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How 'bout a Hand for the Hog": The Enduring Nature of the Swine as a Cultural Symbol in the South S. Jonathan Bass Well, I've always heard, but I ain't too sure, that a man's best friend is a mangy cur. I kinda favor the hog myself. How 'bout a hand for the hog! —Roger Miller1 The "King of the Road," Roger Miller, had a genuine understanding of the southern fondness for hogs. "In the scheme of things, in the way things go," wrote Miller, "you might get bit by the old Fido, but not that gentle porker friend. . . ."2 For almost two centuries, the southerner's best friend (the hog) has endured as the ideal symbol of the region. In the Old South the swine served as the backbone of the southern farm and played a central role in the region's economy and culture. As the South changed from a rural-agricultural to an urban-industrial society, southerners relied on the hog in new ways: grocery stores met the demand for hog meat, agricultural fairs replaced the ritual hog killings, and barbecue restaurants perpetuated the region's dietary tradition of consuming pork. Both symbolically and in reality the hog has become ingrained in the culture of the South. Much like cotton the hog developed from a simple economic staple to a broad cultural symbol. Some have theorized that southerners developed this swine compulsion because of the common nature they shared with the porky critters. In the antebellum South William Byrd noted that southerners lived "so much upon swine's flesh" that it not only inclined "them to the yaws" but consequently to the loss of "their noses" and made them "likewise extremely hoggish in their temper, and many of them seem to grunt rather than speak in their ordinary conversation."3 This suggests that southerners and hogs have similar temperaments: slow, leisurely, independent, and hardheaded. Professional pork smoker Sy Erskine, owner of "Let's Eat Smoked Meat" restaurant of Hueytown , Alabama, agrees: "Hey man, it's the best way to be." Southerners have always enjoyed taking their time and not arriving "first at a gold rush."4 Many historians, writers, and other critical observers have emphasized only the most negative aspects of the southerner's leisurely, hoglike nature. Most critics have equated the South's slow pace of life with laziness. A writer described 302Southern Cultures Professional pork smokei Sy Erskine, of Let's Eat Smoked Meat restaurant, Hueytown, Alabama. Reprinted with the permission of photographer Jeff Roberts. the poor whites of the antebellum South as so lazy they had to depend on selfsufficient "omnipresent hogs" for food rather than their own "weed-choked fields." It was common place in the 1850s for a northerner to denounce the South as a land filled with "lazy vagabonds" and "pitiable wretches."5 Even one southerner , of a more noble character and class, described the bulk of these southern crackers as living in "barren solitudes" and spending their lives sowing "idle habits." They were "about the laziest two-legged animals" that walked "erect on the face of the Earth," he wrote. Even their "motions" were slow; their speech had a "sickening drawl"; and their thoughts and ideas appeared to "creep along at a snail's pace."6 Numerous expressions used to describe humans also emphasize the most negative characteristics of the hog: looking or acting dirty, greedy, or fat as a hog; acting pigheaded; pigging out or eating like a pig; going hog-wild or whole hog; living in a pig sty or pig pen; and the simple "pig" (which in politically correct terms means a male chauvinist, or one of the old standards: a police officer, a fat person, or a glutton). As hog connoisseur William Hedgepeth has noted, the question remains as to whether these expressions function as an "insult directed toward humans for acting some certain way ... or toward hogs for the fact that Bass: Swine as a Cultural Symbol303 undesirable people are drawn to parody and besmirch their patterns of behavior ." Of course this is probably a chicken-and-egg debate.7 Nevertheless, most folks certainly maintain some sort of "half-suppressed" kinship with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 301-320
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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