The 'country cousin' in us all

From music to comedy, literature to reality TV, country culture has long amused, fascinated , and even educated Americans.


People have chuckled at the accents, expressions, and get-ups of their country cousins since the first hunter-gatherers settled in the town of Bedrock – and, a little later, moved on up to the East Side. (I say, Muffy, did you hear those rubes hootin’ and hollerin’?)

And for just as long, city slickers have been brought up short by the virtue, wit, and honesty of rural folk. Nowhere was hayseed dialect better used to deliver trenchant truths than in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Through the voice of an uneducated river-town boy, Mark Twain skewered pretense, pride, and the shameful inhumanity of slavery and racism. Huck’s surface simplicity and the adventure he and Jim had on the Mississippi is the sugarcoating that generations of readers have enjoyed while being urged to think more deeply about the society the two were fleeing.

Not every homespun tale is as powerfully subversive as Huck’s, but even in broad comedies like “The Beverly Hillbillies” or gentle ones like “The Andy Griffith Show” bumpkins usually prove to be wiser, or at least more genuine, than their urbane counterparts, whose snobbery is its own kind of stereotype. Of course, there’s a little acting involved as well. I once ran into Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon – aka Minnie Pearl – at a conference in Nashville, Tenn. She didn’t greet me with a big ol’ “howDEE!” but a polite “hello.” Impeccably dressed and coiffed, with nary a price tag in sight, she could have chaired a Federal Reserve meeting.

And as you’ll see in Patrik Jonsson’s cover story (click here to read it), behind country comedy and “Swamp People” shenanigans is an enduring culture that celebrates work, self-sufficiency, and life close to the land (or water). 

One cultural analyst tells Patrik: “This is deep in American mythology.” Or as Jeff Foxworthy, who has made a living off “you might be a redneck” jokes, once said: “You can call us rednecks if you want. We’re not offended, ’cause we know what we’re all about. We get up and go to work, we get up and go to church, and we get up and go to war when necessary.”

That is not to praise everything a bubba does. There’s bad behavior in rural America. Which makes it like the rest of America and the world. But there’s definitely local color there, which is why Hollywood returns to it time and again (currently with a slew of “redneck TV” reality shows) and why country music tops the charts and launches crossover artists such as Taylor Swift.

There’s a little country in everybody. For me, Texas, where I grew up, is a feeling that floods in when I hear the strains of country fiddle or meet someone with a comfortable drawl. My heroes haven’t always been cowboys, but I like their music and free spirit.

Those traits travel well, too. You can find them in my corner of New England and everywhere in the world that can use some hootin’ and hollerin’ from time to time.

John Yemma is editor-at-large of the Monitor. He can be reached at

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to The 'country cousin' in us all
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today