How JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” misrepresents Appalachia
January 14, 2021
Introducing the audience to what Hillbilly Elegy is and who JD Vance is  Chuck and Big John dissect the book by JD Vance, Hillbilly Elegy, in part 1 of their series on the damage it is doing to Appalachia. So that’s right. We’re talking about hillbilly elegy today, john, why don’t you cue some of […]

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Introducing the audience to what Hillbilly Elegy is and who JD Vance is

 Chuck and Big John dissect the book by JD Vance, Hillbilly Elegy, in part 1 of their series on the damage it is doing to Appalachia.

So that’s right. We’re talking about hillbilly elegy today, john, why don’t you cue some of our listeners into what hillbilly elegy is and who JD Vance is. Or as I call him John Dammit Vance.

Big John Isner  02:27

Hillbilly elegy is a masterpiece of all masterpiece. It’s written by obviously JD Vance, who just joined us We really appreciate that JD come back anytime.

Chuck Corra  02:36

JOHN. Damn, it is what his name stands for John damit Vance. Anyway,

Big John Isner  02:46

hillbilly elegy is essentially a he calls it a quote memoir. And it’s about JD Vance. And he tells a story about growing up with a family that is in Appalachia. He has a really hard upbringing, and essentially tells us a story about his upbringing, and then correlates it to what the rest of Appalachia is, quote unquote, going through.

Chuck Corra  03:16

Yeah, and who is JD Vance, you may be asking, Well, JD Vance is just a guy, and we’re gonna get into that. But first, as always, what we like to do at the beginning of each episode is honor an Appalachian who’s going out above and beyond the call of duty to do the good in this world to get back to her or his community in a positive way, because we like to start these episodes out as positive, john and that’s something that we’ve been trying to get better at. JD Vance

Because, you know, there’s a lot of negative things that are happening with Appalachia and certainly want to talk about that, but got to keep it positive. So today, I’m very excited about this one. And john, I queued us a little bit on this person prior to the show. This week’s Appalachian of the week is a Yassin Terou of Knoxville Tennessee.

Yassin is a Syrian refugee who fled the war in his own country around eight years ago. And He’s the owner of the off scenes Phil awful house, which is a restaurant in Knoxville. He’s recently named I think, last year by Good Morning America. Well, his restaurant was named the nicest place in America by Good Morning America.

It’s really quickly become a local symbol of the American Dream there and it’s just such an I’ve never I’ve unfortunately never got together but it’s everyone that I’ve talked to about his restaurant is it’s such a warm, welcoming place and he just really embodies like the spirit of, of someone who came here to make their life better. And the reason why I’m bringing up your scene today is that as a lot of you may know, Nashville suffered some horrendous tornadoes in the past week. In fact, it was last Sunday. And yes scene got his team together and drove down the Nashville to open up a pop-up kitchen to feed residents who were displaced by the tornadoes.

He’s, you know, he’s embodying the American dream and everything that there is to show about community. And he’s taking that and he’s bringing it down to people who are really in need. And you know, you could point to probably 100 different people, especially just associated with the recovery of the tornado and naturalist Appalachians of the week. But I wanted to specifically point out your scene because I think that he really embodies what we’re trying to get at with this with this honor. And with this, with this designation on the show.

Big John Isner  05:38

Yeah, I mean, I obviously, only know what what you told me check and what I’ve read a little bit and the things that this guy has done, he really does seem like the nicest guy in Appalachia is. But I mean, especially the nicest guy in Tennessee. So I think we’re all thankful and lucky to have people like him, hopefully more people step up and help that area as they continue to rebuild.

Chuck Corra  06:00

Yeah, well, in fact, they’re actually like, in a lot of places, they have too many volunteers, which is fantastic. And I’m going to post links in the show notes just to some organizations that are doing really good work. They’re they’re taking volunteers are that need help that anybody who’s listening to the show that’s not already queued in on that can get those resources and help in any way they can. So with that being said, Yes, seen great guy Appalachian of the week.

And you know, what a better guy, well, no better guy than him to really embody that. Now, the guy that we’re going to talk about was next john, though I don’t think that he’s gonna probably ever get the Appalachian of the week. I don’t I don’t want to say I’m a guy who never says never or ever, but I’m just gonna go out on a limb and say that JD Vance is not exactly at the top of the list right now for Appalachian of the week

Big John Isner  06:59

during that during that Appalachian

Chuck Corra  07:02

Oh, god, you’re right. Yeah. Listen, if if we’re talking appellation of the week, he’s got a shot for sure. For sure. Got a shot Really? You know, really gunning for it, for sure. But yeah, JD Vance, and hillbilly elegy john. He talked about it a little bit in the opening, but JD Vance is a guy who wrote a book that got ridiculously popular. We’re gonna talk a little bit about why but JD Vance is a he’s a Marine Corps veteran, and a Yale Law grad born in Middletown, Ohio, and sort of grew up there. And in Jackson, Kentucky, he became the principal at a venture capital firm owned by Peter teal. So your typical Appalachian story of success for sure.

He wrote this book that became incredibly popular and was on the New York Times bestseller list for a really long time. And it talks about his life growing up, and people took it as sort of a handbook for Appalachia, and in some odd terms, and he has since become a CNN contributor, in 2017. brought on to translate the very confusing, noncollege educated working class in Appalachia. And just found this out today, john, that he thought about prime marrying Sherrod Brown in 2018. Ohio, US Senate race.

