South as un-American, unrepresentative of the larger country, and repressive, by the end of the 1960s perceptions of the South were changing. Americans in different parts of the country began to consider the different ways that the real or perceived culture of the South might offer solutions to racism, masculinity, modern ennui, and crime.
Zachary Lechner’s The South of the Mind: American Imaginings of White Southernness, 1960–1980 (University of Georgia Press, 2018) looks at this cultural transformation in the United States in the period from 1960 to 1980. Lechner examines different forms of cultural production to see how the South was being understood at different moments. That understanding was in turn shaped by a desire to use elements of southern culture to overcome social and cultural problems in the United States. Shows like Andy Griffith showed a traditional southern way of life that was able to work past the problems of consumerist modernity, movies like Walking Tall showed men using violence to restore order and to end crime, and the musical counterculture found both musical technique and personal style to mine in country music and the South. This culminated in the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, whose persona was built in part on having insight into overcoming the racial and social strife that had plagued the rest of the country.
Zeb Larson is a PhD Candidate in History at The Ohio State University. His research is about the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. To suggest a recent title or to contact him, please send an e-mail to [email protected].