Southern Living at the Library

What do you call one part Southern Comfort, three parts cranberry juice, and a squeeze of lime shaken and served up in a martini glass? Answer: a bibulous good time for a bibliophile like yourself at the Kansas City Public Library this Tuesday night.

The name of the cocktail described above is the Scarlett O’Hara. It was invented by a post-Prohibition New York liquor distributor to boost sales by capitalizing on the mass popularity of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 blockbuster novel.

The drink, like its namesake heroine, appealed to a deep-seated American nostalgia for a quainter, simpler, more genteel Old South – the antebellum land of plantations, moonlight, and magnolias, far away from the technological clatter and urban nightmares up North.

It was, unfortunately, also a South filled with reprehensible ethnic stereotypes.

In her new book, Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture, University of North Carolina – Charlotte historian Karen L. Cox argues that pervading American conceptions of the South were framed by those who did not live there, i.e. white Americans of the East Coast.

From the Reconstruction years through the 1950s, it was mainly they who dreamed of a pre-Civil War and very pre-Civil Rights Dixie populated by old “mammies,” uncle figures, and slaves smiling as they toiled in cotton fields. These stereotypes persisted in virtually every medium – radio, TV, film, advertising – and only exacerbated racial tension in both northern and southern states.

Cox will discuss her book in person tomorrow night, Tuesday, August 30, 2011, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library. Beginning at 6 p.m., complimentary Scarlett O’Hara cocktails will be served to patrons – but only to those of legal drinking age (we’re not that Southern, you know). Please RSVP online if you wish to attend.

Whether reflected in Clark Gable’s smoldering gaze or echoed in a Tin Pan Alley tune, our country’s perception of its South was created not by historians but by publishers, ad men, and musicians in New York, as well as directors in Hollywood, radio producers, and writers.

Dreaming of Dixie traces the manufacturing – and marketing – of Southern culture through examples such as D.W. Griffith’s seminal Birth of a Nation (1915), Disney’s ill-advised Song of the South, the arrivals of Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima in grocery stores, minstrel shows, Andy Griffith, and more.

So join us tomorrow night for what will surely be a brisk, informative, and potent evening. But be warned, even the advertiser who dreamed up the Scarlett O’Hara cocktail advised, “No more than 2 lest you be Gone with the Wind.”

About the Author

Jason Harper is the Web Content Developer at the Kansas City Public Library. Connect online at / Twitter: @kclibrary.