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Al Capp illustration of Dogpatch, including the 'Skonk Works'
figure 1  

 

dogpatch. The proverbial Appalachian community—and by association any rural or agricultural community—inhabited by White people who are perceived or presumed to be ignorant and impoverished.

The reference is to the hamlet in the comic strip, Li'l Abner, which ran from 1934—1977. The creator and artist, Al Capp, was one of the best satirical cartoonists of his time. While the Capp web site suggests that “In the midst of the Great Depression, lowly Dogpatch allowed the most hard-up Americans to laugh at yokels worse off than they were,”reference 1 I think that Capp actually saw Dogpatch as representing many of the least desirable facets of the American character in general. He used the strip to poke fun at American provincialism, greed, and shortsightedness. His protagonists, L'il Abner and Daisy Mae, lived in “comfort and safety” in a cabin on a mountainside with a teetering rock perched above and a bottomless canyon below.reference 2 In what may be the most memorable story line, the Shmoos (lovable creatures who lived nearby and who, themselves, loved to be eaten and tasted like whatever you were hungry for) turned out to be a disaster in disguise for Dogpatch, destabilizing the economy not because they were bad, but because they were good...to eat.reference 3 I suspect that in Capp's mind, all of the United States reverted to yokelism at one time or another.

1. Capp, Al, and Capp Enterprises Inc. 2001. Welcome to Dogpatch. Capp Enterprises Inc. Accessed Oct 21 2001 from http://www.lil-abner.com/dogpatch.html.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.
While the discontinuation of Capp's strip means that the use of this term will likely diminish, it is still in use. Certainly, negative references to the stereotypes of Appalachian culture continue, despite other trends away from ethnic caricature. In a 1998 Boston Herald op-ed piece in opposition to Puerto Rico's statehood, Don Feder's refers to this island of U.S. territory as a “Caribbean Dogpatch.”reference 4 In 1995, Time magazine quoted Representative Mark Souder (R-Indiana) discussing the Waco case: “The only law that [the FBI] clearly established [David Koresh] broke that I can see so far is he had sex with consenting minors. Do you send tanks and government troops into the large sections of Kentucky and Tennessee and other places where such things occur?” They title this as “The Dogpatch Defense,”reference 5 a clear use of the term as derogatory, implying that poor people in southern Appalachia lack morals.

4. Feder, Don. 1998. No Statehood for Caribbean Dogpatch. Boston Herald, Nov 30, 27.

5. Adams, Kathleen, et al. 1995. Chronicles. Time Magazine 146, (7): 17.

Whatever Capp's larger intention, the broad stereotypes that he employed are offensive and target one of the few marginalized groups that seems yet to have its own liberation movement: impoverished White people. Contemporary terms for “hillbilly,” such as “trailer trash” or even “no-neck,”reference 6 appear to remain acceptable among the intelligentsia, even as, happily, the use of derogatory names for an increasing number of identity groups has become impermissible. Surely if Representative Souder had made the same statement about a culture of child abuse and referenced Harlem or the Castro instead of Kentucky and Tennessee, there would have been a different response.

aerial image of an agricultural hamlet labelled 'Deansboro' and in the lower right labelled 'my home'
figure 2  
Perhaps it is my own upbringing in a small agricultural community which is perceived as a community made up largely of working class and impoverished White people that makes me especially sensitive to this kind of disparagement. Maybe I am too sensitive. Still, if you grew up in Dogpatch, you might be sensitive too.

6. A reference to the presumed result of the presumed inbreeding or incest of Appalachian peoples.

 

 

 

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About the illustrations: Figure 1 is excerpted from an image that is captioned, “The Uncertain Hamlet of Dogpatch” and is drawn by Al Capp. This work is copyrighted and unlicensed. I believe that the use of this work in the article “dogpatch” to illustrate the subject in question where no free equivalent is available or could be created that would adequately give the same information qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. Other uses of this image may constitute copyright infringement.

Figure 2 is a satellite photo of my hometown, Deansboro, NY. Taken from Google maps.

see also: Dog as Self and Other Last updated: October 25, 2010
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