Big John Isner  08:28

Yeah, I knew about that one.

Chuck Corra  08:30

I that’s I want to joke anyway. So JD Vance. That’s who he is. He’s not like someone super well known outside of this book. But hillbilly elegy. That’s what we’re talking about today, the book that he wrote. So why are we covering this? I think a lot of people who might be listening to this already know about hillbilly elegy, maybe you’ve read it, maybe you’re pissed off about it.

But if you don’t know about it, it’s essentially JD has written kind of his life story up into this point, growing up in an Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky, but also in sort of a rust belt town of Middletown, Ohio, we’ll get into the fact that he doesn’t do a great job of delineating between the two. It’s becoming an international bestseller.

And like I mentioned before, lots of people have read it, and view it as sort of, you know, the definitive book that describes Appalachia, which is extremely problematic that we’re going to talk about it’s also been used in a lot of literary courses in different high schools and college curriculum, which I find troubling as well. And it is, and I put lots of well-meaning white people read the book. Just true, which I’m sure lots of Oh, I was gonna say lots of book clubs like to read the book and talk about it.

A lot of well-meaning white people from the coasts like to read it and talk about how misunderstood people In flyover country, as they call it our, but their big reason why we’re talking about it and why we’re talking about it now is that a movie is being made about it. Now the book came out, I want to say, was it 2015 2016?

JOHN? Yeah, I think so. And so it’s kind of how it’s like, hey, there’s been a lot of responses written to it, which we’re gonna get into in later episodes. But it’s greenlit into movie, not just a movie, Ron Howard is directing it, which means that already, it’s getting a lot of Oscar buzz. It’s got Glenn Close in, it’s got Amy Adams, two big headlining actresses. So this movie is going to get a lot of attention. And that’s why we’re talking about this particular book right now.

And the movie, I think, is is slated to be released on Netflix, later in the year. So what we’re trying to do with this, not only is talk about the book and talk about the problems with the book, and its harm on Appalachia, but also just like at this time now before this movie starts to really get a lot of steam and a lot of attention, we want to make sure that we have set the record about it straight from our perspective before that comes out, because it’s going to get a lot of attention when it comes out. And I think that that is makes it all the more relevant.

We’re planning on this being a three-part series. Today, we’re going to be talking about the book and breaking down some of the more problematic parts of it. Next week, we’ll be talking about the harm that it has done to Appalachia and to the perception of the region. And then for the third episode in this series, we’re going to be talking about the responses to it that have already taken place and they’ve already been written, and how they set up the discussion for the future. So that being said, john, what

Big John Isner  11:51

never fails.

Chuck Corra  11:53

They’re they’re just excited man. They’re like

Big John Isner  11:57

Taylor’s not here so

Chuck Corra  11:58

they’re at they’re pissed. They’re pissed. No one to get them that uh, that that puppet Chino, the what the puppet Chino, she always posts about the puppy Chino

Big John Isner  12:08

Oh, she’s literally bringing some home now.

Chuck Corra  12:12

See, I knew it.

Big John Isner  12:14

She’s also bringing me Starbucks, I can get through this episode.

Chuck Corra  12:17

So we’re gonna get started. And the first thing we’re going to talk about is the underlying story that’s told in this book, we need to lay the foundation and that’s the way we’re going to do it. JOHN, take us through the actual story that that john damn Vance is telling.

Big John Isner  12:32

So JD Vance starts out by telling us a little bit about himself. In current time, he wants everybody to know that he went to Yale. That’s, that’s mentioned a lot. For a while, I thought that was the whole premise of the book was just to tell us that he was going that he went to law school. Turns out it was

Chuck Corra  12:52

we can attest this to being not that special to go. It’s not.

Big John Isner  12:56

And I don’t know why you need to write a book about it. But anyway. So JD Vance essentially uses this book to tell us about his childhood, which was extremely rough. And and Chuck and I both see that and understand that that was something that he had to go through. And we’ll talk about that, as we go through some of the issues with the book. He also even talks a little bit about, you know, his mom and how she had these drug issues and was constantly going from boyfriend, a boyfriend.

And that really, essentially messed with him, because he never really had that father figure, or at least not that father figure that was constantly in his life, except for his grandfather. And those are kind of the two main characters would be the grandmother and grandfather besides JD, and those were the ones that were really his parental figures and the ones that he leaned on the most to get through everything. So he takes us through childhood all the way through law school and tells us about his life story, we’ll also talk telling us about his perception of Appalachia.

Chuck Corra  14:05

that’s a that’s a good summary of the book. And I think that when we need to draw on the specific examples, we will as we get into this, but like john mentioned, the way that the book is written is both the narrative style of him telling a story and then broader explanations about society and Appalachia and culture in Appalachia that he extrapolates from those experiences, many times with no evidence that even talk to the people that he proclaims to know so much about or that is really just pulling off of his own one off experiences. And that’s kind of the biggest thing about this book. JOHN are going to talk through a number of things that we find problematic in here.

