Selling the South to Itself: Rhetoric, Mythology, and the Making of Southern Living

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Title: Selling the South to Itself: Rhetoric, Mythology, and the Making of Southern Living
Author: Fulghum, Emily Wilkerson
Advisors: Dr. Carolyn R. Miller, Committee Chair
Abstract: In an effort to examine the 'commodification' of Southern culture - using the stereotypes, sensibilities, traditions, and values of the typical Southern household to appeal to a target audience of consumers - I plan to explore the early history of Southern Living magazine (SL) during its transition from a socially conservative farmer's trade magazine to a vibrant leisure and recreation guide for southern suburban housewives. A dynamic publishing transition from Progressive Farmer magazine concurrently mirrored the significant cultural phenomenon of the rural-to-urban/suburban shift occurring in many southern communities, which heralded a new era of recreational travel, community development, and cultural enhancement. By first exploring the regional identity mythology during this period of time and then identifying methods utilized by the magazine's early contributors to establish their own identity, we are given a rare and important opportunity to observe a clear reciprocity between fundamental rhetorical elements mythos and logos (shared stories and story/argument structure). But unlike the often brief, general citations regarding SL's cultural impact offered in most 20th century surveys of the South, this study comprehensively presents and explores this reciprocity within the context of the considerable cultural understanding and rhetorical achievements that contributed to the early and sustained success of one of the most influential regional publications in the nation. When Southern Living magazine was first published in 1966, much of the South continued to hold fast to the traditions, values, and stereotypes of a system that was crumbling under the weight of the social, political, and economic pressures of a nation in transition. In 1950, the top-ranking publications in the South were farming magazines such as Farm Journal, Country Farmer, Country Gentleman, Successful Farming, Southern Agriculturalist, and Progressive Farmer. Progressive Farmer stood out among these publications as it took a decidedly "progressive" direction from its conception. This 'feisty start', as former Southern Living editor Gary McCalla puts it, developed into a resolute focus and thematic consistency which enabled Progressive Farmer to promote itself as a sort of Southern supplement to national magazines such as Life to advertisers looking to fill the significant gap of magazine publication coverage in the South. As the editorial staff and advertising department began to struggle with the financial effects of a declining farming population and the resulting diminishing audience in the early 1960s, a decision was made to evolve the Homes Department of Progressive Farmer into Southern Living, a new magazine that would feature home and general interest articles. The environment out of which Southern Living was created, and the issues to which it endeavored to respond are clearly stated by its co-founder, Emory Cunningham: "Everybody was running down the South...I felt that keenly, and a lot of other Southern people did too, people with their hardships going all the way back to the Civil War... Everybody up North thought that racial unrest was an Alabama or George Wallace problem only. It hadn't hit Watts in Los Angeles or Chicago [yet]. Southern people were thirsting for something to make them feel good about themselves, along with giving them good, practical information" (Logue, 34). In this project, I explore this image the South had of itself when SL was created, along with the extent to which and rhetorical methods by which the primary regional publication addressed and attempted to shape these perspectives about southerners' cities, their homes, their families — in short, their regional identity.
Date: 2005-12-07
Degree: MA
Discipline: English

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