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Sounding Out the South: /S-Town/ and the Challenges of Aural Representation

Abstract : The podcast S-Town, a nonfiction audio series about a rural small town in Alabama, reached blockbuster status within days of its release in March 2017. For many commentators, the show’s cultural traction is based upon the fascination of a supposedly liberal Northern audience for representations of the “Deep South” and its poor white rural inhabitants, especially in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election and its polarizing context. The podcast does indeed raise ethical questions of representation and voyeurism associated with investigative nonfiction narratives in general. More specifically, S-Town tends to rely on Southern tropes and to capitalize on the exoticism of a space that is commonly seen as backward and dysfunctional. Regional differences are highlighted, if only on an acoustic level, by the juxtaposition of the journalist’s polished studio narrative with instances of “hillbilly lingo” (Rooney, 2017) through recorded interviews and phone calls. The producers’ emphatic use of Southern Gothic literary motives seems to confirm that Scott Romine’s thesis that there is no such thing as a “Real South,” because it is always primarily a cultural production and a fictional space (Romine, 2008). And yet I do not think that S-Town’s representation of the South should be dismissed as mere caricature. On the contrary, I would argue that, thanks to the protagonist’s complex personality, the multiplicity of voices, the sophisticated temporal structure and the absence of narrative closure, this podcast offers much more than a single, univocal vision of the South.
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https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02905091
Contributor : Ella Waldmann <>
Submitted on : Thursday, July 23, 2020 - 9:55:32 AM
Last modification on : Friday, June 11, 2021 - 1:11:45 PM
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Ella Waldmann. Sounding Out the South: /S-Town/ and the Challenges of Aural Representation. 2020. ⟨hal-02905091⟩

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