L’Alabama profonde

Did anyone else watch Hart of Dixie last week? Are you from Alabama? Is this what you think people from the North (or California) think of you, of us? If you’re not familiar with Alabama, perhaps you think this is where I live.

In answer to all of the above questions, I should underline that this is television.

Hart of Dixie is a new TV show which features a New York City girl come to Alabama where she will have to make a new life for herself. Her name is Hart, she’s a heart surgeon, she is dumped by her boyfriend and fails to get a residency because she is without heart and she has come to the Heart of Dixie to figure out who she is and find her heart, via a love triangle. Damn, am I not selling it?

I make my husband watch. I feel a bit possessive about the subject matter as far as the relocation goes. He keeps saying “Really? Is this just because you don’t want to watch Antiques Roadshow?”

The most authentic deep Bama part is in the credits, a shot of two rusting trucks by the side of the road with Roll painted on the windscreen of one, Tide on the other—these are seen by the heroine, in a hurry to start her new life, through the window of… a bus. Such a journey would take a day and half and involve a minimum of two transfers and cost $158. Whereas for a dollar more you could fly, change planes in Charlotte, and it would take about six hours.

But, me, I love Roadside Alabama, L’Alabama profonde, so I might have done what she did. But she wouldn’t have.

She is entering a different time and place. A place where they do things a little differently, where they have 19th century rolltop desks in the doctor’s office and hold fancy dress balls in the town square, next to the graveyard.

The South has not been portrayed much on TV: Designing Women, Mama’s Family, Dukes of Hazzard, The Waltons, The Andy Griffith Show (set in Georgia, not sure, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina) come to mind, Alabama maybe never. Dr. Hart does not strike me as much of New Yorker, more whatever the modern equivalent of a Valley Girl is. But she wears Daisy Dukes, or as the actress would say when writing her fashion advice column for InStyle, she is “rocking short shorts.”

The least believable character is the receptionist, a frumpy local who will offer sage counsel to our histrionic lady doctor, like the Alaskan Marilyn in Northern Exposure.  Women don’t have flyaway tendrils of hair or wear cardigans here. And they are not disapproving martyrs, driving 11 miles to buy someone a latte.

I have always lived in places with a robust public image, that can withstand and receive torrents of abuse. People don’t think anything of it to tell you that your hometown is a place in which they would never in a million years want to bring up a child. Like, if I said that about your hometown, you might be offended. A smaller, less traveled place has a more fragile pride.

My interest in the show was to see if they had made some insights about relocation or the South that I hadn’t seen, or where they identified the points of friction I see or hadn’t noticed, and what they would have to say. But the actual tensions are to do with the love triangle. It is obvious that Dr. Hart will end up with the lawyer and the other practice doctor’s overgrown debutante daughter will end up with the ex-football player who is the mayor, and is black, provided she, like Dr. Hart, becomes a better person.

I trawled around on IMDB to try to get a handle on the writer but when I found her she was all about, as she would be, the casting, and the exciting plot points that came tumbling out of the pilot like so many bunnies on our driveway. The show has established its setting and that setting is the backdrop for the many plot lines that have been laid in the pilot, which you can watch here. Nor was she Southern, nor did I expect her to be.

At the end of our European adventures this past summer, we made our way home via Washington, DC. On our last museum visit, to the Corcoran Gallery, there was a William Christenberry sculpture of the kind of place you pass while driving through towns in Alabama and wish you could go in or at least photograph. If the place is still in business they will sell T-shirts and there will be a lot of down-home humor on the walls, jokes about credit and mothers-in-law. The food is usually pretty good though mostly fried—or maybe that should be and mostly fried.

Christenberry’s work is based in the area that is our real Alabama. He makes many of these sculptures from memory or photographs, documenting that which is disused and overgrown, one photo every year, until there is documentary evidence of what no longer is. (Check out: http://southernspaces.org/2007/place-time-and-memory)

I know that I was expecting too much from Hart of Dixie, peering into the windows of its miniature world and hoping for nuggets of insight. Maybe the secretary is the most believable character, not fitting any Southern stereotype, just being a person having to deal with a newcomer’s idea of what she should be.


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