When it all Goes South (Warning: Possible Spoilers)

I read a Steven King essay on horror fiction.  He suggests we create an environment where life operates with boring punctuality. All is functioning as expected.  Our plans are on schedule. Then, when the reader least expects it, we drop an alien into the mix!

Our culture has a phrase for this. We say “it’s all gone south” meaning: “what we expected to happen isn’t going to happen at all.  Instead, all hell is either about to break loose, or already has, and there’s nothing we can do about it!”

Hollywood usually takes King’s advice, only, when their stories go south, they never go far enough.  I wish they’d take the phrase more seriously – by which, I mean: I wish they’d take it more literally. If they did, if they truly “went south”, their passé characters would survive longer, the monster wouldn’t kill as many innocents, and I guarantee you, once it finally dies, it’d stay dead.  If a southern gentleman slaughters a beast, the beast is slewed indeed.

That’s the problem. None of Hollywood’s characters are ever southern gentlemen. Instead, we have rank-and-file materialists who reflect metropolitan bias.  New Yorkers or the residents of Los Angeles seldom visit the boonies. They have a natural fear of the locals and a mistrust of nature.  As children of the ‘scientific age’ they see nature as a force to be conquered and subdued; a field of dangerous and unharnessed resources, waiting to be mown down and re-shaped. There is no appreciation of the rustic in their horror movies; no pastoral flare.

Not so, the southerner!  Having been raised in a mixture of half part Sunday school, half part wilderness, and shaken with a bit of Walter Scott and a dash of Kipling, we have an inherent belief in the supernatural and an inborn love of nature.  Hence, we’ve got the “solution” (heh) for most any monster, catastrophe, or tragedy rank-and-file Hollywood materialists might face.

How so?  Ask yourself what would happen if a southerner was in the van with the “Chernobyl Diaries” kids, as they sat helpless in the abandoned Russian town of Pripyat, with the sun setting and hideous evils lurking in the shadows.[1]

Our guide has just been attacked and murdered while investigating a noise and one of our fellow travelers (who foolishly ran out to help the guide) barely escapes with his life.  He informs us that there are “people” (of some unidentifiable sort) lurking outside with evil intentions, though he’s in too much shock to elaborate. What do we do?

The party’s first inclination is to sit in the broken-down van all night, with the lights on, screaming and moaning until either the sun comes up or the van battery dies. But as a southerner, I realize this would make the van a target; a shining beacon in the dark.  Anyone out there could see us and approach at will. Instead, I suggest we leave the wounded man in the van along with one of the women.  Let them scream and moan to their heart’s content. The rest of us will sneak off a short distance, hide in the brush, and let our eyes adjust. We’ll gather intel and figure out what we’re dealing with.

Sure, using our wounded friend as bait is a cold move, but whatever tries to attack him would have an unexpected counter attack to deal with. In this way, we might survive until either all the monsters are dead, or we’ve managed to repair the van and flee the site.

Either the Hollywood hipster kids would see the sense in this plan or they’d die while screaming at the tops of their lungs and giving away their position to every mutant in a three mile radius.  If they insist on doing the latter, then I’d slip off on my own and make it back to civilization without a second-thought.

But not all Hollywood hipster kids are that stupid”, someone might argue.

Some love the wilderness and have a willingness to believe in the supernatural. What about those kids from the Blair Witch Project, eh?

Yeah right. Even the Blair Witch kids had a snobbish attitude towards the woods and a tendency to disbelieve the supernatural. And, just like all Hollywood materialists (parading as pseudo lovers-of-nature), they die screaming and helpless. But what if I was there? Would I have brought the full might of a southern warrior spirit to bear on that evil witch?

Suppose I were driving through back-country Maryland and stopped at a convenience store in Burketsville for a drink. There, I meet a girl who is filming everything with a fancy camera. She tells me she and two friends are venturing into the forest to document the infamous “Blair Witch”.  She says it while grinning, as if she doesn’t take any of this seriously. She invites me along and since I love nature and also hope to get to know her a little better (wink, wink), I say, “Sure. Let’s bag us a witch.” So, the four of us set off into the wilds of low-country Appalachia.

It’s not long before we notice evil forces at work. Juvenile-looking art hangs menacingly from trees and we seem to be walking in circles. Every night we hear strange noises.  We’re all afraid.

Their plan? Stick to the path and maintain a stalwart resolve not to be frightened by the “rednecks” who are playing tricks on them.[2] I suggest instead that those sticks are bad news.  They’re dark magic and we ought to leave immediately.  They disagree of course so on we trek. I stay in the party because of a chivalrous concern for the young lady.

“We’ve crossed this same creek three times already!” says the girl, obviously frustrated. “We must be lost!”

By this time, they’re scared, finally convinced whatever is happening is outside the bounds of science.  They flee wildly with no discernible plan.

“Ya’ll ready to listen to me yet?” I ask, while irreverently spitting chew onto the witch’s sacred ground.

“Oh, please save us, Scott!” says the hapless girl, just minutes after looking into her camera and telling the world how afraid she is. “Your southern spirit is our only hope!”

As she falls into my arms, (wink, thumbs up to the camera), I lay out the plan I’ve been working on for the past few hours:

Well,” I begin, “I doubt this witch is powerful enough to change the physical landscape. If she is, we’re screwed no matter what.  But assuming she’s not, I say, instead of naively crossing this creek over and over, we follow it. Creeks always run somewhere and if we stick to it, no matter what sort of mind-games she plays we’ll know we’re still going the  right direction.  We’ll eventually find our way out. 

Further: we make camp every night with our backs safely against an embankment.  We’ll sleep in shifts.  Two of us will be on watch at all times. We’ll keep the fire lit, and we’ll improvise weapons.  And finally, we’ll pray for God’s blessing so that even if this foul creature is meant to have her way, she’ll pay a dear price for it!  She’ll rue the day she set her evil eyes on the four of us!

We’ll either die in ferocious battle, opposing her and maybe getting in a few vengeful hits (which might bring small satisfaction to her victims), or else we’ll make it out of the woods and beyond her power.  There, we can regroup, rally the locals for a posse’ (the kind southerners and puritanical towns-folk are best at), and return to finish her once and for all.”

Hopefully they would accept this common sense proposal and join me in making a valiant dash for freedom. In reality however, they’ll probably end up dying in an old shack.

More examples of southern resilience in the face of Hollywood-contrived evil could be given, but I suspect I’ve made my point. If Hollywood hipster kids stuck in monster movies want to survive after their serene lives “go south”, they need to go as far south as possible and pick up the mannerisms and attitudes of their oft-despised countrymen. That’s the only way they’ll have a fighting chance.

[1] In what follows, I cast myself as the typical Southerner.  Please don’t think I’m arrogant for this.  I know myself better than I know anyone, so I’m the go-to stand in.  I suspect other southerners would act the same as I do in these horror situations.

[2] Do you recall in the movie when the characters were speculating about “stupid rednecks”?  They spit the phrase out as if it were a cuss word.  This belies their metropolitan bias.  These weren’t humble kids exploring the woods.  They were Hollywood liberals, tramping through the wilds of Dixie. Give them asphalt and escalators over clay and sod any day. These snobs were lucky I happened to be in the woods with them…

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