Recently “an anonymous donor” paid for a sign to be made up and displayed at the Stonecrest Golf Course in Prestonsburg, Ky. The sign uses a photo of a semi-nude Ashley Judd that originally appeared on a 2006 cover of Marie Claire magazine. The caption beside the picture reads, “ASHLEY MAKES A LIVING REMOVING HER TOP. WHY CAN’T COAL MINERS?”
The sign is sexist, ignorant and infantile. The sign shows that the coal industry will stoop to any level to pit Appalachians against one another, and illuminates the fact that some people who support mountaintop removal will try to prop up their argument by misconstruing the facts and quotes.
Since Judd’s speech on mountaintop removal mining aired, WYMT, the Hazard, Ky., news station (and a sister station of WKYT in Lexington) has repeatedly aired reports on the controversy brewing around her speech. Yet most of the controversy it’s reporting on is being created by the station itself. All of its reporting has been incredibly biased. With its coverage of the sign, the reporting was not only biased, but sexist.
The sign came in response to a statement Judd made in a speech she delivered to the National Press Club in June about mountaintop removal, which she opposes. Her exact quote was, “I don’t know a whole lot of hillbillies who golf.” When put into context, it’s clear that Judd is saying that true Appalachians cherish a mountain more than they do a golf course. And she’s also pointing out that most MTR sites are not put to any use, despite a handful that have been used for things such as a prison and a golf course.
Much ado has been made of this quote. Those in favor of MTR have used it to say that Judd is using the word “hillbillies” in a negative connotation. They fail to point out that Judd starts the speech with these words: “Being an Eastern Kentuckian is the simple fact that brings me the most honor … I … am proud of being a hillbilly.” They also say that her golf course quote is perpetuating a stereotype about Appalachians being backward. But they are misconstruing the quote and taking it out of context.
People who pass along this interpretation of the quote are doing exactly what the coal companies want them to do: they’re perpetuating a lie and they’re letting the importance of the issue get clouded up in something else.
The sign insinuates that Judd has made her career on taking off her clothes. Nudity is sometimes a part of acting, yes. But to imply that Judd has made her living off that is ridiculous. If George Clooney, another Kentuckian, had made the same speech, would they be putting up a sign about him taking off his clothes, since he, too, has appeared nude on film? Of course not. Because he’s a man.
Lots of folks in Eastern Kentucky think that destroying the land is a lot more offensive than someone being naked. Yet the news seems to not know they exist, and certainly hasn’t interviewed them.
WYMT furthered the sexism by only interviewing men during its report on the sign. The station refused to show the picture because it feared it “might be offensive to some viewers,” implying the picture was vulgar instead of an artistic statement. It also threw in its own opinion with little nuggets like this: “We only found one person who thought the sign was a little over the top.” That’s blatantly leading the viewer/listener, and it’s something that journalists are not supposed to do in this sort of report.
I believe everyone has the right to offer their opinion about MTR and Judd’s speech, and I welcome differing voices. But twisting words and purposely taking things out of context is just flat-out wrong. It’s lying.
When people and the media do this, however, they’re doing just what the industry wants them to, as big corporations have always furthered their own causes by dividing and conquering the people. And when they do this they’re simply illuminating to most intelligent folks that they don’t have enough real facts to back up their argument that MTR is a good thing, so they resort to name calling and lying. That’s just pathetic, and I hope more people will start seeing through these tactics.
Silas House is a novelist who lives in London, Ky. His books including “The Coal Tattoo,” “Clay’s Quilt” and, most recently, “Eli the Good.”