- The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Volume 18: Media ed. by Alison Graham and Sharon Monteith
This volume on media and southern culture is a splendid addition to the long-running reference series sponsored by the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture under the general editorship of Charles Reagan Wilson. Volume editors Allison Graham and Sharon Monteith have assembled a rich collection of articles and encyclopedia entries covering what they term “mass media,” including film, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, photojournalism, and the Internet. This collection looks to outline the ways that southerners and non-southerners have employed southern history, manners, and myths through a variety of mediums to define and maintain the existence of a culturally distinct region, as well as the ways that this distinct culture has shaped the broader national culture. The result is a strikingly comprehensive book on a virtually inexhaustible topic.
The breadth of topics covered in this volume is truly delightful for anyone interested in Southern culture. An entry on comic strips traces the development of southern characters drawn by artists outside the region who tended to play on hillbilly stereotypes. Another entry on Internet representations of the South demonstrates that rather than dissolving the boundaries of regionalism, the author argues that it has become a new venue to debate what he calls the “Virtual South.” There are articles on southern accents in American media, the influence of Atlanta-based CNN, and segregationists’ use of media during the Civil Rights era. The editors also include entries on Spanish-language newspapers and radio, though they have noticeably neglected the impressive rise of Spanish-language television. The end result of this work is a broadened, updated, and complicated New South seen through the lens of hard and digital media.
Entries include a number of Alabama-related topics such as actress Tallulah Bankhead, novelist Truman Capote, the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, and media representations of Martin Luther King, Jr. Each [End Page 205] entry provides plenty of detail without becoming bogged down in minutia. These entries also position these Alabama history topics in the broader contexts of the South and the nation. With interest growing in the topic, it is curious that the editors did not include an entry on the southern rock genre and Alabama’s considerable contributions to it.
Among the volume’s weaknesses is an overreliance upon technical jargon. Lay readers and undergraduates may find the authors’ lengthy introduction confusing because of the overuse of unfamiliar film history and visual culture terms. Fortunately, most of the encyclopedia entries do not suffer from the same vocabulary problems. Most readers will find this volume’s entries highly readable, understandable, and valuable. This book will be useful for anyone looking to understand the numerous competing images of the South in modern American culture. [End Page 206]