Southern Stereotypes In The Walking Dead

I know there’s an Asian guy and an African American guy on the show, but it would seem most of the characters on The Walking Dead, a show I dearly adore, have thick Southern — specifically, Georgian — accents. Let me reassure you: not all southerners speak like Bo and Luke Duke. Thanks to being raised by television, many members of the past couple generations of southerners have shed the ole twangy parlance in exchange for a dialect more conducive to getting through a job interview without having our intelligence questioned. Thanks to George Bush, Forrest Gump, and a thousand movies where the racist/ homophobic/ rapist villains had thick Southern accents, it’s hard to take a person with a southern twang seriously — which is unfortunate because plenty of smart people have one.

We don’t all use words like “ain’t,” “ya’ll,” “folks,” and “shucks.” We don’t all use double negatives like, “haven’t got no food.” Even my grandmother, who grew up in Arkansas (which, upon discovery, people often say, “Oh, I’m so sorry,”) doesn’t use “ain’t” because, as she would say, “I was raised better than that.”

We’re not all racists like Merle or Daryl. Of course, you know that, right? Right? I heard a recent Google data poll found that West Virginia had the highest number of searches for the n-word, and I’ll concede that the south may have a higher percentage of gigantic, over-the-top, burning-crosses-on-front-lawns-type racists, but it’s rare that I meet one of those. It’s rare that I meet someone who just comes out and says, for example, “I hate black people.” The first time I ever heard someone say that and mean it was actually here in Chicago.

We’re not all armed. Okay, a lot of us are, but not all of us or even most. Some of these gun owners were in the armed forces, some enjoy hunting, some want to defend themselves, and a few, a tiny few, want to be ready to retaliate against Obama’s imminent socialist revolution. It seems like most of them live in small-town rural areas, and we have a lot of those. I don’t understand it, but to each his/ her own.

We don’t all wear cowboy hats and overalls. Some of us shop at the Gap and not highway truck stops. We don’t all have names like Otis, Hershel, and Merle. We’re not all wife-beating hillbillies.

On their own, each of these images — guns, racism, southern accents, overalls — is perfectly understandable, especially in the context of a zombie apocalypse in the rural south, but when combined onscreen — and, mind you, I love The Walking Dead — it’s disappointing, particularly when a few of the characters seem like lazily hashed together amalgamations of these stereotypes like Carol’s husband Ed, Hershel, etc.

Furthermore, we don’t all live in trailers. Yes, they travel in a trailer because it’s a more comfortable form of transportation in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, and yes, it was also in the comic book, but the image of a bunch of small-town southerners living in a trailer is not helping our image. Of course, as if the trailer wasn’t bad enough, then they move into an antebellum style plantation farmhouse with an old man who looks and sounds like everyone’s image of a slave owner. At one point, he calls Glenn “that Asian boy,” and like any good republican, he’s pro-life — even with zombies.

Misogyny, also known as “being a southern gentleman,” is on full display here, particularly with Andrea, who wants to have a gun, but none of the boys think she should have one. After all, the delicate women folk need to be taken care of because they’re emotionally unstable. Then, once she does get a gun, the first thing she does with it is accidentally shoot a fellow survivor. Looks like the ladies need to leave the shootin’ to the menfolk after all, huh? They don’t have time to be troubling their pretty little heads about guns between all those periods, hormones, and babies. This is a common theme that runs through the show: men’s practicality and women’s sentimentality. In the pilot episode, the character Morgan recalls his and his wife’s reaction to the zombie outbreak: “I’m out there packing stuff for survival, and she’s gathering photo albums.”

How will we get around now? Oh, yes, we will ride horses. While wearing cowboy hats. You think I’m being ridiculous. Of course they ride horses through the post-apocalyptic wilderness — they can’t drive cars obviously. Of course they travel through unpopulated rural areas that might have creepy plantation farmhouses to avoid zombie herds. Of course everyone knows southerners aren’t all hillbillies, racists, and weirdoes who keep monsters in barns. It’s just a TV show.

