What is the Norm?

What do we really know about our neighbors?

That’s the question Dale and I asked when watched the movie “Winter’s Bone” a few weeks ago. I normally choose movies that look interesting to me rather than going for the Oscar picks, but this one received a lot of press here as it is about and was filmed here in the Ozarks.

I’m also a fan of John Hawkes who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of a meth addict in the movie. (Hawkes also played Bugsy in “The Perfect Storm” and Sol Star in the HBO series, “Deadwood.”)

I knew the movie was dark, given the sad subject of meth production and use in these rural mountains. I also heard that it did not portray our region in a very positive light.

Both were true of the movie and when we were finished watching it, we had to ask how we could miss this subculture.

We know, of course, of the meth labs and trade here from the news of lab busts and arrests that go on mostly in the remote, rural areas of the counties that make up the Ozark Mountains. We can also see evidence of it in some of the people we encounter in town, sunken dark rimmed eyes, bodies too thin for their frames and the absence of teeth.

But it was really hard for us to imagine the the subculture that was portrayed in the movie exists so close to home. Could these people be some of our neighbors?

In the city, I think there is an illusion of a “normal suburban family.” Maybe the illusion is easier to create because everything seems so similar – the cookie cutter homes, the SUVs in the driveways and the homeowners associations that make sure everyone stays similar. Yet, even in the city, if we look hard beyond those cookie cutter homes, the standard of the “normal” family becomes blurred.

Here, we’ve noticed, there really isn’t any standard to compare to the “norm,” most people live here because they’ve chosen some type of an unconventional lifestyle.

I don’t know if it was the fact we live in a small house that is more environmentally sustainable or maybe it was the movie that prompted a producer from The Nate Burkus Show to ask me if we had running water. We’ve had similar questions and comments before. A former neighbor of ours in the city teases us about outhouses and we’ve been asked if we’re “hillbillies,” or “tree huggers.”

The producers question still took me by surprise although I do know of people here who live totally off the grid. Still, I know more who do not. I don’t think I would call it the “norm” here.

“Yes, and we even have electricity,” was my reply. Given what was portrayed as typical family life in the Ozarks in “Winter’s Bone,” I guess I really can’t blame her for wondering.

Are there stereotypes surrounding your lifestyle, city or region?

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16 Responses

  1. V Schoenwald says:

    Where I live it is the trailer park trash place. I have nothing but a major player drug dealer, and the rest are tweekers who use. It is a dreary, and trashy place I really don’t like, but because I am on limited disability income, and that the rest of the trailer parks in the area of my community are the very same way, I have no place to go with my modular.
    It would really help if the owners would be more aware of who they rent to, but unfortunatly, they love money more than keeping things more livable.
    I am the one who gardens, and keep my place up, when you drive by, I am an oasis in the middle of a druggy paradise, and I am generally the one who reaps the hate and commotion from the owners, claiming I use the most water, and cause the most problems. lol.
    Funny how trying to be good gets you in the most trouble, and minding your own business.

    • Kerri says:

      Ha, V, maybe they think you’re bringing the place “up” too much! 🙂 I hope one of these days you’re able to get out of there.

  2. Sheryl says:

    I do remember the first time my parents visited our 900 sqft log cabin. My mother was shocked to find we had carpet, air conditioning AND a phone. I think the word “cabin” tricked her into thinking of summer camp– when I was 10 years old I spent the week in a cement floored cabin with metal bunkbeds. I guess that was her image of a cabin.
    I think we all see the world in stereotypes. I often perceived our small town as a place full of country hicks– until I met our neighbor- whose daughter is a college graduate teaching astrophysics at a University, and our other neighbor- who used to be the Sheriff of an Atlanta suburb. I now realize most of us are just folks who choose to live further out from populated areas.

    • Kerri says:

      That reminds me of the first time we met our banker here. I had only talked to them on the phone from the city. When I got here, she said, “Oh, you look different than I pictured, you look like regular people!” It was one of those, “Thanks, I think,” moments. 🙂

  3. Interesting question. The only assumption I can think about Coloradoans is that we all ski, and when people learn I’m a native who does not, I just laugh and agree that I am indeed an abomination.

  4. Frugal Kiwi says:

    The town I live in here in NZ reportedly has the second lowest per capita income in the country. Lots of people on the dole, not a lot of jobs to be had, but I’m not sure how many people really live off the grid here. It would be interesting to know.

  5. Alexandra says:

    This is such an interesting post, Kerri! I know a lot of people are hurting and would not be surprised if they turned to illegal means of making ends meet. The summer population is completely different from the winter population here in that the summer people are affluent. Actually, I just posted to my blog about how regular folks can no longer afford to live here. Sad!

    I want to see that movie. I’ve heard it is good, although tough to watch.

    • kerri says:

      I was just thinking today of the stereotypes I’ve built in my own head about certain regions. Interestingly, I pictured Cape Cod as largely affluent, not typically a “working class” area. I know this economy has driven more people to desperate measures everywhere.

  6. Olivia says:

    Yes. Canada is a huge country with a small population. I suspect most Canadians identify themselves more strongly with their particular region than with the country as a whole, unlike Americans. I would say that I am an “Islander” first, a Maritimer second and a Canadian third. Therefore we all have notions about what people in other parts of Canada are like. Maritimers are generally considered to be poorer and less educated but friendlier and more neighbourly than other parts of the country. Sometimes I wonder if we are perceived more like shiftless layabouts or delightfully childlike simpletons . . . neither of which is true.

    But then I have notions as well, such as Southern Ontarians are all overachieving, self-serving types who are either very wealthy or so far in debt that they are one paycheque away from disaster (I have lived in Southern Ontario) and British Columbians are all laid back granola eating treehuggers.

    However, I understand that while there may be a kernel of truth in all this, it is far from descriptive of the general populace……except, of course, we Islanders ARE very friendly and neighbourly folk 🙂 They got that right!

    • kerri says:

      Very interesting, Olivia, about the identification and how you perceive other parts of Canada. There is actually a television ad on now about how California is portrayed. I remember when our exchange daughters came here, they both thought that everyone in Texas and California were rich, based on television shows such as “Dallas” and “Beverly Hills 90210.” I have my own feelings about certain states and a country based on experiences I’ve had with people from those places. Funny how we all develop certain feelings and stereotypes.

  7. mat says:

    It’s everywhere. I used to live in a nice little town called Royersford, basically a distant Philly suburb. About a block from our apartment, right on Main St, there was this kinda neglected 20s farmhouse that one day, was magically renovated. Flowers in the garden, fresh coat of paint, it looked good. That was the beginning of the summer. A few months later, I came home to a dozen police cars and a cordoned-off sidewalk in front of that house. The next day, the papers said that it was a huge meth lab bust.
    Now, we live a few blocks away from a biker bar (had no idea when we moved in) that’s been busted a million times for drug transactions. I’m pretty sure there’s no avoiding drug exposure wherever you go; I guess all you can do is steer clear as best you can. Furthermore, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who wasn’t more than one person removed from someone with a current or past drug habit.
    Damn hippies…need to get off my lawn!

    • kerri says:

      Exactly, Mat. We had a drug house just 3 doors down from us when we lived in an otherwise “normal” suburb when we lived in the city. You just never know.

  8. Yes!! My town is considered one of the wealthiest in our county so people sometimes assume that if you live in the town you must live in a McMansion and be loaded. That’s the exception, not the rule, in this town, but people who don’t live here don’t know that.

    • kerri says:

      That reminds me of when my mother rented an apartment in the “richest county in Kansas.” She would always say, “I don’t feel like I have anymore money than when I lived in the poorest!” 🙂