- Reconstructing Dixie:Race, Gender, and Nostalgia in the Imagined South
In Reconstructing Dixie: Race, Gender, and Nostalgia in the Imagined South Tara McPherson employs a metaphor wherein she casts the South as a kind of three-dimensional postcard in the national imaginary, arguing that Americans use a "lenticular logic" in conceptualizing the region, "a schema by which histories or images that are actually copresent get presented (structurally, ideologically) so that only one of the images can be seen at a time" (7). As McPherson indicates, what makes this metaphor particularly damning is that these "3D postcards" are actually sold at the plantation restoration novelty shops that help fund the booming southern tourism industry. At these popular tourist destinations the mythology of the Old South is reenacted in the form of the chivalrous southern gentleman, the genteel plantation home, and, of course, the charming, gracious southern belle as the attendant racial and class underpinnings of this scenario all but disappear with a curious bend of that same "postcard."
McPherson's infinitely readable, thoroughly en-gaging investigation explores how popular culturemobilizes an arrangement wherein the racial, gender, and class connections that have so colored the South's history and continue to underscore the region's racial and gender logics are repressed through various narratives and images in television, film, literature, and the southern tourism industry. Her contention is that current representations of southern whiteness are unmoored from depictions of southern blackness, and images of traditional southern femininity float free from their attendant racial and class elements that make our notions of the southern belle—who she argues is an iconic figure of southern representation—possible in the first place. The argument resounding throughout Reconstructing Dixie is that American notions of "southernness" are mired in a nostalgia for an Old South that never really existed. Our conceptualizations of the South are little more than modern plays on Lost Cause ideologies that further limit the American capacity to enact a southern identity along "a fixed and binary opposition between identity politics and the politics of difference," where southern identity is derived from sameness when such a regional identity should be created "between change and tradition" (31).
In the chapter "Romancing the South: A Tour of the Lady's Legacies, Academic and Otherwise" McPherson examines the endurance of the treasured icon of southern femininity as it is embodied in the belle, Scarlett O'Hara, from Gone with the Wind. McPherson contends that the "frozen [southern] imagery [of] the lady, the mammy, and the plantation" (47) is acted out in Gone with the Wind like no place else: Scarlett's excessive feminine performance, the simultaneous comfort Scarlett finds in her selfless nursemaid and the reviled sexlessness that Scarlett sees in the woman's black body, as well as Scarlett's ultimate return to the tradition, safety, and feminine conformity of the plantation home. McPherson contends that the work's legacy is that it "firmly reinscribes the power-crossed triangulation of race,gender, and place that structured both the antebellum and the postbellum South while simultaneously naturalizing those connections and class connotations" (57). She argues that while not all representations of southern femininity trade in the images of a bygone Southin the same manner, the framework set forth in Gone with the Wind has become a benchmark system for the [End Page 68] representation of femininity: white is cast in opposition to black via "a dual cycle of repulsion and attraction" (61).
McPherson suggests that in an effort to create "kinder, gentler" representations of southern femininity, more current Hollywood narratives and images all but erase blackness from their racial and gender schemas. She points out how the mid-1990s prime-time serial Savannah featured a whitewashed southern riverboat casino industry that, in reality, is characterized by the exploitation of black labor. Nevertheless, its depiction on television failed to include a single black cast member. But rather than take the medium to task for its accuracy, McPherson charges that this displays the naturalizeddiscourse of separateness and sameness many decades after...