Did ‘Easy Rider’ Get the South All Wrong?
Travel Blog • Eva Holland • 05.22.08 | 11:11 AM ET
I finally watched that seminal road movie Easy Rider for the first time. I’m always a sucker for a good road-trip flick, and, as expected, I loved the scenery, the music and the campfire-side musings about freedom. But as the credits rolled, I thought to myself: No wonder people in the South feel so hard done-by.
Southerners come in for a pretty ugly treatment in the movie: almost to a man, they’re shown as mean-spirited, gun-toting Neanderthals, ready to run the long-haired, free-lovin’ California dudes out of town by any means necessary. It’s a caricature that bears almost no relation to the South I encountered during my recent month-long drive around the region. Where was the trucker who hopped down from his rig at a Shell station to point out (and then fix) my low tire pressure? The diner waitress in rural Louisiana who patiently walked me through a menu’s worth of unfamiliar items? A clear outsider from the moment I opened my mouth, I was met everywhere I went with warmth and generosity.
Granted, “Easy Rider,” released in 1969, is a product of a very different and politically-charged time. I’ve never experienced the South as a hippie in the 1960s (or, for that matter, as a black person at any time). But its cartoonish portrayal of the area has been replicated in plenty of movies since, and—if the responses of friends and family to my planned trip were anything to go by—continues to dominate in the popular consciousness.
If Billy and Wyatt’s experiences were uniformly negative, and mine were uniformly positive, it’s likely that “the truth” lies somewhere in between. In that, the South is no different from any place else.