The Appalachian region has been systematically stereotyped in popular media representations for over a century, contributing to many of the structural, economic, and psychological challenges faced by those who live there. In order to solve this issue, it is necessary to produce compelling counter-representations which undermine the dominant regime of representation around Appalachia. In this thesis, I explore some of the most common image types used to represent Appalachia in popular media and assess the potential of co-creative documentary practices to create representations which challenge these harmful images. I begin with an explanation of the importance of representation, drawing from the work of Stuart Hall in cultural studies, and an introduction to co-creative methodologies in media production. Next, I recount the history of four tropes commonly used to represent Appalachia in popular media. Finally, I examine two co-creative documentaries set in the Appalachian region – Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s Hollow and my own The Appalachian Retelling Project – to assess these projects’ approaches to co-creation and the counter-narratives that emerge from them. Ultimately, I argue that co-creation is an effective methodology for producing compelling counter-representations of Appalachia and for other groups like it who have been systematically misrepresented.
About Elon Justice
Elon is a videographer and writer with an interest in digital media platforms and co-creative storytelling. She graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2017 with a B.A. in TV/Film Production and a minor in Creative Writing, and most recently worked as a commercial producer for a local television station in Bowling Green, KY.
An Eastern Kentucky native, Elon has long been acutely aware of media portrayals of underrepresented populations that are often one-dimensional, stereotypical, or altogether inaccurate. She aims to combat this phenomenon by working alongside these populations to co-create media that allows for more varied and truthful representations of their regions.
In her free time, Elon enjoys traveling, over-analyzing her favorite music and TV shows, and teaching others how to correctly pronounce her name (Hint: It’s not like Elon Musk).
Thesis: Hillbilly Talkback: Co-Creation and Counter-Narrative in Appalachia