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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dr. John Romulus Brinkley: Appalachia's Very Own Mad Scientist

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While driving through the not-really-a-town of Tuckaseegee, NC in the backwoods of the Appalachian Mountains you will find an odd little marker.

This is a historical marker honoring the boyhood home of John Romulus Brinkley.  You will notice they use the politically correct term "Medical Maverick".   What they are really saying is "Mad Scientist".   Next to the Marker is another marker erected by Dr. Brinkley as a monument to his Aunt Sally.  Sally in reality is his great aunt on his maternal side, and also his step-mother.

From his his humble boyhood in the mountains arose a remarkable and possibly evil man.

Tuckaseegee, NC

While often called "Dr. Brinkley", he was never legally a doctor.  After selling snake oil across the South he decided to go legit and went to medical school in Chicago.  He unfortunately ran out of money and never finished medical school.  He left town to avoid having to pay his back tuition.  He would spend the the rest of his life working under "provisional medical licenses" or no license at all.  He would get an honorary doctorate in Italy in order to use the word doctor before his name, but when word of his true character got out his doctorate was personally revoked by Benito Mussolini.  Yes, he was too sketchy for Mussolini.

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 Dr. Brinkley would return to the South and open up a clinic in Greenville, NC where he would inject men with colored water claiming it was "Electric German Medicine."  He claimed that it would restore their "manly vigor".  After a few months he would flee Greenville in the middle of the night leaving a slew of unpaid bills and bad checks.

After spending some time in jail for practicing medicine without a license he would began the medical practice which he would forever be known for......Goat testicle transplants.....into humans.

Brinkley would begin transplanting Goat testicles into men's scrotums and abdomens.  Brinkley would claim this would help sexually weak men.  Brinkley would eventually start transplanting Goat testicles into woman as well.  Brinkley would start marketing his transplants as a cure-all for such diverse diseases as dementia and "flatulence".

Unfortunately, Dr. Brinkley had a habit of performing surgery drunk as well as not cleaning his equipment.  People begin to die of infection and wrongful death lawsuits began to pile up, but this would not deter the good doctor.

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To advertise his goat ball transplanting business Brinkley would take to the air.  He would set up his own radio station for the sole purpose of selling his medical practice.  He would also use this platform to begin selling his own brands of medicine across the nation.  These medicines of course made people very sick.

The American Medical Association and the Federal Radio Commission worked together to shut Brinkley's radio station, but it takes more then that to take down a true mad scientist.  Brinkley would move his radio towers to Mexico, which had no limit on the power of radio singles and he would continue to blast his radio channel into America.

Brinkley also devised an evil plan to finally become a real Doctor.  He would run for governor of Kansas so he could appoint his own medical board to make him a doctor.  (Somehow becoming Governor seemed easier then becoming a doctor).  The money that Brinkley had amassed with his radio station had made him very wealthy and he threw around his money to gain favor in Kansas.  He even started his own baseball team known as the Brinkley Goats.  Brinkley would never be governor, but he did earn himself the rank of "Admiral" of Kansas's Navy.  An odd thing, given that states don't have their own navy, and Kansas does not have any water.

In the end the lawsuits would pile up and Brinkley would die completely penniless.  As morally bankrupt and diabolical as this man was, he will always go down as a Southern legend.

The Carpetbagger

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Iconic Southern Characters from Film and Television

I have issues with Hollywood when it comes to the South.  My main issue is that for some reason there are virtually no actors or actresses from the South.  Whenever a Southern character is played in a movie, it seems that they need to find a British actor to play them (see: the Entire Cast of Cold Mountain).

However, today I wanted to take a look at some of the iconic Southern characters from film and Television.  I will take a look at what they say about the South for better or for worse.

The Clampetts (The Beverly Hillbillies)

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The Beverly Hillbillies Show is the granddaddy of Hollywood's obsession with the poor Southern Hillbilly.  The family is a who's who of Southern stereotypes.  The Grandma is a gun toting semi-violent loose cannon.  Elly Mae is alluring "farmer's daughter" type, (a prototype of Daisy Duke).  Jethero is a happy go lucky, yet empty headed muscle bond imbecile.

