"Carl just wanted some directions, but the mountain people aren't like DirecTV. They don't just do what he wants when he wants. Too bad for Carl."
No, too bad for DirecTV and its offensive and degrading stereotyping of Appalachia.
If you have not seen the ad, it's not really worth your time. It's mindless drivel. It portrays a shanty with chickens in the yard and the silhouettes of the mountains in the background. The ad depicts every clichéd old saw and offensive stereotype ever associated with Appalachia: banjos in the background, unkempt appearances, rotted teeth, high-pitched laughs, unfit living conditions, livestock inside the home and a barefoot pregnant woman cooking in the kitchen.
Imagine the social and political backlash against DirecTV if it ran an ad that depicted and preyed upon African-American, Jewish or Native American stereotypes; the media would crucify them as a corporate entity.
Mountain folk are the last acceptable bastion for those who would mock and degrade a people based on heritage and culture. Now, I have no illusions about the genuine challenges Appalachia has faced since our ancestors were hardy enough to settle here. Poverty is still shamefully prevalent, and limited access to education and medical and dental care is still a very real issue.
However, Appalachia has made great strides in recent years. For example, Pikeville has reinvented itself as a medical hub with a state-of-the-art medical center and the University of Pikeville's College of Osteopathic Medicine. Just across the Kentucky-Virginia line, Buchanan County, Va., has launched a series of professional schools including Appalachian School of Law, Appalachian College of Pharmacy and Appalachian College of Optometry.
Make no mistake, the people who make their lives in these mountains are earnest, forward-thinking, hard-working individuals worthy of respect and admiration. I live and work in Appalachia. My family hails from southeastern Kentucky and I wear my families' heritage like a badge of honor.
By the second decade of the 21st century, haven't we learned to celebrate other cultures, viewpoints and ethnicities? The United States has made great strides in overcoming stereotypes, remedying bias and rectifying inequality.
However, there are still some notable exceptions, and Appalachia is one glaring example. DirecTV's ad clearly illustrates all that is still wrong in our society, and it should pull the ad and issue a formal apology.
See TV ad at Youtube.com/watch?v=aCGx9-P1LYo.
Patrick R. Baker is director of the Natural Resources Law Center at Appalachian School of Law.