But the thing is: they don’t know. Every time someone finds out I’m from Texas, I get asked questions like, “Did you vote for George Bush?” or “How come you don’t have an accent?” or “Do you ride a horse to school?” or “Do you hate black people?” or “Do you believe in intelligent design?” or “Do you own a gun?” This is no joke. I’m not saying The Walking Dead is deliberately perpetuating stereotypes about southerners because of course, there are plenty of real southerners like Rick, Merle, and Hershel — beer drinking good ole boys, gun totin’ cowboy types — but make no mistake, they’re the minority, not the rule. TC mark

image – The Walking Dead

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  • crs

    Nice one man…

  • Sarah

    Actually my family hails from West Virginia and aside from my parents (although they do occasionally use double negatives, ain’t, y’all, and sometimes make hilariously inappropriate racial jokes) who got out to NY, they are the epitome of these stereotypes. 

    So you know, obviously not everyone is like that down there. But a lot of people are like that, hence the perpetuation of the stereotype. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/antoniowatson Antonio Watson

    The stereotype seems like the majority to me, and the South is where I grew up.  I did enjoy your article, though.

  • Scarletdragon

    I moved to Dallas two years ago, and I teach at a public university. Most of my students fit the language stereotype to a T. They also complain about not being able to carry a gun on campus. And my coworkers at my second job rail on about the ‘good old days’ when they didn’t have to pay minimum wage to the ‘old n—-r’ who works in the back. Oh, and how the EPA exists only to kill jobs by regulating things like oil disposal (Let’s just throw it in the drain, it goes somewhere else!) and toxic resins (Cause, you know, they closed down Fender guitars cause they was doing something chemical) 

    I will readily acknowledge that it’s not all Texans, much less all Southerners.  However, within three months of moving here I had to call my mother and say ‘It’s true. Most of everything you were afraid of is true.’  And I don’t know where you lived, but the racist sentiment is alive, well, and easily spoken in the Dallas lower and middle classes. Maybe I need to spend more time with the level of Dallas society who displays racism through action and innuendo, instead of blunt honest statements.

  • http://molokovellocet.tumblr.com -w-

    You’re from Texas, not Atlanta. We do say y’all although we concede that, “ain’t ain’t a word so I ain’t gonna say it”. I’m southern (Mayretta, GA) and upon leaving the south a little over a year ago to study in the UK, just how southern I am became abundantly clear. All stereotypes have a basis in fact and I think you should have more of a problem with the weird slave voices all the black people have in True Blood versus a couple Atlantans saying the word “y’all”. Just because a person has a southern accent doesn’t mean they’re fucking dumb. Also, the only people I’ve ever heard use the term “good ol’ boy” have not been from the south. Take a glance at a red state-blue state map of any of the more recent presidential elections if you take issue with people asking you if you voted for George Bush. You might be from a blue county but you are from a RED STATE.

    • http://www.facebook.com/antoniowatson Antonio Watson

      … You mean Marietta, Georgia?

      • http://molokovellocet.tumblr.com -w-

        yup. 

  • A.

    I feel like this article is really contradictory. The show isn’t about the stereotypes, it’s about the personalizations of characters based on their upbringing and how they manage to form a group despite the differences.

    Merle and Daryl are one end of the spectrum, while Glen is another character people wouldn’t normally associate with the south. Rick wears his hat to cling to the society he remembers, Carl wears it because he idolizes his father. Sure, Shane and Ed are misogynistic, angry, southern men, but who’s to say they wouldn’t be like that in any other situation?

    I LIKE how pro-life the farm family is. Maybe their names are Otis and Hershel because they aren’t as “city-oriented” as the other characters? They stick to what they know and will risk their lives for their beliefs, that’s who they are. Also, I don’t think “giving a woman a gun” and then her shooting a fellow survivor has to do with women not being able to handle guns, it shows the impulsive personality of Andrea, and her built up anger about her sister (also, her father taught her a certain type of fishing to match her personality, I forget the details, etc.)

    I feel like your argument has nothing to do with the South basically because the characters could be placed in any other state and their personalities would be the same, but with different slang. Pretend Rick’s journey to Atlanta was Manhattan, they would have different accents but it could be anywhere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisette.voytko Lisette Voytko

    I used to live in southern Georgia. The accents, the backwards beliefs, they’re all true. Much like zombies, every wild animal there is trying to kill you. (Rattlesnakes! Fire ants! Wolf spiders!) 