Star Car Museum, Gatlinburg, TN

The show is a fish-out of water tale about a poor Southern family suddenly finding themselves super wealthy and in a culture they don't understand.  They are kind of an early version of Duck Dynasty. 

So what do they say about the South?

The Clampetts were portrayed as good-natured and innocent.  While they Clampetts were stereotypes in their own right, the rich people in the show were also seen as stereotypes and were played for as laughs.  Regardless the Clampetts paved the way for Southern Stereotypes.

The moral of the story: Southerners are not scary, they are hilarious!

Banjo Boy, Mountain Man, and The Toothless Man (Deliverance)

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Yes, that is actually the names of these characters.  If the Beverly Hillbillies taught us that Hillbillies were funny and innocent, Deliverance turned that completely on its head.

Despite being an amazing southern Gothic movie Deliverance is probably responsible for more negative stereotypes of Southern people then any other source.

We will start with the least threatening hillbilly: Banjo Boy.  Early in the movie that main characters (a group of businessmen from Atlanta) meet a group of somewhat friendly hillbillies.  They encounter a handicap boy that doesn't speak, but plays the banjo like no one's business.  Though never stated in the movie, the implication was that the boy was inbred.  This rumor was furthered by actor John Voight making shit up and explicitly stating in interviews that the boy was inbred and retarded.  It turns out that this was a total lie and that Billy Redden (the actor that played Banjo Boy) was neither retarded nor imbred.  Billy Redden would grow up to be a restaurant owner in Clayton, GA.

On the darker end of the spectrum we have Mountain Man and Toothless Man.  Quite simply they come out of the woods physically dominate the rich white protagonists and literally rape them.  This enduring image is burned in the minds of everyone who grew up outside the South.  I'm not joking when I say that some people find a direct correlation between poor southerners and anal rape.

What do they say about the South?

Again, I'm not bad mouthing the movie, because it is a truly great piece of film.  Sadly instead of being appreciated for what it is, it has devolved into short-hand for describing southerners as viscous inbred rapists.

For the record, I have actually met the actor that plays "The Toothless Man", Herbert "Cowboy" Coward and he is a kind gentle quirky individual.

Bo and Luke Duke (The Dukes of Hazard)

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I have heard of Dukes of Hazard being called the "the show that made being poor white trash cool".  I think that is a fair description.  Bo and Luke Duke were modern day (when the show aired) outlaws.  The Southern imagery was not hidden.  Their car was emblazoned with the confederate flag and it was called "The General Lee", yet somehow they were embraced by the whole nation.

The show was about fast cars and short shorts.  The Duke boys always fought the corrupt local government and won.

Gatlinburg, TN
So what does it say about the South?

Now, there is no denying that the show was filled with Southern stereotypes.  There were idiotic bumbling country cops and their cousin Daisy Duke is your typical slutty "farmer's daughter".

Despite this I feel that the Dukes of Hazard took the rebellious spirit of the South and packaged it in a way the the entire country could enjoy.  They were southern and proud, but somehow they did not seem divisive.  The Dukes were goodwill ambassadors of Southern Culture.

Hillbilly Jim (WWF Wrestling)

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In the 1980s WWF wrestling was very much geared at young children.  Every character had a cartoony persona.  This of course created a group of walking stereotypes..........

For instance: Here's your Canadian Wrestler

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Here is your French Wrestlers......

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And is your African Wrestlers

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Of course you need a Southern wrestler, and this was Hillbilly Jim's role.  He had a big beard, wore only overalls and square danced in the ring.

So what does he say about the South?

Oddly enough, Hillbilly Jim had a fairly high profile and was shown as being a close personal friend of Hulk Hogan who was the most popular wrestler in the world at the time.  Looking at the other three wrestler's above its hard to find him all that offensive.

Forrest Gump

Hollywood Wax Museum, Gatlinburg TN
Forrest Gump is a true Southern Icon.  Obviously his character is made to be extremely likeable, yet we are told right at the beginning of the movie that he is named after Nathanael Forrest, Grand Dragon of the KKK.  I guess such is the Southern Contradiction.

One of the distinguishing features of Mr. Gump is his borderline retardation.  Forrest is completely clueless yet is constantly falling into adventure and fortune.