But the biggest takeaway and our view are that JD uses personal experiences and unsubstantiated observations that he’s made to make broad sweeping accusations about an entire Your region of the country. And that’s the biggest, most problematic part of this book. And we’ll get into some of those specific examples. But a lot of times he’ll take his own personal experience and use it to generalize an entire culture. And it’s just as you will find it is very, it just is not representative of the region. Let’s start with one of the first examples that he draws from john. He talks about working at a tile distribution company prior to going to college and talks about a guy specifically who routinely would take long bathroom breaks and played hooky to escape work.

Big John Isner  15:39

Yes, so essentially, this guy, JD starts out working. And of course, JD does a great job. He always shows up to work on time. He’s the best worker, I mean, the best worker, you could ask for really a great worker, at least that’s what he tells us now. And that’s something that you’ll see throughout the book is that everybody else has issues except for JD, in terms of he admits some faults, but then also kind of exempts himself from some of these Appalachian stereotypes.

So we’ll talk about that later. In this story, specifically, there’s a guy who’s working at the, at the shop with him, and essentially takes these hour long breaks to go to the bathroom and do all these other things and finally gets fired. And when he gets fired, instead of saying, you know, I shouldn’t have been doing this right, you know, I apologize. He then goes after the person who fires him and says, How could you do this to me, don’t you know, have a kid, you know, and says, it’s really unfair to him. And then JD Vance draws a correlation between this guy’s story and the rest of Appalachia. And he says, essentially, this guy is kind of the embodiment of what Appalachia is,

Chuck Corra  16:57

which is insane, that first of all, you would take one example of a guy that you worked with at a title company in college to extrapolate an entire opinion about a region. But again, you mentioned this is a theme that he draws from so many different times. It’s like he took a notepad and wrote this down and thought, aha, this is everyone.

Big John Isner  17:18

Yeah, and this is, I say, I know a lot of people who have really great memories, right? I may not be one of them, because I forget things a lot. But there is no way in hell, I would be able to tell you the exact specifications of a something that happened 10 1520 years ago, it is not gonna that’s not going to happen. I think some of these stories are, are frivolous. I don’t think they’re true. But he’s gonna obviously deny that, but he uses these stories to continue to push a narrative.

Chuck Corra  17:55

Right, right. And it tells a good story, right? A real juice. Oh, great. Well, this is, you know, people that aren’t working hard. But what he ignores is the other people that were working in that title distribution company that we’re working on. Exactly. doesn’t talk about them. Yeah. Including, allegedly himself. So we’ve talked about yourself do. Hey,

Big John Isner  18:16

it’s, it’s also hilarious, because instead of focusing on this guy, you know what he could have focused on the guy who owns the business who created as a good business in Appalachia.

Big John Isner  18:28

But he didn’t he, he chose to focus on the negative because JD Vance, you’ll, as you read the book, you’ll know is a negative guy. He’s very pessimistic. He’s only optimistic about himself. And that’s it. And so this is, again, a running theme, he will pull the negative out of everything, instead of focusing on the good. That’s the type of guy he is. And that’s what made money.

Chuck Corra  18:49

Why don’t we move on from that example, and talk about a little bit about how he describes one of his one of the places that he lived in growing up Jackson, Kentucky, which, when you read it, it sounds like he describes it as a place that he really loved. But when you actually start getting into his examples, he just kind of talks about the people from there, which say, john, he described it as a place where quote and these are direct quotes, by way, quote, nobody’s interested in holding down a job.

And one of the examples that he draws from as he was walking through a neighborhood, I think, with his uncle, and he’s in this is all conversation he’s having with his uncle, his uncle, by the way, whom apparently according to the book, he doesn’t talk to all that often. His uncle told him when they’re walking by this house, he said, it’s all full of drug addicts and one man who can find the time to make eight children, but not the time to support them.

He said he told me the man had no job and was proud of it. And then JD Vance took this and said that it represents much about the lives of the people in Jackson. It’s kind of a thing to say about the place where you grew up, and you seem to admire that nobody’s interested in Holding a job there and that they just were proud of that.

Big John Isner  20:05

Yeah, again, just focusing on something. First off, who knows if the story’s true because of how long ago it was. But secondly, there is so much shit talking in small communities. I mean, everywhere, not just Appalachia, but everywhere. So who knows what, what his uncle actually knew about this guy, or the fact that JD Vance didn’t know shit about this didn’t talk to him, he just didn’t talk to him talk to him. He didn’t know anything about him. He used the story to create another narrative, because he knew that if he would, if he would use this narrative, and he would piss enough people off, it would get more people to buy the book, and he’d be a New York Times bestseller. That was his only goal here.

Chuck Corra  20:47

This is like taking High School gossip, then writing it into a book that you’re going to teach people about high school for that it’s stupid. And it’s also just like, I mean, of course, it’s offensive. Like, if you take an example that may or may not even be true, and use it to describe an entire town where you have a lot of roots in like, that’s, I don’t know, that’s, it seems very disrespectful to the people of Jackson, number one. One of the other things he said about this too, which just, I think irks me a lot is that he was talking broadly, I believe about the people Jackson, he said, the people are physically unhealthy.

Without government assistance, they lack treatment for the most basic problems. Most importantly, they’re mean about it, they will hesitate to open their lives up to others for the simple reason that they don’t want to be judged. Well, I won’t get into the irony of that statement of coming from the guy who walks by people’s houses and judges, the people within they’re not even talking to them. But this is just again like he is taking these destructive stereotypes of Appalachia and giving life and breathing life into them.

