Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media
Intro Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4 Activities
Hillbilly or Appalachian: Is There A Difference?
- To evaluate students knowledge and understanding of the Appalachian region
- To provide a springboard from which to examine and discuss the Appalachian region and its people
- To facilitate discussion of stereotypes
- To analyze the role of humor, for both insiders and outsiders, in jokes and cartoons about Appalachians (or hillbillies)
Notes to the Teacher:
This lesson can be completed in one day; however, extending the time allows students to complete independent study.
One focus of this lesson (and of the unit) is to help students determine what does and what does not constitute Appalachian humor. However, this is a very sensitive issue for many students, particularly Appalachian students. Students will have a variety of responses to all questions in this unit, some very emotional. Care should be taken to accept the students point of view as valid.
The following essays are excellent resources for teacher and students.
Ballard, Sandra L. "Where Did Hillbillies Come From? Tracing Sources of the Comic Hillbilly Fool in Literature." Back Talk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes. Ed. Dwight B. Billings, Gurney Norman, and Katherine Ledford. KY: Kentucky UP, 1999. 138-149.
Feathers, Tony. "Cartoons." Appalachia Inside Out: Culture and Custom. Vol. 2. Eds. Robert J. Higgs, Ambrose Manning, and Jim Wayne Miller. Knoxville: Tennessee UP, 1995. 596-600.
Jones, Loyal. "Appalachian Humor." Appalachia Inside Out: Culture and Custom. Vol. 2. Eds. Robert J. Higgs, Ambrose Manning, and Jim Wayne Miller. Knoxville: Tennessee UP, 1995. 613-619.
Newcomb, Horace. "Appalachia on Television: Region as Symbol in American Popular Culture (1880)." Appalachian Images in Folk and Popular Culture. 2nd ed. Ed. W. K. McNeil. Knoxville, Tennessee UP, 1995. 315-329.
Shelby, Anne. "The 'R' Word: What's So Funny (and Not So Funny) about Redneck Jokes." Back Talk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes. Ed. Dwight B. Billings, Gurney Norman, and Katherine Ledford. KY: Kentucky UP, 1999. 153-160.
Thompson, Jerry. "Hillbilly Humor." Now &Then 14.1 (Spring 1994): 12-13.
Woodside, Jane Harris. "Twisted Humor: The Cartoons of Anthony Feathers." Now &Then 14.1 (Spring 1994): 27-30.
1. Prepare the board ahead of time with the following headings: Jokes/Source/Reactions; Why?; Outsider/ Insider; Qualities of Appalachian Humor. All information should remain on the board until the end of the lesson.
2. Write the terms Appalachia and Hillbilly on the board. Allow students 5 minutes to freewrite about these terms in their journals.
3. After students have completed their journal entry, conduct an open discussion based on their responses. Encourage students to reveal their sources.
4. Provide students with the following definition.
- Appalachia: the highland region of the Eastern United States, including the Central and Southern Appalachians: characterized generally by economic depression and poverty. (Websters New World Dictionary, Second Concise Edition. Ed. David B. Guralnik. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982.)
5. Encourage students to respond to this definition. Ask students to explain why they agree or disagree with the definition.
6. Provide the following definitions of Appalachia:
- Appalachia: "A 200,000-square-mile region that follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to northern Mississippi. It includes all of West Virginia and parts of twelve other states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia." (Appalachian Regional Commission)
- Southern Appalachian Region: The mountainous regions of Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, all of the mountain state of West Virginia, and the hilly region of southern Ohio.
7. Conduct an open discussion based on the three definitions of Appalachia. Ask students to reflect on reasons for the variety of definitions.
- The term can be defined in numerous ways depending upon the biases and needs of the person doing the definingpolitical scientist, geographer, sociologist, literary reader, economist. (Appalachian Regional Commission = political definition; Southern Appalachian Region = literary definition.)
8. Provide students with the following definition:
- Hillbilly: a person who lives in or comes from the mountains or backwoods, especially from the South: somewhat contemptuous term (Websters New World Dictionary, Second Concise Edition. Ed. David B. Guralnik. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982.)
9. Encourage students to respond to this definition. Ask students to explain why they agree or disagree with the definition.
10. Encourage students to share any jokes about Appalachians (or hillbillies) that they are familiar with. Ask students to reveal the source of the joke. Notice which jokes are met with laughter and which are not. Enlist the aid of a willing student to write short titles, or first lines, of the jokes on the board, indicating student reactions.
11. Allow for open discussion regarding student responses to jokes. Why did students respond favorably to some and not others?
- Not funny
- Too stereotypical or negative
12. Ask students the following questions and allow time for open discussion. Solicit another student volunteer to write student responses on the board as they are discussed.
Why do different races, religions, or regions tell jokes about themselves?
- The ability to laugh at oneself is often used as a form of defense
- Laughter is also a form of empowerment, or way of reinventing self
Is there a difference between an outsider telling a joke about a particular race, religion, or region and an insider doing the same?
- If an outsider tells a joke about Appalachians (or hillbillies), s/he may be making fun of, promoting the negative stereotypes
- If an insider tells a joke about Appalachians (or hillbillies), s/he is probably laughing at her/himself
13. Ask students if they can identify positive qualities of Appalachian humor?
- Appalachian humor often causes one to stop and think about who the brunt of the joke really is.
- The main focus of mountain humor is often a trick played on someone.
- Includes the use of metaphors, similes, idioms, and regionalisms such as poke for bag.
14. Gather cartoons and jokes from magazines, journals, and the Internet. Provide these in a format that students can access. The following Internet source may be helpful. (A search using the terms hillbilly and joke in http://www.google.com or another search engine will provide additional sites.)
My West Virginia Mountain-Redneck and Hillbilly Jokes (search for joke or redneck joke at this site)
- Ask students to indicate which jokes they believe to be told by insiders and which by outsiders. (Note: Consideration of who is saying it to whom is relative hereis an outsider telling it to another outsider? To an insider? Is an insider telling it to another insider? To an outsider?)
- Ask students which cartoons are drawn by insiders and which by outsiders. (See above note.)
- Ask student which jokes and cartoons appear to promote the hillbilly stereotypes and which appear to turn the joke on the outsider.
- Ask students if stereotypical imagery should be used to promote the region economically. Encourage student discussion and debate on all questions.
- Answers will vary. (Note: Students may have negative reactions to the jokes and comics, even after they are told the jokes and comics are Appalachian in origin. If this is the case, their opinions should be given credence as all people react differently to humor that could be considered stereotypical. The goal is to help students see the difference between Appalachian humorthat turns the joke around on the outsiderand negative humor that is directed at Appalachians or hillbillies by outsiders.)
15. In small groups, ask students to provide examples for each quality of Appalachian humor. Students can use information from the board as well as samples from Appalachian Humor books (Loyal Jones and Billy Edd Wheelers Laughter in Appalachia and More Laughter in Appalachia) and cartoons provided by the teacher (check Now and Then published by Center for Appalachian Studies and Services, ETSU, Box 70556, Johnson City, TN 37614-0556, which has cartoons in almost every issue). Advise students that they should endeavor to be creative in the presentation of their material.
This assignment can be extended in order for students to conduct research outside of class.
NOTE TO TEACHER: If you're interested in adding the humor of songs, tall tales, and anecdotes, you may want to check out West Virginia's Appalachian Music and Literature.
Mountain Humor in Folktales and Other Media: Intro
Complete list of AppLit pages on Folklore
This Page Created: 11/08/2001
Last Update: 7/13/05