Next of Kin


Years ago, Liam Neeson and Patrick Swayze were in a film called Next of Kin. The plot of the film was something like this:

There was a family who lived in Appalachia, a mountainous region that includes part of Kentucky (as well as Tennessee, the Carolinas, western Virginia, West Virginia, central Pennsylvania and south western New York state). The region is isolated and poor with the main industries being lumber, coal, strip mining, tourism and whisky (the occasional cultivation of cannabis and I guess now the resale of Oxycodone, also known as hillbilly heroin), its a poor area, the people that live there are tightly bound together and do things differently.

The economic hardship is such that the best and their brightest leave to get work in the big city. Truman Gates (Patrick Swayze) becomes a Chicago police officer and specialises in working with the the underclass of economic hill folk migrants (hillbilly is an offensive term) who come a cropper in the big city. His younger brother gets killed when he gets involved with an organised crime family. Then the slop houses, mobile homes (US Eng: trailers) and rickety cabins of Kentucky empty as Briar Gates (Liam Neeson) and the rest of the poor but upright extended family decend on Chicago to take justice into their own hands. The film was a curates egg, not enough action, too much of a plot and too many messages that it was meant to convey for mainstream audiences, but at the same time it was a Hollywood production.

What it emphasised however was the diacotomy of the US, on the one hand the most advanced and powerful country on earth, on the other, these communities living in grinding poverty held together purely by old-fashioned community values.

I was reminded of this when I read this piece Where Prosecutors Say Votes Are Sold in the New York Times (registration required) about the sale of votes in the 21st century. Ross Harris, a big wheel in the political machinery in Kentucky is accused of buying votes for 50USD a time.

According to the article, one of the people accepted the money to buy a coat! Naturally people are disturbed by political corruption, however the article failed so to mention or comment on what is to me an obvious observation.

Why are the political parties not offering to improve these peoples lot? Appalachians have a history of political involvement and were at the sharp end of the American civil war, partily because the plainsmen of the Confederate states had largely denied them a political voice and their self reliant nature had meant that they did not use black people as slaves (an outcome of this was the founding of West Virginia as a state and counties called Union County and Lincoln County).

If the people are prepared to sell their vote, its probably because the changes in the political system makes no positive impact on their livelihoods or them or their children anyway. Is this the American dream? Is it right? And then politicians and economists have the gall to criticise the way European governments try in some way to look after all members of society? I would rather have a cohesive society than slightly higher economic growth rates.

If you want a more positive viewpoint on these commmunities have a look at the Center for Virtual Appalachia