Big John Isner  21:56

And it’s it’s not true. I mean, yes, there are people that

Chuck Corra  22:00

yeah, that’s important to say, it’s

Big John Isner  22:02

Not true. There are people that embody this. They are everywhere that he took. And this is what I think most people should know about this. He took something that was happening in the country, and correlated it to a region and said, help. It’s only happening here. And that’s not true. It’s happening. It was happening all over the country at that time. It’s happening all over the country now where I can pick and choose anything I want to say negative about a certain area and then correlate it to that area. I could say things about Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, it’s not that hard.

So what he did was he pick, he was able to pick and choose the things that he wanted to mention. And this is one of them. I mean, and he wants to and I’m glad you mentioned the irony behind this. He wants to talk about people, quote-unquote, being mean, this dude made a million he made millions of dollars being mean, it was literally as that’s all this book is.

Chuck Corra  22:58

it’s like the burn book from from Mean Girls.

Big John Isner  23:01

Exactly. And let me tell you this, Appalachians, honestly will give a shit about JD Vance. And we don’t give a shit that he was mean. We give a shit because of the problems that this book has created.

Chuck Corra  23:14

Yeah, and we and look, I’m just as JD Vance does not speak for all Appalachians. Neither do we also, we’re not putting ourselves out there as if we do and like him. But like, this is important, because so many people take what he is saying as gospel. That’s what’s so problematic about this. It’s not that it’s like JD Vance being some bullshit. Like if you put this in a string of tweets, he just be, you know, one of 10 million other people that did that. But he’s made a boatload of money off this book, he’s it’s getting made into a movie, it’s going to get a lot more attention.

People are going to continue to look at this like they did after the 2016 election when you had a bunch of people from California, in New York airdrop into different parts of Appalachia with a notepad and a pencil, but like wanting to talk to the real Americans. And so he’s sort of there, their false prophet in that sense.

Another poor example of somebody who purports to know about the region, but then reinforces the harmful stereotypes that have hurt the region for so long. And this is just one of many examples.

Big John Isner  24:28

Yeah. And I actually have a story about this. When I had mentioned to one of my co workers that we were, we were covering hillbilly elegy. And at that time, I was I was really listening to the book. She had told me that she loved the book, and that she had listened to it before she moved Appalachia and found that essentially, she thought what he was talking about what’s true. So we had about an hour conversation on why a lot of the fit that he says is complete horseshit was able to break down any false narrative that she had learned From this book, but the point is that if she had not talked to me about it, she would have continued to think that way. That’s why this book is trouble. That’s why this movie will be huge trouble for the region. He doesn’t

Chuck Corra  25:11

Just talk about people in Jackson, he talks about what you know, the people he describes as hillbillies in general, which doesn’t, it’s kind of like a loosely defined term, but we’re just gonna say that it’s people in the region where he was from and Appalachia as a whole, because that by context seems to be the case.

This is again, like just an example of where I, in my opinion, he reiterates just like your quintessential republican talking points throughout this entire book, about laziness and like just abusing the welfare system. And so one thing that he says in this is just when he’s talking about people in general, he says, avoidance and wishful thinking are forms of coping that hillbillies learned to deal with uncomfortable truths by avoiding them or pretending better truths exist. And it makes it hard to look at themselves, honestly. Okay, talk about the armchair psychologist here. All right. So I heard I thought that he went to law school. But here he’s acting like he is just like some psychiatrist is diagnosed this, this great problem of hillbillies. They all just are avoiding things and operate on wishful thinking.

Big John Isner  26:22

You’re exactly right. And, and one of the funniest things about him passing judgment on people is that during the second chapter, he actually says, I don’t equate poverty to laziness. But poverty is, is occurring because of laziness. These are the things that he says because he thinks them I mean, let’s not, let’s not beat around the bush, like this is a guy who has ideals currently that think this way.

Obviously, this book resembles that. And yeah, that’s like the thing, the whole I’m not racist, but yeah, exactly. He is always about trying to position himself because let’s, I mean, let’s be frank, this guy knew or at least knows that he wants to get into politics. And so he doesn’t want to put himself in a box. So he always tries to work his way around it. He’s bad at it. He’s really bad at it. But he, he certainly tries.

Chuck Corra  27:19

One of the problems is, is that a lot of people who read this and talk about it don’t dig beyond the surface level. And, and that’s where he is put to an advantage. And that’s what we’re trying to get out here. One thing that is more of a broad topic that we’ve alluded to a little bit we want to kind of dive into it is this, this notion that he equates receiving welfare, or receiving public assistance in any form as being like, like a kin to laziness.

I know, it’s personal for john. And it’s, it’s personal to me in the sense that, like, I, it just is such a false assumption in so many ways. And it’s one of the stereotypes that I think has been the most harmful to Appalachia. We’ll get into that in the next episode. But to give a little bit of context of this, when you start my Appalachia is like the Appalachians, people are hardworking, except, of course, for the many food stamp recipients who show little interest in hard work. And he had a neighbor that he references in the book, he said he had a neighbor that was a lifetime welfare recipient who would talk about industriousness and build a construct in her head of not being a moocher.

JD Vance
JD Vance.
New America, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wow. So if I, if I’m his neighbor, I’m gonna feel like shit after reading this. And, you know, we don’t know, maybe his neighbor was abusing the welfare system. Maybe that’s the case. That’s entirely possible. But again, as we go back to it, you can’t assume something as fact, based on a one-off experience and anecdotal evidence. Like he’s essentially calling all food stamp recipients lazy.

