Critics Hate Hillbilly Elegy
Mainly Because They Doubt It Could Be True
First a book, then a New York Times Bestseller, now a Netflix film, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis , depicts the abuse, drug addiction, and overall redneck fuckery that occurs in my home state, Kentucky, and other parts of Appalachia.
Critics Have Slammed The Netflix Film
Claiming that it is unbelievable and underdeveloped, critics have been brutal on rating Hillbilly Elegy.
I was reluctant to watch the movie as well, not because of the critics but because home is something I try to pretend isn’t there. Florida is home now. I eat in great restaurants, stay in upscale places, and spend a copious amount of time in cigar bars, debating big ideas and seeing while being seen.
But In A Moment of Weakness
I finally decided to watch Hillbilly Elegy on Netflix. Maybe it was boredom? Maybe the curiosity couldn’t keep me any longer. I wanted to see how someone else viewed our old Kentucky home aka Appalachia.
The movie begins with J.D. Vance the author and protagonist of our tale, visiting his family in the mountains over the summer while a teenager. From the moment I saw him swimming in that creek/lake, it was like I was having flashbacks too.
Many of the characters have excessive smoking habits. That is not for dramatic purposes. I fully recall never seeing my mother without a Mountain Dew and a Misty Menthol Ultra Light 120 in her hands. (By the way, they are the equivalent of smoking air but they were cheap and she loved them. Still does).
Mamaw and Pepaw
I could almost feel my heart stop when J.D. refers to his grandparents as Mamaw and Pepaw. Everyone back home has a Mamaw and Pepaw. I hadn’t heard someone referred to in that grandparent nomenclature in years. No one in Jacksonville does at least.
Also the age of the grandparents. Most grandparents in Appalachia are actually quite young according to modern standards, but due to poor air quality from the coal mines, drug use, and a disregard for proper nutrition may appear decades older than their chronological age.
One Inaccuracy: No Self Respecting Hillbilly Drinks Coca-Cola Products
I am sure that Coca-Cola paid a pretty penny to be featured in the film. Those product placements all have a dollar value if you weren’t aware. But everyone knows, hillbillies drink either Mountain Dew or RC Cola (which is awful by the way) or the Hillbilly Champagne Ale-8-One which has it’s own cult following and is only sold in Kentucky.
When J.D. argues with the hospital administration over his mother’s initial access to opioids I felt like he was telling my story. My family’s story.
The doctors are not innocent back home. In fact many of them took massive kickbacks to push certain very addicting pain medicines to their patients. There were even pain clinics set up specifically for that purpose (the movie and book don’t depict that, I am adding my own information). The hillbillies got addicted and the doctors got paid. The hillbillies went to jail and the doctors were given a stern warning.
It’s a quick progress from opioid addiction to heroin. The heroin problem wasn’t such a big deal when the drug dealers like my father controlled the trade. It was when the government decided to go after my father and his associates things became bad.
Project: November Rain
I always hated that song to be honest. Overrated and boring AF. Drugs have always been a problem in Appalachia and if we are to be realistic, they always will be.
One gazingus pin replaces another.
Coke to Meth.
Pills to Heroin.
The police though wanted to play hero and get the drugs off the streets or hills or pastures or hollers (that’s like a valley but not a deep valley, they were called hollers because if you yelled it would echo, that’s your redneck term for the day).
What it did however was take the dealers who treated the trade like a business and ensured at least pure product and imprisoned them.
They were replaced by less scrupulous dealers. Contrary to popular belief, there IS honor amongst thieves. The old school dealers would never cut the product with anything deadly. Why would you? You want your customer to but again tomorrow or next week or when they get their disability check.
The new dealers didn’t care. Enter: fentanyl. Once the drugs began to be cut with fentanyl is when people died.
Operation November Rain made the problem go from a tolerable bad to an insufferable worse.
Grandparents Raising Grandkids
This is common. So common. I think I read one of the critics saying it wouldn’t happen like that. Oh but it does. I was primarily raised by my grandparents. So were my friends Sarah and Sara (yes there were two of them). That part of J.D.’s story is unquestionably accurate.
J.D.’s Mother the Nurse
In the hillbilly hierarchy of Kentucky and Southern Ohio the ranking goes like this:
1) Kentucky basketball players
2) your pastor
The worship of the nurse in Appalachia is unrivaled except for the worship of basketball and Jesus (pronounced Jee-Zus). It made complete sense to me that J.D.’s mother’s irredeemable fall from grace was hastened by her loss of her nursing job at the local hospital. Nurses are some of the few who aren’t on a check or some sort of benefit.
Fun fact: Appalachia is one of the highest recipients of public assistance funds. And all this time you thought it was the inner city. Ironically these people continue to vote for people like Trump and even worse, Mitch McConnell. Cognitive dissonance at it’s finest.
My Response To The Critics
You don’t believe it could be like that? It was embellished? Go there. Live there. Live that life. Again the only inaccuracy I could find was the Coca-Cola products. No exaggeration.
For my readers, if you would like to learn more about Appalachia and an accurate depiction of life there look no further than Hillbilly Elegy.
Side bar: J.D. I really hope you read this. Sincerely,
Another one who escaped.