Folks, have you just plain had it with the Jehovah's Witnesses showing up every weekend to bombard you with pamphlets and hose you down with arcane scriptural harangues? Tired of kids selling magazine subscriptions to earn a scholarship to embalming school? Is your pantry already stuffed with boxes of Girl Scout cookies with expiration dates stretching back to the Clinton Administration? If you answered "Yes" to any of the above, then, courtesy of that great southern principle of "making do with what you have," here is a truly one-of-a-kind deterrent doorbell. Install this baby, brought to my attention by a sociologist buddy of mine, and you can be pretty well assured that when you hear that ding-dong, it's somebody who really needs to see you pretty badly. That is unless, of course, it's just one of your fellow hunting fanatics.
As a matter of fact, this deer-butt doorbell reminded me immediately of one of my favorite characters, Henry Shipes, an obsessive turkey hunter in Errol Morris's "Vernon, Florida," (1981) who documents his biggest kills by nailing the slain bird's feet to a piece of plywood. In this scene, our fearless frontiersman explains how hearing the gobble of a big ol' Tom cured his diarrhea on the spot. Where Henry is simply straight-out funny, this clip of Koy Brock, a local preacher who devotes an entire sermon to the etymology of the word "therefore" manages both to make you laugh and then to feel a little bit ashamed for doing so. (If you're a southerner anywhere close to my age and spent much time in church during your youth, I'm betting this will have a very familiar ring.)
The actual background to the making of this film is about as comical as the film itself, because Morris intended originally to focus on the mysterious propensity of the residents of this little Panhandle town to lose one or more of their extremities:
L. W. Burdeshaw, an insurance agent in [nearby] Chipley, told the St. Petersburg Times in 1982 that his list of policyholders included the following: a man who sawed off his left hand at work, a man who shot off his foot while protecting chickens, a man who lost his hand while trying to shoot a hawk, a man who somehow lost two limbs in an accident involving a rifle and a tractor, and a man who bought a policy and then, less than twelve hours later, shot off his foot while aiming at a squirrel.
"There was another man who took out insurance with 28 or 38 companies," said Murray Armstrong, an insurance official for Liberty National. "He was a farmer and ordinarily drove around the farm in his stick-shift pickup. This day--the day of the accident--he drove his wife's automatic transmission car, and he lost his left foot. If he'd been driving his pickup, he'd have had to use that foot for the clutch. He also had a tourniquet in his pocket.
"We asked why he had it and he said, 'Snakes. In case of snake bite.' He'd taken out so much insurance, he was paying premiums that cost more than his income. He wasn't poor, either. Middle class. He collected more than $1 million from all the companies. It was hard to make a jury believe a man would shoot off his foot."
Nearly fifty men in Vernon and surrounding areas collected insurance for these so-called accidents.
Filmmaker Morris had come to town intending to tell the story behind Vernon's well-deserved reputation as "Nub City," but locals let him know right away that pursuing this plan might lead to his sporting a nub or two himself, and he wound up retooling the film as something of a collage featuring the community's most eccentric and colorful characters who seemed to exist in comparable profusion to its host of profiteering self-mutilators.
One of William Faulkner's characters observes that northerners seem "eager to believe anything about the South not even provided it be derogatory but merely bizarre enough and strange enough." Some of the more devoutly Dixie-fied still find it almost obligatory to take umbrage at the persistent tendency among Yankee media types to come down in search of folks who affirm this predisposition. I guess I'm just too old and tired to have the appropriate regionally patriotic sensitivity to whatever intended slights may be behind these efforts to seek out such characters, but you have to admit some of the folks they turn up are just plain hilarious, and the mere fact that Yankees are laughing at them doesn't mean we can't as well.
This certainly appears to be the case with this "Colbert Report" take on a story originating right here in these parts that ultimately went viral and even found its rehashed way into no less a rag than the New York Times. If you haven't seen this video, it's well worth enduring the fifteen-second commercial, for it's sort of a classic example of the old Brer Rabbit genre in which the designated southern simpleton is actually pulling the strings so deftly that the presumptuous city slickers have not a clue that it is they who are actually being "funned" just a little. Local reporter Wayne Ford is so incredibly adept at deadpan that the videographers probably had no notion he was simply playing along. The real find in the story is actually Chris Cooley, who proves to be not just wild and woolly but ultimately wise. Note his scarcely constrained incredulity when he is asked simpleminded questions such as why he runs when the police swoop down on him: "because the police want to take me to jail, and I don't want to go," or why he refused to lie on the ground when ordered to do so: "I was sweaty, it was hot, I didn't want to get dirt on me." Note also Cooley's absolute refusal to cast himself as a persecuted, misunderstood man of the people. He notes that because he is perhaps Oconee County, Georgia's most notorious and least credible scofflaw, any offense committed by a person unknown usually means that he is arrested "whether I'm guilty or not," but he is admirably quick to add, "Mostly, I'm guilty."
Meanwhile, the supposed central character in this rustic farce is one Bobby Kirk , who has become something of a backwoods savant-turned-folk hero for his vivid capture of the summer's hellish temperatures with the succinct observation, "It's too hot to fish!" What most of the Yankee reporters who came to Bogart, Georgia, in search of Bobby (after first, of course, being in search of Bogart, Georgia) failed to grasp was that Bobby was a self-conscious caricature of himself. Although the response would likely not have been worded thus, any local asked to characterize ol' Bob could've told them this.
This exchange with an NYT reporter is particularly telling:
Does it bother him that he is getting famous in part because people might be making fun of him? . . .
"No," he said. "They can make a monkey out of me as long as I get some money."
The Times scribe marks this as the response of "a savvy country boy," but it is hard to see what's particularly "country," i.e., "southern" about it. It actually defines the apparent philosophy of a bunch of hyper-profligate "housewives" from Jersey to California, not to mention repo men, antique-hunters, and a huge assortment of others, who have come to believe that even bad publicity is good for the pocketbook. Professor Karen Cox of UNC-Charlotte has a thoughtful take on the rapid proliferation of "reality TV" shows such as "Hillbilly Handfishin'" and "Swamp People" as an indication that the national mass market for southern stereotypes is still going strong, primarily because they reassure other Americans of their own relative enlightenment and sophistication.
Southerners have been hip to this for well over a century, of course, and have long understood that no pocket is riper for the picking that that of a Yankee who has just had his superiority reaffirmed. If a high-powered, big-budgeted New York or L.A. producer is just dying to document the survival of the supposedly backward South, then why not oblige him and demonstrate thereby that the region's longstanding reputation for hospitality (especially to well-heeled suckers) remains very much alive. While there are very sound reasons to object to these seemingly demeaning and obviously caricatured portrayals of southerners, there's no shame in the fact that southerners can be very funny people or that they enjoy laughing at each other almost as much as making fun of the outsiders who are actually paying for the privilege of making fun of them.