Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | January 23, 2010

10 Square Miles: Surrounded by Cannibal Rednecks

Before I saw The Road, I though I knew my darkest fear:  being sodomized by deranged hillbillies a la Ned Beatty in Deliverance.  I saw that movie when I was 13, and like many other middle class men, the fearsome specter of rape by redneck has stuck with me for life.

I realized the full depth of this fear while I was on my first  solo backpacking trip, on Virginia’s Massanutten Mountain.  By day, I felt great.  I communed with nature and felt one with the universe.  The long nights were a different story, a listening for the slightest footstep, clutching my knife to my chest story.  One night, I camped next to a Forest Service shed where there was a full gas can.  I had to hide the gas can for fear that a pyschopathic redneck would come and douse my tent with it.  How the pyscho would find me in the dark, I did not bother to question.

Such were the depths of my irrational fears, born of one too many viewings of Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, and lately, The Road.  Having seen the latter film, the fear has taken a whole new turn with the advent of the image of not just your basic inbred, family of hillbilly pyschopaths, but a new breed of highly realistic Cannibal Redneck, lacking in  the slightest twinge of humanity or even character development.  There’s no back story to the Cannibal Rednecks in The Road:  They are a force to be reckoned with, pure death hunting the last of the normal humans left,  down to the last child.  You’re either with them, or you’re dead meat, or worse, kept in a cellar to be slowly dismembered, raped, and eaten alive.

"Get in the truck, boy."

Cannibalism, from Canibalis, was the Spanish name for the Carib people of Hispaniola.  Historically, the eating of human flesh, from dead or alive victims, has only happened in certain circumstances.  It has been employed as an act of pyschological warfare, as happened during the Liberian civil war of the 1980’s.  Cannibalism has also been the province of the criminally insane, as in the case of Jeffrey Dahmer and more recently Armin Meiwes, a German who posted a wanted ad for a willing victim to be murdered and consumed.   Surprisingly, someone actually answered it and he went through with it.  Finally, cannibalism has been practiced in cases of extreme hunger, but usually only after all other avenues had been exhausted and even then, the victims were usually already dead, as in the case of the Uruguyan soccer team featured in the film Alive.

I suppose extreme hunger is what would have driven the rednecks in The Road to those extremes of cannibal malevolence.  It’s best to suspend any disbelief and let the full horror of the spectacle overtake you.  One wonders, though, why didn’t the survivors band together against them–instead of giving in to peer pressure suicide?  This could be a metaphor for how cut off we are from each other in our hyperindividualistic society–and The Road is merely taking that metaphor to its logical extreme–it’s psychopaths versus everyone else, only everyone else is scattered and divided, incapable due to social conditioning of even having a prayer to band together is such a “dog eat dog” world. 

While The Road is a work of literature and can stand on its own, I still must contend personally with the horrifiying threat of Cannibal Rednecks.  Their prevalence in horror films has rendered them a virtual trope of cinema, making the fear common enough that it must say something about society and the American middle class mind.  Generally, I console myself that the Cannibal Rednecks are usually from West Virginia.  Maybe they might breed as far north as Pennsylvania, but no way, not in New York.  We’re just too civilized.  This rationalization has not prevented me from having nightmares since The Road, of being chased by Cannibal Rednecks who were riding various thrill craft: 4 wheelers, snowmobiles, and once even on jetskis.  All that aside, what is this fear and the characterization of the inbred, West Virginia cannibal redneck all about?

One major use of the cannibal epithet has been to denigrate a population, a form of cultural libel.  Has there been a group of white people as thoroughly denigrated, ridiculed, and stereotyped by other white people as the people of Appalachia?  In these days of Avatar and its theme of resource warfare, perhaps we could turn that thought back on our own country.  Does making West Virginia into a freak show of inbred cannibal rednecks within the popular imagination somehow make it easier on our collective conscience to blow up every mountain in the state to get cheap coal?

West Virginia--Almost level, but cleansed of cannibal rednecks...

I’m saying it’s about time we all faced the fear of cannibal rednecks.  I’m not going to call John Hillcoat irresponsible for his portrayal of them in The Road.  (That was in Tennessee.)  However, maybe some of the horror movies are being a bit irresponsible… or maybe they’re financed by Massey Energy Company, the largest producer of coal in Appalachia.  I’m fighting back with the cannibal rednecks of West Virginia.  It’s not that their lifestyle is necessarily so wrong—it’s just that they’re eating the wrong people.

Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Co. and possessor of marvelous fat deposits.



  1. Wow. Now that the tears of laughter have finally subsided (your imagery of sleeping with a knife in Appalachia is going to stick with me for a while), I can finally comment…:)
    Maybe it’s the pork industry that drives this trend. Supposedly, humans taste like pork, so maybe our instinctual desire to eat each other is subliminally activated by advertisements for bacon.
    For all I know, people taste like chicken. Since there are many chicken processing plants in the Blue Ridge, maybe that’s where this stereotype got started.
    Or maybe human meat has a taste all its own, and the redneck’s desire to eat it is something akin to “Ravenous”, where a man gains the strength of the man he consumes. Maybe the undereducated want to eat us in order to get our college degrees in the time it takes to clean a plate, rather than in four, five, or (in my case), six years.
    Regardless, I share your haunted “Deliverance” nightmares and hope that a nuclear war does not leave us fearful for our own skins anytime soon:)

  2. we only eat what’s on the menu, and what’s on the menu is whatever or whoever happens by our neck of the woods.

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