VITAL SIGNSrnSouthern WhiternTrashrnby Margie BurnsrnSurely anyone looking at film with anrneye to understanding American poprnculture or, for that matter, American seriousrnculture, lately, would have to be intriguedrnby the recent spate of “whitetrashrnflicks.” Every season over the pastrnthree years seems to have produced itsrnbrace of movies set in either the South orrna trailer park (often synonyms, to filmmakers),rneach with mush-mouthed charactersrnmore desperately degenerate thanrnthe last, as though directed to act outrnTom Lehrer’s parody, “Be it ever so decadent,rn/ There’s no place like home.”rnCategory films, of course, have existedrnas long as film itself: even silent moviesrndepicted love stories. Westerns, and dogrndramas; gangsters, spies, and war storiesrnwere film staples from the 1930’s; andrnby the 1970’s, further categoriesrnhad developed—Road movies. Buddyrnmovies. Caper movies, etc., as named byrncritic James Monaco. But now, withinrnview of the millennium, Hollywood hasrnrefined two new categories, each bearingrnits own deadly virus of social fear: thernFear-of-Getting-Stuck-in-the-Southrnmovie and the Trailer-Park movie.rnGenerally, movies present thernSouth—like trailer parks—as somernasymptomatic realm antithetical tornmoney, gentility, and status. It is a kindrnof Lower Slobbovia, a giant, wobblingrnooze of swamp/belly/id that threatens tornsuck you down to its level, too, if you’rernnot careful. This premise undedies bothrnthe Fear-of-Getting-Stuck-in-the-Southrngenre, which demonstrates what mightrnhappen to someone passing through thernregion, and the Trailer-Park flick, whichrndemonstrates the obverse fear of whatrnmight happen when They get loose.rnThese may be termed, respectively, thernIliad and the Odyssey of South-moviernarchetypes.rnIn ascending order of humor and descendingrnorder of violence, Easy Rider,rnDeliverance, My Cousin Vinny, UndercoverrnBlues, and even Doc Hollywood (whichrntried feebly to reverse the pattern) had asrntheir premise the fear of getting stuck inrnthe South. Of course, the granddaddiesrnof the pattern were Easy Rider (1969)rnand Deliverance (1972), unparalleledrnto this day in colonialist nativism representedrnthrough Killer Rubes; if whitetrashrnfilm characters embody the suppressedrnfears of a white-collar audience,rnthese two films unleashed the prototypicalrnnightmares. And opening withrnthe Boom of the Sunbelt—rememberrnthat?—both movies also constructed arnclear, and stellar, slogan for Interstaternstrip development: NEXT TIME, STAYrnIN A HOWARD JOHNSON’S.rnThe message of recent South moviesrnhas further crystallized: DON’T STOP.rnOne lightweight example was My CousinrnVinny (1991), which should be viewed asrna kind of catalog or mother lode of Southrnformulas. Driving through Alabama, thernmovie’s two inoffensive young New Yorkersrnare arrested for murder over a missingrncan of tuna (just what would happen);rnthe arresting cop pops up unprovokedrnfrom the landscape, gun out, along withrna lady cop who wears a hair clip throughrnher spit curl—much like the “Indians” inrnold B westerns. Typical: “The laws arernmedieval” here; “the minimum age forrnexecution is ten” (South = jail); “Yournknow how corrupt it is down here. Theyrnall know each other” (South = incest,rnpolitical or otherwise); “Sometimesrnthere’s a big guy named Bubba no onernwants to tangle with, and he’ll protectrnyou” (South = anal assault); Joe Pesci’srncar gets mired to the hubcaps (South =rnmud); and the trial hinges on MarisarnTomei’s identifying a getaway carrnthrough service-station arcana (South =rncars). The only formulae missing arerntrains and Mama.rnOf course, pitchforking a dislocatedrncharacter into an incongruous setting isrnformula anyway, and either character orrnsetting must be predictable, to foregroundrnthe action—to highlight the incongruity.rnSo, movie white-trashery canrnbelong to either the setting or the mainrncharacter.rnAnother lightweight example of thernwhite-trash setting was Undercover Bluesrn(1993), in which two yuppie spies—rnKathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid—rnvacation in the consumer heaven of NewrnOrleans but must evade both internationalrnespionage and local mean streets.rnIt’s a carnival of ethnic stereotypes, includingrnSouthern white bumbling cops,rnan African-American bumbling cop, andrna Mexican-American bad guy calledrnMuerte/Mortie, with the running jokernthat every time he gets beaten up, hernspits out another tooth. Resentful localsrnhere arc local cops with impenetrablernSouthern accents—the gruff superior,rnand the jovial, appealing inferior with arnlisp on top of his accent; grits meetsrngravy.rnClassical mystery typically pits localrnpolice officials against the classier amateurrndetective (a la Murder, She Wroternand Diagnosis Murder). Likewise, ColdrnWar and post-Cold War movies often pitrnsmall-time police against the classierrnJames Bond-league secret agent (as inrnthat film oddity titled You Only LivernTwice, also set in New Odeans). Turningrnthis upper-crusty tradition to baguettes.rnUndercover Blues is good suburban fantasyrn—that two years of undergraduaternFrench, a tan, a martial-arts course, andrnno regional accent make for an internationalrnagent—which for all we know mayrnbe true and would explain a lot about thernCIA. Anyway, there is no dues-payingrnwith years on the police beat or walkingrnup the steps of crackhouses.rnAvoiding dues, in fact, may be keyrnhere. The fantasy of avoiding dues-payingrncharacterizes movie Southernncss inrngeneral; the screen South becomes arnnever-never-land where anything goes.rnThis fantasy can also be found offscreen.rnThe September 1995 Harper’s quoted anrnEnglish professor at UMass/Amherst (inrna ghastly roundtable about sexual harassmentrnon campus), fondly asserting thatrnin a redneck bar, patting a woman on herrnbutt is perfectly okay. But the flip side ofrnthe fantasy is a guilt-ridden fear of payingrndues with a vengeance—as in Deliverance,rnor even My Cousin Vinny—of figuresrnjumping out of the landscape,rnsometimes to do what has been done tornthe landscape itself.rnThe silver screen’s overlap of regionrn(South) and class (low) is stunninglyrnJANUARY 1997/43rnrnrn