Big John Isner  28:59

Exactly. That and this is a guy, and we’ll, we’ll talk about how he really was his real upbringing and things like that. But this is a guy who never had to worry about being on welfare because he always had his grandparents and his grandparents were pretty well off.

We can talk about that. But this guy never had to worry about these things. Like he did have a rough childhood, his mom was all over the place. She was addicted to drugs, his father wasn’t there. And I think the thing that makes me the maddest about JD Vance, is that his story and my story are very similar. Both of us grew up without our fathers, which obviously is a shame. It’s something that you hope that others don’t have to go through. But there’s a big difference between JD Vance and that’s the fact that JD Vance when he looked around, he said that he saw several families that look like his, but in actuality, that wasn’t the case.

But I mean, at least for me, I always kind of looked at other families and Appalachia and thought, Why can’t my family be like that? It’s obviously a different perspective than what JD went through, which is, again, why I think that there may be an underlying issue with why JD thinks the way he does about Appalachia. But in general, for me, at least, I didn’t.

I mean, there were families like mine, but it wasn’t on every corner. It wasn’t every classroom. It was a ton of loving families, that huge family, but my family wasn’t liked. And I kind of always thought, you know, why not me? So it’s interesting to hear him say that it was, you know, his family’s, you know, essentially a picture of all of Appalachia, because I disagree with that. And I didn’t see it when I was growing up at least.

One key thing to point out here is that when Vance discusses poverty, and quote, unquote, welfare queens, he doesn’t even first off doesn’t even provide you with statistics. And second, wants to blame Appalachia and make it perceived, like Appalachia is filled with a quote, unquote, welfare queens.

But if you actually look at the statistics and 2011, for instance, the Medicare fraud control units, which investigate and prosecute fraud, found that the top three states with Medicaid fraud, or California, Texas and New York, none in Appalachia, but he doesn’t mention that to you. He mentioned only things that he wants you to know. Another key thing to remember here is that welfare recipients are not living a lavish lifestyle. They’re not doing these things, to make money as he wants to perceive it.

Sure, there are some people that commit welfare fraud, we know that it happens. But let me break this down for you. compared to the average American household welfare recipients spend far less money on food consumption entertainment, and even healthcare costs. In fact, families receive receiving welfare spend 154%, less on entertainment, and 123% less on health care costs.

That is not this lavish lifestyle. And is not this. This goal to be oriented to that Vance wants people to think Appalachians are essentially striving to be it’s not true. And unfortunately, he wants to portray this in the book itself without actually providing statistics. And that’s why it’s extremely dangerous. Vance also tries to essentially convince you that if you’re poor, you’re lazy.

He says he doesn’t correlate it to that, but he does several times throughout the book, things that Vance forgets to mention when he talks about how poor people essentially are lazy. And this is something that he is constantly referring to, even though he says that he’s not. He forgets that in Appalachia, jobs are scarce, especially professional jobs, and the jobs that people have don’t pay well. In fact, in 2017, the number one and number two employment opportunities for Appalachians were food, lodging and entertainment, and retail trade.

Those accounted for 26% of jobs. Think about that. Several of those jobs paid minimum wage or barely above it. If you want to continue to blame the poor, you’re in the wrong area. Because it’s not that people aren’t working or they’re refusing to work. It’s the fact that good-paying jobs have not come to Appalachia in mass quantities like other areas have, it’s just not happening.

Vance doesn’t mention this. He doesn’t talk about essentially how people struggle because of the jobs that are available. Remember, Appalachia, at one time, was a strong manufacturing area. But with the decline of coal and manufacturing, jobs are scarce and the jobs that are coming in our retail trade doesn’t pay a lot of money. People don’t want to be dependent on the system. It’s something that happens. JD Vance, again, forgets the important statistics that actually plague Appalachia. I think the biggest thing that JD Vance misses is the fact that not every place in Appalachia is the same. He compares Jackson and Middletown and essentially points out a couple of differences but equates both to the same type of terrible stereotypes that he has claimed to have fought against, but has only actually continued it.

A good example of this is actually the poverty rate in Appalachia. So for example, in Virginia in 2014, the statewide poverty rate was 11.5%. The rest of Appalachia was 18.8%. This is totally different than the worst state in the region, which was Kentucky at 25.4%. It was even higher than the region, every single place and Appalachia deals with different problems, some worse, some better. And to be able to group them all together is impossible. Appalachia is a unique region for a reason. And you can’t group it all together, essentially. I mean, you can’t, you cannot make an assumption about Jackson, Kentucky, and then say it’s the same in Middletown, Ohio, or Parkersburg, West Virginia, or Nashville, or wherever, it just isn’t true. And that I think, is the biggest Miss of all, in this book.

Chuck Corra  35:41

When you have somebody who writes an entire book, and tire book about their life growing up, and the experiences they had in the places they grew up in, but then is so dismissive and so disrespectful to the people that are from the same place, or he grew up, he paints it this picture as if he’s the only person that came out of Middletown, or that came out of Jackson that made it anything of their lives.

