loyalty, and courage in Southern movierncharacters sometimes suggest they’re toorndumb to know any better. Enter ForrestrnGump.rnForrest Gump has abundant similaritiesrnwith another recent white-trashrnmovie not often compared to it: NaturalrnBorn Killers. In both, boy and girl lostrnsouls befriend each other; the Southern/rncracker girls are abused by their fathersrn—in Natural Born Killers, this is sornblatantly a motif that Rodney Dangerfieldrndoesn’t even bother with a Southernrnaccent to match his daughter’s—andrnboth girls escape in a flight westward. Inrnboth movies, of course, the girl also getsrnbeaten up.rnBoth movies feature the drug culturernand Vietnam; both include a scenic racernwestward to the coast; and in both, thernSouthern good ol’ boy becomes a herornerratically, by default. Both movies alsornuse cutting-edge cinematography withrnsoundtracks of great oldies, and bothrnsplice in actual-history footage. Andrn(just to be ticky), each movie includesrnone scene from a vertiginous height;rneach includes one cheap scene—thernshot of Tonya Harding in Natural BornrnKillers (speaking of trailer parks) andrnGump’s blocked-out speech on Vietnamrn—and each ends with a brief “family”rnsentimentalism. In other words. BabyrnBoomers have hit the big screen, withrntheir generally Jeffersonian dreams, admirationrnof hard work, glutted-job-marketrnambivalence toward creativity, andrnfear of success.rnReviewers were mixed about bothrnfilms—criticizing Oliver Stone for exploitationrnand Gump for sentimentalityrn—overlooking the genuine pathos inrnboth, such as the character of Jenny, eagerrnto escape the stigmas represented byrnForrest’s I.Q. and his accent and passionatelyrngrasping at the upscale superfieialsrnrepresented interchangeably by college,rnCalifornia, and the drug culture. ThatrnGump becomes a gazillionaire because arnhurricane misses his shrimp boat (anotherrnseldom-seen headline) is a red herring.rnFlaws aside, both movies were relativelyrnsuccessful, surely because—likernSchindler’s List—they included somethingrnapproximating actual history andrnassumed, correctly, that the audiencernwould tolerate its inclusion. With thernCold Vvar over, giant divots of public attentionrnspan dug up by the Berlin Wallrnare being gradually replanted; history isrnallowed in entertainment again.rnOn another note: to retire the chainsawrntrophy once and for all, Pulp Fictionrnhas now brought an anal rape by twornwhite hayseeds against a black crimernlord, released by Miramax (owned byrnfamily-minded Disney, speaking of overturningrnstereotypes). This comic Deliverancernknockoff is a tidy little political allegoryrn—probably unintended—with thernwhite rube countryside and the black innerrncity, equally demonized in news andrnentertainment media, screwing eachrnother to proht a basically suburban perspective.rnThus Gump and Pulp Fictionrnwere superficially pitted as Oscar contenders,rnin the new opinion-makingsector-rnsponsored civil war of WhiternTrash Nation versus Hip Nation.rnMaybe Gump and Natural BornrnKillers, between them, represent the culminationrnof a trend. Two recent movies,rnafter all, do separate the terrain of thernSouth from that of trailer parks, betweenrnThe War and The Beans of Egypt, Maine.rnOr, on the other hand, maybe not. Arnviewing of judge Dredd reveals that evenrnin the futuristic third millennium, therernare still weapons-toting, religion-spoutingrncrazies in the hills, gunning for thernhero. Filmmakers seem to need thosernhillbillies. And more recently, the floprnThe Tie That Binds links the white-trashrncomponent with birth parents, againstrnupscale adoptive parents… a new low.rnThe most recent South-set movie, ofrncourse, is the mainly estimable A Time tornKill. Like John Grisham’s other works, itrnis relatively humane, nuanced, and sociologicallyrnbalanced—not all black andrnwhite or cartoonish stereotypes; even thernKlan character (Kiefer Sutherland) is humanlyrnmotivated by his brother’s deathrnand is shown in the murder scene pullingrnhis mother out of gunshot. That said,rnthe movie is still an indirect tribute tornthe importance of detail in filmmaking.rnSlight changes—captioning at the beginningrnto set the movie I ? years agorn(even) in Mississippi, for example—rnwould have strengthened the film byrnmaking it more believable. And the rolernof the vestigial Klan should have been reduced,rnsome of it mapped more believablyrnonto separate personal and socialrnconflicts.rnWhile white-trash characters can embod)’rnwhite-collar nightmares, thev canrnalso act out white-collar resentments,rnand they broaden the range of permissiblernrepresentation. But this is a twoedgedrnsword. If speaking truth to powerrnis a desideratum, perhaps it should bernperformed by more characters thanrnthose who say things like, “Don’t he haverna purty mouth on him?” (Actual humanrnbeings who live where Deliverance wasrnset have referred to James Dickey asrn”Marse Jim”). Nor should an understandablernaim of representing racism asrnsomehow low-class be allowed to indulgernthe fiction that race privilege is foundrnonly in some regions and not others.rnOne can tap into a rich vein of semiotics,rnthrough representations of regionrnin American film. As has been pointedrnout before, these representations manifestrna felt need for authenticity—projectedrnonto Southern latitudes as a place ofrnspecial latitude—with results not alwaysrnas reductive as the examples discussedrnabove. That movie “Southernness” releasesrncommentary and attitude otherwisernrepressed has some positive potential,rnand even flawed examples withrnagrarian roles played against type byrnactors like Tony Curtis and MichaelrnCaine—ridiculed in their time, butrngutsy in their way—made earnest effortsrntoward some kind of social texture.rnThe tapestry of backwardness (real orrnimagined), like the historical past, has itsrnuses for creating social texture, and canrnbe ironic or transforming. John Sayles’rnMatewan was a powerful use of the terrainrnboth of country and of history; GallicrnKhouri’s use of the dual second-classrncitizenry of two Southern women inrnThelma and Louise created a 20th-centuryrnversion of Aristotelian causality; andrnbefore both, the never-yet-equaled NothingrnBut a Man will always rebut the suggestionrnof thin though well-meantrnmovies like Mississippi Burning, that socialrnchange is caused almost entirely byrnwhite agentry. These films do more thanrnjust commodify the dispossessed.rnMeanwhile, alongside the bogus historyrnof caricature, sonre real history is seepingrnback into popular movies. Both NaturalrnBorn Killers and Gump werernrelatively successful, in spite of theirrnflaws, partly because they tracked withrnactual history connected to their audiencern—^like, in different ways, Schindler’srnList, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and even Casino.rnIf this is a trend, the best examplernmay be Independence Day, full of referencesrnto recent history and currentrnevents/issues. It is too bad the charmingrnHarry Connick, Jr., character had to diernto save the planet—as the loyal Texasrnsidekick died in Bram Stoker’s Dracula,rnhelping humanity against the undeadrn(this tradition goes back a long way). IrnJANUARY 1997/45rnrnrn