    I’m so glad I live in New York City, which really can’t be grouped with the rest of the US. I am never leaving.

    • macgyver51

      I’ll use an old southern phrase for you. Bless your heart. Please continue your hipster life and forget we exist.

      • Sarah

        I always got it as “Bless your pointy little head” but that’s from way out in the boonies, I think. 

        Regardless, seconded. Enjoy spending the rest of your life with people exactly like yourself…that sounds, um, fun.

  • KidA

    Yes, the show is set in the South and it does seem to reinforce many of common Southern stereotypes, but I’ve always seen the show as a depiction of a reversion back to life before the modern era.  I look at it as a commentary on what life would be like in a post-apocalyptic world.  People revert… men become more misogynistic, racism becomes more pronounced and people obviously tote guns around because there are real dangers they have to protect themselves from.   

    • Zed Word

      THANK YOU!  I’m a huge fan of this show, and am an even bigger fan of the comics.  Now, I don’t know him personally or anything, but I think it’s safe to assume Robert Kirkman wasn’t making some kind of social commentary on southern stereotypes when he was developing the concepts for The Walking Dead.  It’s about the things people do (and sometimes they are terrible) to survive in a world with the odds stacked against.  Put more plainly, you know what this show is really about?:  ZOMBIES.

  • JoAnna

    I don’t think this article has anything to do with The Walking Dead. This whole article is mainly you moaning about the stereotypes that you “suffer”. 

  • macgyver51

    I live in the South, have a twangy voice, and use ya’ll and folks in my speech. I also have a master’s degree in Political Science and teach AP US History at a school where most of my kids are in fact, black. No, I don’t treat them like they’re less than human. I treat them like they’re my students that I care about. I’ve also been known to ride a horse.

    Am I the norm? What I am is far more normal than the twisted fantasy you think the state of Georgia is. Are there old backwoods people that live here? Sure. The only people that seek them out are anti-social people who hate the world or are arrogant and aloof persons trying to prove their point.

    I can’t help it you’re scared of the world, but don’t project that garbage on the rest of us.

  • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

    I’m also from Texas, and I’d put the ratio of walking stereotypes and jerkbags to cool people at about… 3:2.  Still vastly outnumbered.  

    When people ask why I don’t have an accent, I usually say ‘I was raised by the television.’  

  • VA

    I liked this article, but the main point is there are different types of people everywhere.  There are, in fact, several different levels of being from the South and a lot of them depend on whether or not you are from a tiny rural town or a more progressive metro area.  Working from the bottom, you’ve got PWT, Rednecks, Country, and just Southern.  Then there’s Southern Aristocrat which is more a la “Gone With The Wind” but that’s extremely stereotypical and I think they all moved to Charleston anyways.  I’ve never known anyone who actually lives in an antebellum home.  They are all tourist attractions or law offices.  I’m from South Georgia, my mother is from Atlanta, and my father is from a smaller GA city but not the country.  I’m just from a small coastal town. I’d say I had an upbringing that was in between Country and Southern.  I live in Atlanta now and never realized just how country and possibly redneck my hometown is.  However, a small town is a small town regardless.  Everyone knows everyone, you have bonfire parties out in the woods and drink Bud Light, you go to church on Sunday, hang out in pick up trucks…etc.  A lot of people fit the stereotypes above.  I know plenty of good ol boys.  Except for the Cowboy hats.  In Georgia it’s a baseball cap with a fish hook on the brim.  Now that I live in Atlanta(actually inside the city limits), my life is different.  My accent is gone(unfortunately),  I’ve gotten into fashion and hang out in bars instead of docks on the river.  I go to dinner parties and drink craft beer instead of bud.  I think it’s just City vs Rural.  All things aside.  The South is amazing and I love our culture.  Atlanta still embraces Southern culture when it can and I think that’s beautiful. 

  • dave3

    All Asians aren’t dorky-awkward wimps either–even though those traits worked for our Korean friend in this series (sup Maggie).  Still, I’ll agree that the hardest hit by the stereotypes in this show are definitely the white folk.