One of the things he said was people talk about, this is a quote, quote, people talk about hard work all the time in places like Middletown, you can walk through a town where 30% of the young men work fewer than 20 hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness. Well, first of all, I don’t I truly don’t understand how this was up to snuff with publishers, because I don’t know where you can pull that stat out of your ass. But I, this is just so dismissive of people from there. I can tell you this.

I know we’re going on anecdotal examples, but there’s an anecdotal example here. And I think a lot of people will identify with it. There. There are lazy people, there are certainly like I’ve worked with some that are. But the majority of people that I’ve worked with both in like manual labor, jobs and otherwise, are hardworking people that are well-meaning and Appalachia and otherwise. And that’s been the case with almost everybody I know. But the thing that happens is the lazy person often is the one that sticks out. And that’s the one that you remember,

Big John Isner  37:09

There’s an issue with, I would like to know what the underlying problem is. With JD Vance. There’s got to be something more to why he is angry at Appalachia. I think he is angry at Appalachian he pretends that he’s not, but you don’t write a book like this and have such a pessimistic view. He doesn’t mention the positives about these people; he sees only the negative except for his in his grandparents and his grandparents. I mean, he does see positive in them. But of course, it’s his grandparents. So this is there has to be some underlying resentment for something,

Chuck Corra  37:47

I think you’re right, I think it really shows that there’s a I mean, this book, this entire book is a projection of something, not entirely sure what you’ve got all this built up animosity about a place where you grew up, and where you purport to really care about. But then you just don’t, it’s like he found success. And as a way of saying, Thank you, he writes this book to dunk on the entire region, makes a couple mil off of it, and just like rides the coattails of his own success, and his high off of his own ego.

Big John Isner  38:21

If I ever did this, and wrote a book, first off, Chuck, if I ever do this, just beat the crap out of me. And secondly, you probably wouldn’t have to because my mom would, I mean, for me to go back on a community that helped me, she would whip my ass. And the fact that this guy has been able to get away with this is a it’s insulting, obviously. But it kind of makes me question like, Where is everyone else in his family? I want to hear from them. Like, what do they think? Because I think it would be an interesting case study, to see what they think about this book, whether or not they think it’s true, or whether or not they, you know, relate to his feelings? You know, I’d like to know, I think it would be interesting.

Chuck Corra  39:07

I think that that actually rose in really nicely into a separate section that we really wanted to get into, which is that like, the experience that he points out, and like just his takeaways about this culture that he says is in crisis, his experience in many ways conflicts with the reality for many, in particular, what we’re getting at is from like a, like a socio-economic perspective. And that’s not to say that he was like, wealthy and rolling in the dough. When he kind of has conflicting statements, really, he’s, you know, he talks about his family being poor.

At one point in the book, he said, quote, we had plenty of money. My mom had a nursing license, etc. And he referred to them he referred to themselves as a rural Ohio family with an income of over $100,000. Now, I believe at the time in the book that he was referencing that was 1993 john, so I did a little bit of inflation-adjusted went for that and calculated that would be the equivalent of $179,000. Today. Now, look, you can get into a lot of metrics about, you know, where how far that dollar goes now and then. But I’ll tell you rural Ohio 100 grand back then. That’s not bad. I can tell you that.

I can tell you that it’s a lot more money than most families had. And it’s a lot more money than most families have now. And so to take these experiences, and paint with a broad brush, especially shitting on welfare recipients and saying that they’re lazy. Meanwhile, you come from a family of the purported privilege of making over $100,000 a year. Like, lit, In what world? Do you think that you can relate to those people? In what world? Do you think that that is something that you can identify with?

Big John Isner  40:57

Yeah, and I think you you hinted at this, Middletown. First off, many would argue it’s not Appalachia, man there. Let’s get that out of the way. There’s a lot of argument on that. Secondly, it does not. Middletown does not look like most of Appalachia, it’s his town of 50,000 people, it’s a little bit more well off yet has its issues, but it’s a little bit more well off than a lot of places. There, they have a higher income, higher median income. But the big thing that he talks about with I think we didn’t mention this, his grandparents moved from Jackson to Middletown.

They never felt like they quite fit in, in Middletown, which makes me question if every place in Appalachia is the same, like JD Vance says, How did his grandparents not feel like they fit in? And it’s either two different things, he’s in a double bind. It’s either one, Middletown isn’t Appalachia, and he doesn’t actually know about the place that he’s writing about, or to Middletown is Appalachia, and every place in Appalachia is different. It’s not the same, you can’t make assumptions. So this is an again, these are there are so many holes in this book, and in this thought process, that I’m glad we’re focusing on it.

I’m glad we’re putting it out. And I think that this is something that a lot of people need to do. And a lot of educators if you’re an educator out there, and you’re listening right now, and you use this book, take it off your curriculum, it’s not what you want to teach,

Chuck Corra  42:29

in addition to the like income level that I think would probably fall well outside of the scope of the average person where he was from. JOHN, if you recall, he also referenced a lot of other things that I think people who don’t grew up with means don’t have the opportunity to do when they’re growing up, including he visited his uncle in Napa, California to quote understand identity.

He did mention a given this, he did mention that his other friends were amazed that they were he was able to afford the airfare for that, which I think, again, tells you something about, like, his experience versus, you know, the typical experience, I think, and then he also attended therapy sessions as a kid, both with and without his mom, which is great, like not definitely not discouraging that. In fact, I highly encourage it.

