While trying to correct the stereotype of the "hillbilly" it actually perpetuates it
This series covers a lot of ground, is educational and is worth watching. The trouble is that it is boring, downbeat and depressing.
The uninspired narration just sounds S...L...O...W. I look at the clock as the episode progresses and, no, it is not five hours long, it just feels it. Now, people in the South do tend to talk more slowly than city folks (I have heard some talk MUCH more slowly than the narrator), but a good narrator can keep your attention while stretching things out.
Perhaps it would have been better to talk a bit faster and leave some silence over the scenes. But these are filled with baleful, minor key mountain music (the program calls it country music, after some "northerner" originally dubbed it hillbilly music, but the Appalachian music seems to me a subset of country), which just drags things down further. But what else can you do when the subject is coal miners losing their jobs or families struggling and starving.
The program sets out to correct the stereotype of the Appalachian folks as backward, feuding hillbillies. To some extent, these stereotypes were promoted by big business, interested in exploiting the area's natural resources of timber and coal. The federal government even got into the act when it seized the land for the Blue Ridge Highway during The Depression, saying that forcing the backward people off their land would help them. Later, researchers found out they weren't so backward; they just liked living in the mountains, which has since become quite fashionable. However, the program did not cover this.
It would have been interesting to show how hip it is now to live in places like Asheville, North Carolina. Instead, they show vague skylines of modern big cities in the South. Toward the end of the last episode they address this love of the land by the people who have lived there for generations. This helps bring the subject into focus. It is touched upon in the beginning, but from the perspective of early settlers.
The series is fairly well organized by subject and covered largely chronologically. You learn a lot from it. But it doesn't have the vivid clarity that brings the subject to life of a Ken Burns documentary.
I liked the comments from Sen. Robert Byrd, whom I have come to respect as I learned more about him and his family, which includes Admiral Richard Byrd. But the viewer does not get the perspective to fully appreciate Sen. Byrds comments. And perhaps this is what is lacking: some presentation of the fine people who have come out of Appalachia, such as Chuck Yeager, Sgt. Alvin York, and Homer Hickam. Gawd, this show needs something upbeat!
The program bemoans the stereotype of the poor, ignorant hillbilly, yet it doesn't offer a strong image to replace it, aside from "hard working coal miners." We get some insight into the roots of country music, but the examples don't make me want to go out and hear more of it, although I assume there's better stuff out there.
Nevertheless, the program provides good insight into the history of Appalachia, placed within the general history of the U.S. Those unfamiliar with the subject will have their eyes opened. People who love country music will find it interesting. And people who live in the area will no doubt want to see it. But many people will be too bored to sit through all three programs.
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