So what did I do this past weekend? I binge listened to S-Town.
S-Town is the latest podcast from the folks that bring you This American Life and Serial. S-Town, short for Shit Town, is how series protagonist John B. McLemore refers to his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama.
I loved it, and I’m not the only series fan; there have already been over ten million downloads since the series’ release. The story starts out with a reporter’s decision to investigate the possible cover-up of a murder brought to his attention by the protagonist, but where the story goes next will amaze you.
If you want a review I’m sure there are plenty of articles out there to choose from. I’m going to tell you why S-Town resonates with me.
I was born and raised in a small town in north Alabama. My granddaddy repaired watches and clocks, and his house was full of them. My favorite was one that kept time using a series of ball bearings traveling through a maze. I doubt my granddaddy knew John B.; John would have been 21 when my granddad died. But they certainly knew some of the same people.
I’ve known people like John B. McLemore. They fascinate me. They are not perfect. None of us are. But his complexities reveal a man who at the very least did not try to force himself into a societal role much like forcing a round peg into a square hole.
The obvious distinction made between the social circles of Tyler, the young man John B. took under his wing, and cousin Rita, the relative left to clean up after John, reminds me of the differences in social circles of my mama’s family and daddy’s families. The two families always eyed each other suspiciously not unlike how Tyler and Rita assumed the other was up to no good.
S-Town does not paint stereotypical pictures of white southerners, but shows some real people in their true light. Are we racists? Misogynists? Are we bad people? We are what we are, and many of us are going to fight any outside attempts to change this way of life.
The little town I grew up in is no longer a little town, but a suburb of Huntsville. The military industrial complex props up that area, and looks like Trump is going to make the area even more prosperous. But in some ways my home town is still a lot like Woodstock. When I go there, people who have no clue who I am will know me through one of my family members. Pull over on the side of the road with a flat tire and somebody’s going to stop to help you, and will refuse your offer to pay them. That’s just the way it is here.
The podcast makes it clear that we are more than caricatures, and it helps to understand how we got to where we are. I don’t know if you’ll see in S-Town what I did, but I do hope it leads you to see the small town white southerner in a different light. For that alone, it’s worth the listen.