The Rural Primitive in American Popular Culture: All Too Familiar studies how the mythology of the primitive rural other became linked to evolutionary theories, both biological and social, that emerged in the mid-nineteenth century. This mythology fit well on the imaginary continuums of primitive to civilized, rural to urbanormative, backward to forward-thinking, and regress versus progress. In each chapter of The Rural Primitive, Karen E. Hayden uses popular cultural depictions of the rural primitive to illustrate the ways in which this trope was used to set poor, rural whites apart from others. Not only were they set apart, however; they were also set further down on the imaginary continuum of progress and regress, of evolution and devolution. Hayden argues that small, rural, tight-knit communities, where “everyone knows everyone” and “everyone is related” came to be an allegory for what will happen if society resists modernization and urbanization. The message of the rural, close-knit community is clear: degeneracy, primitivism, savagery, and an overall devolution will result if groups are allowed to become too insular, too close, too familiar.
Karen E. Hayden is professor in the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice at Merrimack College.
Chapter 1: Introduction: The Rural Primitive in American Popular Culture
Chapter 2: Inbreeding, Cousin Marriage, and the Rural Primitive in Nineteenth Century America
Chapter 3: Inbred Horror and the Rural Primitive in Twentieth Century American Popular Culture
Chapter 4: Inbred Horror Revisited: The Rural Primitive in Twenty-First Century Horror Films
Chapter 5: Murder Comes to Town: The Rural Primitive on True Crime Television
Chapter 6: Not So Familiar: Thinking Beyond Rural Stereotypes
In The Rural Primitive in American Popular Culture, Hayden unpacks the mythology that depicts rural America as either a curiosity or monstrosity. The author's easily digestible prose moves through various elements of popular culture throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries to examine this myth of rural primitiveness. This slender volume's six chapters focus on the shifting evolutionary and social conceptions of close marriage, or "inbreeding"; the symbolism of the backward rural within horror films; true crime television; and the consequences of rural stereotypes and oversimplifications. Hayden argues that the trope of the rural primitive acts against rural populations in dehumanizing and othering their communities. The myth of degeneration is used as a cautionary tale against resisting modernity and urban normativity, and such stereotypes justify the ongoing inequalities felt by rural peoples. Writing from a criminology and sociology background, Hayden's study contributes to discussions on pop culture, criminality, rural studies, media studies, and place. Easy to read and filled with engaging examples, this book crosses disciplinary lines between anthropology, sociology, geography, art, and law, and will be of interest to both students and scholars. Recommended.
Karen E. Hayden provides a much-needed scholarly book on the mythology of inbrededness in rural places. Not only does her monograph do much to advance the disciplines of rural criminology and rural sociology, but it is also a highly valuable pedagogical tool, one that should be used in courses that include modules on the stereotyping of rural people and communities in popular culture and the media. There is much to be learned from reading Hayden’s offering and even leading experts in the field will find that her analysis offers a novel way of understanding an age-old social problem.
Challenging the myth of the rural idyll and the notion of rural inhabitants of the American heartland as inbred, this book provides a welcome and fresh appraisal of these stereotypes of rural places and people which continue to dominate popular culture depictions. The book carefully charts portrayals of the rural primitive from the nineteenth century to now, presenting a thoughtful analysis which assesses and challenges assumptions and myths of the 'rural primitive.' Although focused explicitly on American notions of the rural poor, the book will fascinate international audiences from a wide array of disciplinary perspectives, providing a most thought-provoking read.
Popular television crime dramas like Ozark and quirky comedies like Schitt’s Creek embrace and exploit cultural stereotypes to create gripping modern narratives. In The Rural Primitive, sociologist Karen E. Hayden uncovers bias in popular culture, drawing on dozens of films, novels, and other media describing America’s small towns. She digs into the past and turns over the content, uncovering deep powerful roots that explain persistent, negative perceptions of rural life, and an inspiring call for corrective change.