Whistling Dixie

Reading between the lines.
Nov. 26 1996 3:30 AM

Whistling Dixie

A search for the real South.

Dixie Rising: How the South Is Shaping American Values, Politics, and Culture

By Peter Applebome

Times Books; 384 pages; $25

(Continued from Page 1)

S uch occasional overreaching aside, Applebome's is a shrewd, fair, and entertaining guide to the region. In Nashville, he shows how country and western has become the predominant music of white America, with Garth Brooks having outsold every recording artist in the United States except the Beatles. In Mississippi, Applebome mixes vivid landscape writing with visits to the state's tacky casinos. Throughout, he displays a deft and lively grasp of Southern history and letters, popular culture and cuisine. ("Pickled pigs' feet are the opposite of an acquired taste," he writes. "Unless you're born eating [them], you never will.") The narrative is laced throughout with colorful, distinctly Southern characters, including a Delta store owner who displays a Happy Holidays sign year round ("[w]e have a holiday every two months or so") and a Georgia rabbi whose " rock 'n' roll temple" fuses Jewish and Southern ways ("[w]e're sort of reconformadox").


Nowhere is this book's love/hate affair with the South more obvious than at the end, when Applebome profiles Lewis Grizzard, the Georgia humorist and newspaper columnist who asked that his ashes be spread on the 50 yard line of the Georgia Bulldogs' stadium. After an admiring review of Grizzard's wit, the author turns on the writer for peddling a nostalgic vision of a homogeneous pre-integration South: "Grizzard's idealized South was the world before feminists and affirmative action, when gays stayed in the closet where they belonged, where America pretty much meant the world of small-town white folks like him."

"The South that is triumphant now," concludes Applebome, is one that both Grizzard and neo-Confederates would celebrate, "a place of feel-good nostalgia, easy answers, and painless solutions, forever looking backward through a pale mist and seeing only the soft focus outlines of what it wants to see." It exalts states' rights while ignoring the doctrine's ugly racial legacy, and rants against the federal government while conveniently forgetting Washington's role in salvaging the region's economy with military spending and other aid. Applebome sketches the alternative promise of a proudly interracial South that "has gone through the fire of change and come out redeemed." The problem is, little else in his book suggests that this dream will become reality.

Having recently traveled to many of the places Applebome visited, I found his warm but withering portrait of Dixie to ring true. The much-hyped New South may have shed Dixie's overt racism and acquired the same neon surfaces as the rest of America. But it can still look a lot like the Old South. And it remains a far cry from Topeka.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 22 2014 11:13 AM Your Own Personal Rand Paul How the libertarian hero makes his foreign policy contradictions disappear.
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.