What makes us Southern?

The company I am working for right now recently issued the following memo: take a couple of days off in November, go, and be creative. It’s not about the end result, it’s more about the process. We weren’t asked to specifically write a novel, only do something creative that we don’t do for our job.

If you know me, you know that I don’t consider myself creative by any stretch of the imagination. I have many creative friends, but their creative instincts haven’t yet rubbed off on me. So, until that day comes, I’ve been stuck loving the Arts and not really belonging to that community. Until now, maybe.

When our company President issued the decree, I wondered how I would take advantage of the opportunity. I wasn’t about to write a novel. I wasn’t going to begin painting. I wasn’t going to learn Photoshop or any other program. I wasn’t going to compose and write a song or two, and certainly not record it. I was stuck.

You may also recall that I’ve been part of a group that has participated in the Nashville section of the 48 Hour Film Project that takes place annually in cities around the world, culminating in a showing of 10 selected short films in Cannes, France each year at the famous film fesitval. Each city hosts a 48 hour period where teams of locals (or not so locals) create an entire short film in 48 hours. I mean everything; from the writing, music, direction, editing, sets, etc. It’s intense and a total blast. During our preparation for the 2010 48HFP, we discussed some film ideas we might do and one of them revolved around a classically, traditional southern family. And then it got complicated. We wanted to do something southern, but how do you define that? What makes something obviously southern in nature? At the time, we chose to go a completely different direction and tabled the southern idea.

After the decree was issued, it hit me. Write the screenplay to the Southern story we liked so much. So, I began doing some research. We wanted to involve the true pillars of Southern Culture in the story. In my mind, these pillars are more than just “whiskey, marrying your cousins and obesity.” They have to be bigger than that. All-encompassing. A truly southern film hasn’t captured the South for the viewer since Gone with the Wind (at least not in my mind – disagree in the comments if you must), and the South is a grand place. We wanted to let people know that.

One of the first things that came to my mind was the “pillar” of religion. Not faith, not God; strictly religion. Southerners are extremely religious, but not just about God. Sports, food, tradition, pride, family, etc. We are notorious for holding things in high esteem, probably higher than they ought be held. And those who are religious in the traditional sense of the word, they are remarkably religious. I went to a university where if you chose to forego the nightly devotional time, some students looked at you as though you were renouncing your beliefs. Religion; it’s a pillar.

So, what are others? I asked this question on Twitter and Facebook and it was a huge mistake. Some responses were good, but it was a lot of obviousness. A friend said this about that decision; “That’s like writing on a bathroom wall asking for advice. You wouldn’t ever do that, would you?” So, I’m using my blog as a place to get some great insight into what separates us from the rest of the country as “Southerners.”

Help me out here. I’ll give you a some sort of consulting credit when the screenplay is bought by some indie production house for $1,000.


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3 responses to “What makes us Southern?”

  1. Belle says :

    What does it mean to be Southern?

    It means sitting on the porch with 20 people who you’ve never met and they’re all happy to see you. It’s going to multiple Xmas parties and having enough food to feed 80 at every one. And it’s talking to a cousin that you’ve never met, and having them care as much about you as they would if they’d know you forever. Cause being Southern is being part of a giant family. Being Southern is being home.

  2. Tracy C. Tarum says :

    Good question, Wes! Personally, one of the main things (in my opinion) that makes us Southern is the “Southern hospitatlity.” We have all heard that term, but it is TRUE! We moved here in 1998, I was fresh out of the USAF. Long story short; my wife and I were driving around, learning the area, and we stopped at a yard sale to ask some questions. A sweet young lady, sitting in a lawn chair, PREGNANT… asked us if we’d like some sweet tea or a soda! She got up out of her chair, and was ready to go in and get some strangers a cold drink! Will THAT happen in NYC? Will you even get a friendly conversation out of someone in L.A.? That, to me, is what makes us “Southern!”

  3. Andrew Farmer says :

    I think the topic of your indie film should be about the connection of humanity in the south to the world. So many people think of the south as some microcosm unique to itself.

    In a recent short clip on WSJ.com called “Walk About the City,” the host is interviewing a Broadway star. The viewer finds out a few minutes into the clip that she has actually lived in the city for more than 30 years. In a move of stark contrast to what we think of as NYC, she greeted a passerby as she walked the reporter/host through her favorite part of the city.

    There is always a common thread of humanity in every piece of the fabric that makes up the world. Our connection to that is found in how we interact in Southern Culture.

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