S-Town plays on some familiar themes of storytelling about the South. As Aja Romano has noted at Vox, the show fits firmly into the Southern gothic tradition immortalized in the works of authors like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, even though it’s nonfiction. But in an interview with Deep South Magazine, the show’s producer Brian Reed said his instinct was to push beyond stereotypes:
Reed hadn’t spent much time in Alabama before traveling down from New York to meet John. His wife, who is African American, advised him to set his social media profiles to private. He thought she was just perpetuating a stereotype, but he does meet his share of racists among John’s friends. “In a way, the vision that John was feeding me of this Shittown or S-Town that he lived in, it had all the trappings of the stereotypes you think of when you think of rural Alabama,” Reed says. “My knee-jerk was to go against that. It can’t be exactly that. I know it’s more complicated than that.”
I grew up in central Florida. As Floridians know, the weird cultural geography of the state means that the farther north you go in Florida, the closer you get to “the South,” so central Florida is a somewhat ambicultural middle zone, not fully Southern, but bearing whiffs and echoes and markers of the South. So I’ve been interested to hear the reactions to S-Town from listeners who grew up in the region, and I’ve excerpted a few here.