Typically, when a celebrity passes, our community either doesn’t notice or, if the person in question is an important figure in the eyes of Globohomo, there is mockery and memetic warfare. Occasionally, though, a luminary’s departure from the mortal coil really hits home. Burt Reynolds was such a man.
Some of you might wonder why Dixieland was so fond of Reynolds, and why Identity Dixie is taking the time to eulogize him. After all, he was a Yankee by birth and an actor by trade. So what, he played some Southerners in his movies, what’s the big deal? It’s just a role, amirite?
In most cases, I’d say yes. But the string of movies that started with Deliverance and ended with the not-so-good-but-still-fun Cannonball Run II saw Reynolds star in films that portrayed a different kind of Southron. Hollywood has two tropes for our people: if the character has no agency, he’s a dumb redneck. If he does have agency, he’s a villain, because the South, its people, and our values are evil to the propagandists making these pictures. Thus, the intelligent Southerner is a scheming malefactor working to subvert the noble and enlightened liberals and/or Yankees.
Burt’s Southern fried characters were different. Paul Crewe, Gator McCluskey, Bandit, WW Bright, Sheriff Earl Dodd, JJ McClure, and Stroker Ace were all likable guys. More than that, they were good ol’ boys who exuded charm, confidence and swagger. Women wanted them, and men wanted to be them. They were heroes. And, growing up in an era when the South was constantly under attack for being “backward”, the pictures of Burt Reynolds offered safe haven from the leftist slings and arrows which sought to denigrate our heritage. To this day, I can’t turn down an opportunity to watch Smokey and the Bandit. Seen it a dozen times. Could see it a dozen more and love every minute of it.
Why? Because all we had were Burt Reynolds and the Duke boys. That’s it. That’s why his passing matters to us. The latter have already been memory holed by “polite” society because, remember, the battle flag is evil, but men in dresses reading to five-year-olds is stunning and brave. Except for punk ass Cooter of course, because he is a communist and a communist with ties to the Dukes of Hazzard is a useful prop. EVEN YOUR OWN PEOPLE HATE YOUR FLAG! PUT IT DOWN, SOUTHERN MAN. There’s a special place in hell for scalawags, Cooter.
I imagine it won’t be long before they come after Burt, Dom DeLuise, Jerry Reed, and the rest of the crew. Even at the time, these movies were viewed as problematic by the leftist molders of opinion. Said Roger Ebert of Cannonball run: “[It was] an abdication of artistic responsibility at the lowest possible level of ambition. In other words, they didn’t even care enough to make a good lousy movie.” It wasn’t said, but the subject matter bothered the high-brow leftists. For those who haven’t seen it, it is a movie for guy’s guys. Hard drinking, wise cracking, politically incorrect jokers racing across the country offending every non-white, non-southern sensibility along the way. Needless to say, it did very well at the box office despite the limp wristed protests of fops like Ebert. A good rule of thumb is that if critics love a movie and audiences do not, it is something that pushes the narrative. If the audience loves it and critics hate it, it’s [insert ism or phobia here].
That’s not to say Burt himself didn’t get roped into the old tropes. I deliberately did not include his character Lewis from Deliverance on the list of heroic southern characters. I have a tortured relationship with that film. It is technically brilliant, and Reynolds gives one of the best performances of his career outside of his turn as Jack Horner in Boogie Nights, but there is a not-so-subtle message that the rural Southerner is an inbred savage fond of sodomy while the urbane city slickers from Atlanta are suave and cool. CIVILIZE YOURSELF, SOUTHERN MAN! Mmmm, no. That’s a hard pass. Atlanta was bad in the 70’s. It’s not a Southern city in 2018. I sometimes dream of re-Shermanizing the city, but this time to drive the invaders out rather than to let them in. This dream usually occurs after I have to go to the Atlanta airport or am forced to drive through the city for some reason. Anyone who has experienced these things would understand.
Aside from that movie, however, Reynolds characters from Dixie were great. Who among us didn’t want to be Bandit going eastbound and down? Didn’t want to stick it to the man like Paul Crewe? Want to track down the bad guys with Gator McCluskey? Those characters were some of the few avenues of pop-culture that didn’t degrade us.
That shining era his movies existed, one in which a white Southerner could be the hero, is gone. Not to return until and unless we start up our own Dixieland studios in some independent future (thanks for creating all that infrastructure in Georgia, Hollywood). Popular media is getting more and more hostile toward us – which says something, given that the antipathy toward the South is why we all love Burt in the first place. His passing represents the official closing of an era long gone. And I lament that more than anything. But whatever Burt Reynolds may or may not have been as a man, he’ll always be the Bandit. And for that, I will always be thankful, and I will regret his death.