Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On PBS: Country Boys

Like Barbara from Mommylife, I've been watching David Sutherland's documentary, Country Boys. The film follows two Appalachian teenagers as they struggle with school and home.

It's tough to watch. I'm torn between guilt (there but for the grace of God went I), pity, and outrage. I had assumed the series would be about poverty, but lack of money is not the issue.

It's about the culture of poverty--an entirely different subject. (Not coincidentally, the subject of my husband's ongoing dissertation, too.)

The boys in the film both get, what seems to me, generous Social Security Income checks, enough to subsidize the purchase of a larger trailer, cable TV and utilities, a possible truck payment.

The outrage is that this money--rather than being used to pull the boys out of their situations--actually sinks the families deeper into dysfunction. Because there is sufficient income from SSI, the families need make no effort to improve, to become more responsible parents or citizens. It's a complicated mess, but one worth watching if you have the time. Tonight's final two hours should end on a positive note.

8 comments:

Mrs. Happy Housewife said...

Unfortunately, most of us suffer from being given things outright. It is far better for someone to earn financial assistance, even if through volunteer work.

mothersong said...

I have been watching this show with interest, as well. I grew up in southern Indiana, and the people and the surroundings remind me a lot of my hometown.

Your point about the money is well taken, of course. However, the problems these people face go so far beyond that. Remember when Chris starts the David school his math ability tests out at 3rd grade? His friend Jay can't read or write.

I am always torn about the solution to these problems. Give people no money? It seems they work very hard, many of them. I read that Chris' mom was working 60 hours a week as a hotel maid during the filming of the show. That's a lot, with three kids and a husband dying of alcoholism.

I can identify strongly with many of those people, could have graduated high school or been related to several. Yet I refuse to raise my children in my home town, despite the fact that there is family there and none here. It's too easy to get sucked into that culture, and I won't have my children thinking that is normal.

I guess I come down on the "there but for the Grace of G-d" side. I think for me, it's particularly true. :-)

Meredith said...

No, no, you're absolutely right, Mothersong--the SSI checks are a *minor* problem in the whole family dynamic. It's just one of those little things I noticed while watching the film. If anyone deserves support, these teenagers do. I just hated to see this money help finance the father's alcoholism.

Anonymous said...

I have not seen the show. In some ways we have seen it lived from up close. My husband uses a dime to make a quarter but his sister upgrades their cable service...We have wondered since they were raised by the same parents etc... how we can be sure we're training our children to avoid poverty entrapping thinking. Disclaimer: Everyone has the potential to fall on hard times and I have absolutely no objection to helping them.

Jane Dough said...

I started watching this show and ended up tuning out. While I felt sympathy for both boys, it felt too much like watching a train wreck and I just could not stand by and watch.

While I loved the Farmer's Wife, this documentary was harder for me to feel involved.

I am sure this makes me a bad person, but that is honestly how I reacted to the show.

Meredith said...

Jane, I didn't watch the last half of the first night for the same reason...way too depressing! I thought the two teens it followed were probably more-talented-than-average kids, and I was curious to see what happened. At least these kids had enough school and church support have a chance.

Andy's Treasures said...

Mr. Sutherland actually paints a sadly accurate picture. My parents lived in the Prestonsburg, KY area for about two years. They went to the same church as Cody. He was really an exception to the rule. He wanted to make something of himself, as did Chris. Most of the people they encountered in the area had no desire to improve their situation. My mother worked at a local bank and saw the flood of people on the first of every month bringing in their SSI checks and what have you. When I visited them, I couldn't wait to get home. I love my parents but, I've never seen a more depressing place. It's hard to believe that exists in America.

Kathryn said...

My husband comes from this kind of a family/area of the country and he is determined to "break the cycle". It seems that there is no motivation to work and better their lives when they are given the most basic stuff without working for it. It seems to breed irresponsiblity and laziness. I can't remember the old saying, something about giving a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime....

His uncles (on disability and SSI) hatched a plan to steal their 95-year-old mother's SSI from her at the nursing home, nevermind that she only gets 50 dollars a month to spend.

And of course, we have to remember that some people have legitimate reasons for being on SSI or disability.