But I think that like from a resource standpoint, and from an insurance standpoint, a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to have therapy sessions and are able to go there and work out some of the more complexities that they have grown up. And so I think, again, that lends itself to this, this false notion that JD Vance understands the experience of people that grew up around him but yet he’s purporting to and passing judgment on them

Big John Isner  43:42

For people like JD Vance, they may come from Appalachia, but they didn’t have the same upbringing as most people. And for him to look at these, these people. And this was his thought. I mean, the way that he grew up is how his how he was, you know, how he acts today. And for him, he looks at these people, and he says, Well, how come you can’t get over your shit, but I can. And that’s, and that’s his point.

You just mentioned it, he was able to get out of the region when he wanted to, he was able to see a therapist, if a lot of Appalachians had the ability and had the resources to see therapist, it would have the access. Yeah, and the access it. Think about all these rural communities right now we’re all these hospitals are shutting down the ability for people to have access in Appalachia, to a therapist, let alone You know, hospital, that it’s becoming even less than what it was and in that time, and it’s going to continue to dwindle, I think but imagine people actually having access to do these things. We would probably have a lot less of these quote-unquote resentful people that he talks about. They didn’t get the same opportunities he did. And I think that that’s something that he’s missing.

Chuck Corra  44:58

Another thing to add to this, this whole like Money aspect of socio-economic aspect of his experiences, john, you’re not going to see in the headlines of hillbilly elegy about him defending payday lending. But he definitely defends payday lending in this book.

Big John Isner  45:15

Yeah. Which is

Chuck Corra  45:16

just again, I think tells you all you need to know about like this dude. As he talks about, I believe it was when he was working for a state senator at Ohio State House. And how the guy who was working for was one of the only people to vote against this payday rental payday lending bill or something and, and there are certain problems with the bill that they pointed out. But like, in general, it regulated payday lenders. JD took a payday loan out once and paid it back with a very small modest amount of interest and was fine.

JD didn’t qualify for credit or something like that. And I’m sitting here thinking like, this is so fucking dangerous like this guy is getting up here defending one of the institutions that keep people poor, that keeps Appalachians poor. payday lending. You’re gonna get up here, you’re gonna write this god damn piece of dog book. And you’re gonna cap it off by saying, well, I just think payday lending is wonderful. And, and people just don’t people don’t really understand the benefit of it. Let me tell you something. You don’t understand the detriment of it when you’ve got interest rates out the ass 400 500 600%.

Big John Isner  46:37

Yeah. And look, it only took one subject to get Chuck fired up. And that’s what this book does. I mean, I think that that’s a great personification of it. But, you know, and I, when it comes to payday loans, I get what he’s saying to a point, don’t kill me, Chuck, I think, you know, he says, Look, it’s a way for people to put food on the table if they don’t have money, we get that. But the regulation that his senator would vote against would be to at least make the situation better. And for him to say like that he paid it off with this modest amount of interest. One, if he did, he’s lucky, and to whether or not that story is true, we’ll never know.

And so but there are plenty of people that we can use real facts on real statistics and show that payday lending leads to Appalachians still being poor and makes them remain poor. And JD Vance may have one story that he thinks proves that wrong, but he is so dead wrong.

Chuck Corra  47:44

Yeah, he’s like, Well, my experience was that I was able to pay it off quickly with modest interest. So that experience is obviously the experience that everybody has. Oh, yeah. And it the thing that pissed me off is like, like, I look, we actually talked about this in the last episode, Bernie Sanders Appalachia, go and listen to it if you haven’t already. But one thing we did talk about is access to banking and access to credit. And that is a good point that JD Vance almost makes, he almost gets there, Johnny, he just he gets,

Chuck Corra  48:16

But then he gets the bed. And he gets the bed in this way, john because he scoffed at the idea that these could be predatory. And that is just factually inaccurate. It’s wrong, damaging, and hurtful. And anybody that’s reading this fucking book needs to close it third in a goddamn fire and just read something out,

Big John Isner  48:34

pick up another pick up the Bible.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,

Big John Isner  48:41

because that’s, that’s more of a nonfiction book than this.

Chuck Corra  48:44

Anyway, that’s my whole rant about that. The last thing I’ll say on the finances part is he said he basically went to Yale for free and didn’t really have to take out any loans. So yeah, Tom, come back to me again, when you understand the student loan issue, JD because I would be willing to venture a guess the majority of Appalachians have student debt that has actually gone to college. Oh, and he does dunk on community colleges, by the way, I won’t get into that.

But one thing, john, I did want to dial back on real quick because you did mention that this guy has an interest in politics. And that is true. As we mentioned, he was thinking about primary Sherrod Brown, and he got a lot of good reception, as he said, a lot of good reception. didn’t do it, but a lot of good reception. Well, number one, the reason why I didn’t do is that he would have got his fucking ass kicked by Sherrod Brown, who’s a legitimate god damn American and Ohio.

The other thing is that he doesn’t have his politics, right. He keeps citing, like multiple times, john, multiple times, he goes back and he’s like, Well, you know, Republicans really took over Appalachia after Nixon. And, again, I’m not going to get into the context of the discussion. I just really need to point this out and that is absolutely incontrovertibly untrue.

