HILLBILLY CLOWN SHRINERS

Shriner hillbilly degree emblem.  Click to enlarge.

Shriner hillbilly degree emblem. Click to enlarge.

Hillbilly Days, a three day festival held each April at Pikeville, Kentucky, is a mountaineer rustic’s Mardi Gras. From thirty states, 100,000 Shriners come to the town of 8,000 in the heart of coal country and the epicenter of the McCoy/Hatfield feud to yet again prove that fraternal organization’s unique capacity for public spectacle. They do as well raise money for a children’s hospital.

The dress code at this event has not been handicapped by previous portrayals of mountaineers. As the postcard shows, the outfits look to be as inspired by 1950s local television kiddy show clowns as Li’l Abner or Snuffy Smith. Jugs and old, hopefully inoperable, long guns are popular, and restore a modicum of hillbilly authenticity.  An invented folky dialect is spoken by the imported revelers.

In Hillbillyland professor J. W. Williamson called the Shriners’ gathering “an extraordinary and instituionalized example of hillbilly role playing.” Dr. Williamson found analogies in the behavior of an European archetype. “Like the fool or the village idiot, the American hillbilly clown is an impudent mirror held up in front of us—both a reflection of and a window into something rarely glimpsed, the native deep and sable face of this creature we still are.”

Postcard 1970s. Criticism by the sensitive and denouncements of the politically correct have not dampened these goofy hillbilly reenactors as their mission is to raise money for crippled children.

Postcard 1970s. Criticism by the sensitive and denouncements of the politically correct have not dampened these goofy hillbilly reenactors as their mission is to raise money for crippled children.

Except for the Kentucky Derby, it’s that state’s largest cultural event. Of course, there are plenty of letters to the editor suggesting this gathering degrades the dignity of Appalachian residents. That hasn’t stopped the normally hyper-sensitive to controversy Coca-Cola company from annually issuing collectible commemorative soft drink products (opposite page).

Except for the Kentucky Derby, it’s that state’s largest cultural event. Of course, there are plenty of letters to the editor suggesting this gathering degrades the dignity of Appalachian residents. That hasn’t stopped the normally hyper-sensitive to controversy Coca-Cola company from annually issuing collectible commemorative soft drink products (opposite page).

about-6This content is edited from our 500 page book project, Hillbillies: Rustics to Rednecks. Join our email list to be notified of its availability.


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