Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Pop" Culture

Where is "the South" in America? If we all drew a border about what is meant by "the South," there would likely be some considerable variation as to what states, cities, and counties were included. But, somehow, nearly everyone knows that when "the South" is referenced, it includes Birmingham but not Phoenix. Somehow, we know that Nashville is in it, but Miami is not. How?

"The South" is a cultural place not bound strictly by geography. Every semester, I have my students fill in a blank map of the Fifty States (sadly, I'd say maybe 5% of college freshmen can do this accurately), then draw a border around "the South." We then have a discussion about the edges of their borders. Some include Texas, some do not. West Virginia is often debated. At what point do you leave "the South" when traveling further south into Florida (let that sink in for minute)? Many students split Kentucky in half, as do I. The cultural South begins to fade out as one drives up I-65 through Elizabethtown, Fort Knox, Shepherdsville, and pushing toward Louisville. There are pockets here and there, but northern Hardin County certainly feels a lot different than Edmonson County.

There also exists a "Coke/Pop" line in this state. When generally referencing carbonated beverages, what is your term of choice? In western Kentucky, people generally say, "Coke." When I make a grocery list, I write "Cokes" on it. That means Dr. Pepper for me and Coca-Cola for my wife. Mountain Dew, Shasta, 7Up, Ski, Ale-8, Sprite--it does not matter. They are all "Cokes!" Now, somewhere just a few miles east of Elizabethtown (a strong "Coke" city), the general term is "Pop." The term "pop" starts to pop up (terrible pun absolutely intended) in Lincoln, Boyle, Mercer, and Washington Counties. While "Coke" is the term of choice in Lexington, one is steeped in "popness" when venturing into mountain counties like Menifee, Magoffin, and Rowan (pronounced "ROWN"). In Prestonsburg or Pikeville, "Coke" towns like Bowling Green or Glasgow seem a million miles away.

Add to that the convergence of dialects in the central Kentucky area, and what we have is a cultural hurricane with the eye somewhere near Elizabethtown.

So, Southerners, travelers, and students of cultural studies, where is the edge of "the South?" Can any good Southerner really say "pop?" If you did not click the in-text links above, please do visit It's as much fun as the sugary-sweet nectar that it researches. You can even participate in the Pop vs. Soda vs. Coke survey.

*For more, check out J.S. Reed's My Tears Spoiled My Aim. Reed has some GREAT stuff in there on how Americans define the South (the Sweet Tea Line, the "Hell, Yes!" Line, Kudzu, and more).


Jason said...

This post made me thirsty.

Derek said...

I don't know who your discipler is, but Ale-8 is decidedly not a 'coke'!

Cort said...


I don't know who YOUR discipler is, but it's Ale-8-1. :)

And, you are correct: it's not a "coke." Somehow, Ale-8's and root beer have kept their proper title.

Webmaster_D said...

Awesome. Cort, I applaud you for standing up for "ALE EIGHT ONE" (A Late One). It really bothers me when people call it "Ale Eight" when the "One" is clearly emblazoned on the label.