If you keep up with trendy Southern magazines they way I do, you might have noticed the diatribe in the latest issue of Oxford American by editor Marc Smirnoff, thoughtfully bashing his competition, Garden & Gun. In a nutshell, he calls G&G out for being a romanticized glossy for rich, white people. If you aren’t familiar with the publications, Oxford American touts itself as the “Southern magazine of good writing” and Garden & Gun is “the soul of the South.”
I have a subscription to both magazines, and guess what? I like them both equally. The writing is usually cerebral, the photographs stunning, and they both publish just a few times a year, giving me something to look forward to. But I get where Smirnoff is coming from. I was born and raised here, and my family certainly didn’t maintain its own private hunting grounds or pay $400 for a pair of fancy shrimp boots. My upbringing was decidedly middle class, tinged with Southern accents. My maw maw’s (that’s grandma if you ‘aint in the know) first language was Cajun French. We ate deer shot by my uncle, and dad went frogging every season. Our summers were spent water skiing and taking long weekend trips to Mississippi. My best childhood moment? Dad (rest in peace) wearing a grass skirt and coconut bra to a Cajun-fried luau. Or maybe it was the circa 1970s Dixie beer shirt he used to wear, which by the way I need to snag if my mom ever lets me have it. As a kid I never knew what sweet tea was, I just assumed all tea was served sweet. And I grew up with pirogues at my disposal and alligators swam in such close proximity to our house that regular sightings were no big deal.
After Katrina, I relocated to the Phoenix area for three years. I took a summer-long working vacation once at the Grand Canyon, but aside from that I had never lived anywhere else. So it was a bit of culture shock when I left. While out in the Southwest I developed cravings for anything that reminded me of home. i ate sub-par po-boys, listened to music I formerly took for granted, and developed a new appreciation for Southern culture. You really do have to leave a place and have your heart ache for it to see its value. That Southern caricature of wearing seersucker, sipping mint juleps and laying a thick-ass drawl on? I love it, even if I don’t own one piece of seersucker or have an accent myself. But I also don’t feel that not playing the part makes me any less Southern in the same way that someone from Japan doesn’t feel obligated to wear a kimono. Let’s get real here. It’s not about playing into a stereotype, it’s about appreciating the richness and complexity of the culture. And even if you read Garden & Gun, you certainly don’t have to be rich to get where they are coming from. I might not be able to afford to blow $10,000 on fully trained hunting dog, but I can appreciate the lush pictures and the beautifully written story that tells the rest of the tale.
Christy Lorio, a native New Orleanian, writes on fashion at slowsouthernstyle.com and is also a freelance writer whose work has been featured online and in print magazines both locally and nationally.