Why Hillbilly Elegy Makes Me Angry

Just a quick post throwing together many great essays and discussions that explain why I’m not in to Hillbilly Elegy, movie and book, now that it’s getting even bigger. I know some people in my life have found it compelling, because I know it does show some things that some of us identify with, and that most people really want to see ourselves and the conditions of our lives represented in books and movies. But I think we can and should find better versions of this representation, and this is why:

  1. Most importantly: JD Vance’s personal politics are terrible – he hobnobs with Charles Murray and the American Enterprise Institute, he does not believe that people need or deserve social assistance and actively promotes policies to cut food, shelter, healthcare for others. Ask yourself why this person has written this book and what its purpose is. This podcast is a great summary (on this and the whole thing): https://citationsneeded.libsyn.com/news-brief-review-netflixs-charles-murray-themed-hallmark-film-hillbilly-elegy
  2. The whole thing REEKS “culture of poverty” – when will we be done with this idea and the damage it has caused?
    https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/10/hillbilly-elegy-review-jd-vance-national-review-white-working-class-appalachia/
  3. “The problem with Hillbilly Elegy’s version of the Pygmalion story is that it never reckons with the fact that J.D.’s whiteness—bought and paid for, in part, by Scots-Irish ancestors through bloody colonial warfare—is not just incidental but integral to his triumph. Hillbilly Elegy is a Bildungsroman about becoming middle-class white that never asks why that gold standard is problematic.” The book and the author’s politics are absolutely about promoting biological notions of race and other forms of white supremacy, even more so because it is claiming not to be about race (again, look up Charles Murray!):
    http://bostonreview.net/arts-society/ellen-wayland-smith-mythic-whiteness-hillbilly
  4. There are real questions of “poverty porn,” driven particularly by questions about who made the movie and who wrote the book (Vance doesn’t seem to be particularly tied to the community, or maybe what I mean is, allied with it – is he really writing about himself?). More to the point there is a long history of harmful representation and Appalachian stereotypes: https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2020/11/25/hillbilly-elegy-poverty-porn-239358
  5. This story disappears many other communities in Appalachia – what do we get by continuing to only represent/consume this subset of experiences? https://theoutline.com/post/3147/elizabeth-catte-what-you-are-getting-wrong-about-appalachia-interview?zd=1&zi=ymnfodks
  6.  It’s a terrible (inaccurate) way to understand the “white working class,” which is precisely what many “coastal elites” have tried to do with this book: https://prospect.org/culture/books/unlearning-lessons-hillbilly-elegy-nov20/
JD Vance, a white man, with a blue tie and light gray jacket, with his mouth open at a podium.
JD Vance