Arkansas gets no respect. At least, that must be what denizens of the state believe, because they are mobilizing. They’re not going to sit by quietly and let you mock them. Nope. They’re going to present their own hillbilly history, in a museum, no less.
An exhibit at the Old State House Museum entitled “Arkansas/Arkansaw: A State and its Reputation” explores the evolution of Arkansas’ backwoods, hillbilly image. According to the press release, “many Arkansans left their mark on international popular culture—musicians Al Green and Louis Jordan; politicians J.W. Fulbright, Winthrop Rockefeller and Bill Clinton; athletes Brooks Robinson and Scottie Pippen; and movie stars Alan Ladd and Mary Steenburgen—the state is often better known as a place of hillbillies, rednecks, moonshine, and double-wide trailers” [*cough* no kidding *cough, cough*]
The museum is apparently attempting to prove that the hillbilly image is not always slanderous. Ironically, it’s going to prove it by showing you a bunch of non-hillbilly Arkansans. “One of the things that Clinton’s presidency did was to reinforce the notion that Arkansas wasn’t just a hillbilly state,” the curator has said. “We had a Rhodes scholar, Yale-educated governor, who went on to become a two-term president of the United States.” [Ed. Note: He went on to say “that is one prime piece of Arkansas beef” while gesturing vigorously toward his crotch and screaming “whoo-hoo”.]
The exhibit will reveal the early development of a dual image, with Arkansawyers [seriously? Arkansawyers? I’ve never gotten that right.] being portrayed as coarse, illiterate, and violent backwoodsmen on one hand, while also lifted up as noble, independent and honest frontiersmen. The exhibit examines why Arkansas became the focus for such depictions, and how some Arkansans defended their state against the popularization of this stereotype.
“Arkansas/Arkansaw” is not meant to be a defense of the state; rather, the museum wants to confront negative portrayals of the state, as well as one’s acceptance or denial of them, noting that “the defenders of Arkansas have not surprisingly reacted most strongly to the many negative products of the [hillbilly] image, ironically generating even more bad publicity . . .” But even though some Arkansawyers continue to harbor an inferiority complex, the curator notes that many Arkansans take pride in the hillbilly image.