  • Rob

    Being Southern rules, and I never knew it until I moved up to the Northeast. If people aren’t hanging on your every word up here when you talk about where you’re from (Louisiana and Texas for me), you’re doing it wrong.

  • SissyCitrus

    i’m from charleston, sc living in dc. i love this show but it’s ridiculous for so many other wonderful reasons. also, it’s “y’all.”

  • aeon

    y’all.  not ya’ll.  y’all.  these words are different.  one is correct, and one is incorrect.  it’s hard for me to take an article about southern accents and stereotypes seriously when this mistake is made in the first line of the second paragraph (even if it is paraphrasing someone else’s speech – let’s be real, most southerners know the difference)

  • http://www.facebook.com/yawnybegood Lauren Yawn

    I love this so much. 

  • http://mrianmbelcurry.tumblr.com/ Mr. Ian M. Belcurry

    Rednecks actually resided in every state. enjoyed this

  • Amelia

    Well, I’m from a small coastal town in the Florida Panhandle, and I use “ain’t” and “y’all” without thinking about it a lot of the time, but I’m not sure you’d say I have a twang. Also, “ma’am” and “sir” are pretty much used for anyone significantly older than me and/or a stranger, regardless of whether I consider them my “superior.”

    IMO, Southern accents are more about diction than “twang,” although I do detect a certain easy, rolling way of speech in Southerners that others just don’t have. 

    • gueston

      I’m from Dallas Texas and have an accent I dont mind it one bit. Eveyone out here in Cali wants my southern accent or most southern accents they hear. The younger generations in Tx are trying to be something there not and talk like people on the west coast here….major fail. Be proud of where youre from and your speech where ever youre from:) I also like the easy rolling way of speech we have;)

  • http://twitter.com/NIKO93 Alex Nikolov

    Wait? Brad Pike *isn’t* from New York/LA?

    • Anonymous

      it explains the lack of crap

  • georgian.

    texas is not a southern state in my opinion.

    • Sarah

      Thank you. I always try to tell people this and get blank stares. Same goes for Florida. 

  • Meg_raully

    Clearly the author of this is very misinformed about southerners; he obviously could have done with out writing this article. First of all, if you’re from the south you say ‘y’all’, you may not say ain’t, or shucks, but let me tell you what boy, if you grew up here you’re gonna say y’all. And his grandma is from Arkansas? Well the majority of us who grew up in the south are giggling because there is no way we consider Arkansas the south, we know it as a part of the mid-west. Well, no wonder she doesn’t say ain’t, cuz ain’t ain’t her thang. Lemme tell you something, before you go trying to defend the southern people, realize that you don’t know anything about the south and if you slip up once, we’re gonna get offended.

    • jawa

      Eww don’t pin them on us, the midwest is in the north, sorry. 

    • Digitalholli

      Ya’ll isn’t any worse than “yous guys” I don’t understand why only southerners get picked on for their particular dialect.

  • From Dixie With Love

    Willie Morris, the writer and former editor of Harper’s Bazaar, once said this about the sorority ladies at Ole Miss.  

    “They are smarter and more tenacious than their sunny countenances suggest. For generations the best of these lustrous cyprinids with double names have grown up to run the Sovereign State of Mississippi, just as their great-grandmothers ran the Old Confederacy, their men dying without shoes in the snows of northern Virginia.” 

    In other words every male below the Mason-Dixon line know who to listen to: their wives and their mamas.  There is no misogynistic attitudes, only men treating ladies as they’d like to be treated.  

    • From Dixie With Love

      P.S. the most sung song in the colleges in South is Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show. 

      There’s nothing misogynistic about these lyrics, 
      “Rock me Mama like a wagon wheel, rock me anyway you feel…”

  • Rebecca

    Best thing I’ve ever gotten asked when it’s discovered I’m from Alabama: “Does your family live on a plantation??”
    Ignorance is everywhere, y’all.

  • http://kylelamar.com/ Kyle LaMar

    I didn’t read this article. But for public record, I hate this show pretty hard.

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