Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture

Article excerpt

Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture. By Karen L. Cox. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, c. 2011. Pp. [xiv], 210. $34.95, ISBN 978-0-8078-3471-8.)

In Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture, Karen L. Cox seeks to fill a gap left by historians' failure to consider seriously the role that popular culture has played in shaping images of the South. Focusing on the period between the late nineteenth century and World War II, Cox examines how popular song, advertising, radio programs, film, literature, and tourism defined the region. Within each of these mediums, consumers were provided with a romantic, premodern, and pastoral vision of the South and its inhabitants. As the vast majority of such representations were produced and consumed outside the region, they subsequently functioned to provide nonsouthemers with an opportunity to connect with a place that was supposedly immune to the problems of a rapidly urbanizing and industrializing society. In doing so, cultural texts perpetuated stereotypes of the South, especially of its African American population, while simultaneously representing contrived visions of race, class, and gender below the Mason-Dixon Line as emblematic of an ideal America.

Although a regional study, Cox's work is replete with national context that informs the manner in which southern culture was envisioned. For instance, descriptions of the emergence of Tin Pan Alley and vaudeville in the early twentieth century keenly aid Cox's analysis of "coon songs" that posited a locale free from the quickly shifting landscape of modern racial understanding. However, Dreaming of Dixie is most interesting when it scrutinizes distinct popular culture commodities. Within Cox's coverage of advertising, she dissects Aunt Jemima's pancake mix and Maxwell House coffee and describes the intriguing, though sometimes disingenuous, stories told about the origins of these consummately southern products. Such deconstruction deftly unveils a complicated process of mythmaking coming from northern advertising agencies that promised middle-class consumers a nostalgic implication in an "uncomplicated past" represented by "a culture of leisure, pastoral romance, and loyal servants" (p. …

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