And If you want to look at it from a broad base look at the 1992 presidential election where Democrats took Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania or even before that, but after Nixon, john 1976, Jimmy Carter slipped the entire South and all Appalachian states except for Virginia. And even up until 2004, Tennessee, red ass hell, red is held Tennessee, had a democratic trifecta.

As recently, as I believe 2004, West Virginia had a trifecta, which means that they had the same party have the governorship in both chambers of the legislature, up to 2013, Democrats added up to 2013. So this is just yet another fact that he gets wrong. And like it’s not a hugely consequential one in the book, really. But it’s just like goes to show you that he has like no clue what he’s talking about.

Big John Isner  50:51

Probably because he looks at a subset of people and here’s them at that time after Nixon talks about, you know, let’s say conservative politics when he’s growing up and thinks that that’s how everybody else thinks. And that’s what this book is about. It’s constantly, one person told me this. So it has to be true. This guy must love Wikipedia. Because I mean, it’s just one place where he can read something and automatically think it’s true.



Big John Isner  51:21

I mean, this. He’s at a point like, I would hate to be his professor because he’d have one source for everything. He didn’t need multiple sources.

Chuck Corra  51:29

JOHN, It’d be a shame if somebody who was listening to this went on to JD Vance’s Wikipedia page and change some effects on there. But we’re not encouraging that at all. We’re not encouraging that. But I want to just like just to kind of put a button on the politics thing, john, I’m going to I’m going to pretend to be JD Vance, you’re given a stump speech for you, and you tell me how you think this might be received in Ohio. Okay.


Okay. All right.

Chuck Corra  51:56

Let me just pretend like I’m addressing a crowd here. I’m JD Vance, and I come up and on. Hi, my name is JD Vance. I’m an Appalachian and I’m running for United States Senate, Ohio, because I think that you all are lazy. And you need to stop using welfare and just try harder at your job and not take so many bathroom breaks.

Big John Isner  52:18

I like the fake country accent because that’s what you’d have

Chuck Corra  52:21

to put on. Yeah. What do you think? I mean, do you think people would bite for that?

Big John Isner  52:25

home run? home run?

Chuck Corra  52:27

Right? Yeah, knock it out of the park definitely would win that.

Big John Isner  52:30

And that’s, that’s kind of my thing, too, is like, to me. If I’m if I’m from I’m from West Virginia, which is, obviously Ooh, I live. I live five minutes from Ohio by God. But if I’m from Ohio, and I know that he wrote this book, and he runs to be my senator, Why the hell would I ever vote for him?

This is a guy who doesn’t think shit of me. He thinks that I am the lowest of the low. If JD Vance runs in Ohio, I will. I will do everything in my power to have him not when I mean, and I’ll go to I’ll go to Ohio as much as I have to because this is it’s ridiculous that this guy thinks that he should be a US Senator first state that he should on this would be like him going to Jackson and being like, well, Tom run for city council.

Chuck Corra  53:22

Well, john, I think if he does run, I don’t know if he’s really gonna need much help from you in order to discredit himself if he just opens his mouth and says any of the tennis books and he’s toast.

Big John Isner  53:33

What and what is he gonna do? Like, he isn’t gonna go back be like, Well, that was a different time. You know, he can’t I mean, this to me. This book should cripple any political movement he has.

Chuck Corra  53:45

I hope it does. I think it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that it does, because he doesn’t have any business running for public office, if this is how he views the people that he purportedly knows best. Insane, and it is insane. Anyway, let’s, uh, let’s maybe wrap up the discussion on hillbilly elegy, I think we hit on a lot of the main criticisms that we have for it.

We’re going to be doing two more episodes on this that kind of breaks down things a little bit more further. But john, takeaways here is that JD Vance, just like he uses, like his one-off experiences to basically inform his opinion on an entire region, an entire subset of people and entire towns in such an ignorant way and one that is just like a shameful representation of Appalachia. And, and I think it’s harmful. It’s very hard.

Big John Isner  54:38

It definitely is in the end for the people who think like, oh, man, because I mean, there were some people who thought we shouldn’t cover this and gave it bad press or whatever, or was giving him you know, more notoriety. First off, we’re just a rinky dink podcast, right, that


well, people sorry, let’s we

Big John Isner  54:58

are a Highly You know what, you’re right. We shouldn’t have done this because we’re getting we’re just massive. No, but the truth is, the truth is that we’re not the ones who are actually giving him notoriety. It’s the people who thought that this should be made into a movie. I mean, Netflix is going to put this out for the world to see. And if people don’t talk about it, and they don’t tell people that this isn’t true, this will cripple the region even more than it is right now. Because people are gonna think that these stereotypes, I mean, we are just now trying to move past it. And this is going to bring all of them back.

Chuck Corra  55:38

Netflix is still going to do the movie. So yeah, either we can provide more voices on this that are pushing back or we don’t. That’s what it is. Yeah, so that was hillbilly elegy. We hope that you take away something from this. And that takeaway is that it’s a dumpster fire. Don’t read it. Don’t give it any money. And when you hear your friends talk about it, tell them the truth. But with that, john, do you have beef this week? Look, I

Big John Isner  56:07

know that I promised our listeners that I would, I would always do a beef with big john. But I pretty much think that this whole episode is a beef with big john and and medium sized Chuck. So I don’t think that I don’t think that we should.

Chuck Corra  56:23

Thank you. Thank you for that honor.

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