I always found the message of the movie intriguing.  Forrest drifts through life aimlessly, amazing things happen to him and he winds up being a millionaire by chance.  His friend Jenny who sets out to change the world ends up a train wreck of a human and then dies.

So what does he say about the South?

I'm not clear on this.  I would almost say that Forrest's southerness is not a primary focus of the movie.  His lack of intelligence may seen like a stereotype (as it something seen up and down this list), but I am going to say he is a southern man who just happens to be low on intelligence and incredibly lucky.

Karl Childers (Sling Blade)

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Simply put, Sling blade is a Southern Gothic masterpiece.  I love this movie.  This character played by Billy Bob Thorton is amazing and true to life.

For those who have not seen the movie.  Karl was a mentally challenged man.  He was horribly abused by his parents, who taught him a twisted version of the bible.  Misinterpreting what he had been told about the bible he kills his mother and her lover when he was a young boy.  Karl is released from a mental hospital a ndbefriends a young boy and his mother.  Karl eventually murders the mother's abusive boyfriend to protect the family and winds back up in the mental institution.

The character is know for his unique way of speaking which is difficult to describe.  Check it out.

So what does this say about the South?

I hate saying anything bad about this movie, because I love it so much.  I admit that the "mentally challenged" character trait is popping up way to much in this list, so that is not saying a whole lot about the South.  One interesting aspect is that the movie plays out with Karl becoming somewhat of a hillbilly version of The Magic Negro.  Karl shows up in the families life out of nowhere and selflessly solves their problem, while giving out nuggets of his surprising wisdom.  I don't care though, because its a great movie.

Joe Dirt

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A quick glace at Joe and its pretty obvious the he is a walking stereotype.  It is even explained in the movie that he has so much white trash DNA engrained in his body that his hair automatically grows in "all white trashy".

The unexpected thing about the movie is that while if features every white trash stereotype under the sun, it manages to actually be an oddly touching story.  Joe was abused by his parents to the point where is dad changed his name to "Joe Dirt" to demean him.  The family abandon him intentionally at the Grand Canyon.  Joe refused to believe his family abandoned him and spends his whole life trying to track them down.  Joe is constantly bullied because of his physical appearance and upbeat white trash attitude.

What does he say about the South?

The movie does an interesting trick of taking a ridiculous stereotype and injecting him with heart and making us care about him.  Joe is kind and endlessly optimistic while the world is harsh and unforgiving.  The movie makes us laugh at the stereotype, but then makes us care about him.  Joe Dirt is the true Southern everyman and we are shown that he thoughful, kind and pure of heart.

Cletus Spunkler (The Simpsons)

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Okay, there is not much to debate here.  Cletus is stereotype in is absolute purest boiled down form.  Cletus is endlessly stupid.  He has hundreds of children with his sister Brandine.  His children have traditional Southern names like "Gummy Sue", "Incest", "Crystal Meth" and "Normal Head Joe".   He is a career moonshiner.

This would be about the most offensive caricature of southern culture ever, except the Simpsons is pretty fair in making equal fun of everyone.  The fact that everyone get made fun of in Spingfield makes it hard to be mad at the Simpsons.

What does he say about the South?

Basically Cletus is everything negative ever said about the South rolled up into a nice little package.  Basically he can serve as reference guide to all things stereotypical about the South.

Daryl and Merle Dixon (The Walking Dead)

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I know I have talked about this one before, but I think it is important to mention here.  Daryl and Merle Dixon are brothers living in the Zombie Apocalypse on the show "Walking Dead".  Both are portrayed as poor rednecks.  However, the two brothers seem to represent the light and dark that is Southern Culture.  Merle (in the wife beater) pretty much embodies everything negative associated with the South.  He is extremely racist and sexist, he is a Meth addict, and endlessly violent and aggressive.  While he is one of the most despicable and reviled characters on the show his brother Daryl is one of the most popular characters.  Daryl is a silent survivalist who never backs down from a challenge.  In the chaotic zombie filled world they live in Daryl appears to be the only one who is truly prepared.  He is constantly coming to the rescue.  In someways Daryl is the epitome of everything positive associated with the "redneck" lifestyle as much as his brother embodies everything negative about it.

