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.