What do do they say about the South?

Merle is the most evil redneck you could ever dream up and is quite scary much like the deliverance hillbillies.  Daryl on the other hand shows the appreciation the creators had for the southern redneck lifestyle and how it can create a true hero.  These characters show the sides of the Southern coin in a black and white manner.

Larry the Cable Guy

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Yes, he is a fictional character.  Larry is the alter ego of comedian Daniel Whitney.  Just check out this clip from his early career.

Despite never appearing out of character, and even staring in movies as Larry the Cable Guy, he is a work of fiction.  The topper here is that Larry is not even a real Southerner!  The character was a way for Daniel Whitney to make fun of the rural southern redneck.

I became suspicious when I saw him on a sketch on his TV show where he was eating "Biscuits and Gravy" and the gravy was BROWN!

Oddly enough, Larry's biggest fans are the same people he is parodying.  He is huge in the South and his "Git-R-Done" catch phrase is pretty much the official catch phrase of the South.

What doe he say about the South?

Southerners have absolutely no problem laughing at themselves.

This was in no way a comprehensive lists and I am sure I left out some classic Southern characters.  Let me know what you think.

The Carpetbagger

Please feel free to e-mail me at
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Friday, February 8, 2013

South of the Border

In two days the Carpetbagger is heading South.  Waaaaay South.  For the first time in my life I am leaving he United States of America and will be visiting Mexico.  While I could wait and talk about this trip (probably not), I wanted to take a time to talk about The South's own little slice of Mexico: "South of the Border".

South of the Border is my only reference point to what I assume is authentic Mexican culture.

Heading through rural Carolinas one notices a sudden influx of billboards.

The headlights light up at night.

Sometimes the sheep spin.

So what is the magical place that is beckoning?

The "South of the Border" name does not refer to the American border, but rather the North Carolina border.  South of the Border is located directly beneath the North Carolina border in Dillon, SC.  S.0.B was originally set up as a beer stand and the proximity to the state line allowed them to sell alcohol to the dry NC county across the line.  Over the years S.O.B took on a life of its own.

As you near the compound a magical site appears in the distance.

Out of the rural Carolina nothing pops a giant tower shaped like a sombrero.  To put it quite simply South of the Border is the tackiest place in the South.  It personifies what a Roadside Attraction should be.

That softly racist little fellow you saw on this billboards, his name is Pedro and he is ever present mascot of S.O.B.

Pedro's giant fiberglass visage can be found all over the compound in a variety of flavors.

 Here is patriotic American Pedro.

Here is Irish Pedro....

Here is concrete Golem Pedro....

He is literally everywhere.

On the surface S.O.B is America's most glorified truck stop, but it is so much more then that.  What is there to do at S.O.B?  Well, there is an amusement park, but it had a really odd abandoned vibe when we went there.

Let's take a closer look at that creepy giant Pedro head.

A highlight of S.O.B is the positively massive sombrero clad sign outside one of the gift shops.

Check out those tiny normal sized people at the base of the statue.

The place is a gorgeous sea of neon at night.

Here is my son chansing feral cats in a firework shop parking lot in the middle of the night.

In addition to the Pedro figures there is a truly impressive menagerie of fiberglass figures.  Including a rare Southern Jackalope

There is a collection of wonderfully strange and tacky gift shops on the premises.

Of course we spent way to much money and came back with this haul.

For dining options you can have a steak house inside a giant sombrero.

There is a motel on the premises as well, but we are not going to get into that.

Previously, they had a miniature golf course know as "The Golf of Mexico".

But during our initial visit is had been converted into a shop that sold concrete yard ornaments.

It has not been transformed into an alligator exhibit. I really need to check that out.

Of course the one thing that truly grabbed your attention initially was the Sombrero Tower.

Me and my daughter braved the elevator ride to the top.

 What can you see from the Sombrero tower?  Besides miles of nothingness, you get a good view of the freeway and yet another S.O.B billboard. 

It is truly mecca for those love all things over the top and tacky.  I just hope the real Mexico can live up to the high standards that South of the Border has set.

The Carpetbagger

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