Old South / New South

PANEL: The panel highlighted the important role that new media, cartoons, satire, and documenting the Latino population explosion have played in disrupting what panelist Eric Freedman calls “the American story imaginary,” the nostalgic Southern narrative and its contrasting darker side. He explained that this story reflects the larger national narrative that new media “normalizes.” Panelists pointed out how to move the narrative forward through “consciousness raising.” Rodrigo Dorfman’s work focuses on human dignity, beauty, and perseverance instead of only tragedy. Mark West showed how through “Kudzu," Doug Marlette used humor instead of confrontation to highlight issues and refused to reduce people to caricatures. Kevin Siers explained that satirists and cartoonists tell “little lies that expose a larger truth.” Rodrigo said “reality is up for grabs all the time,” a point panelists reaffirmed by showing how the disruption inherent in new media leads to awareness, the possibility of action and change.
KEYNOTE:  Dr. Eric Freedman described how the story of the South is so engrained in American psyche that it’s difficult to establish a new narrative. He questioned the stories that will be told about Charlotte in light of recent events. Freedman said social media disrupt the traditional Southern narrative by creating a space for personal stories that “don’t easily fit as stand-ins for testaments of a community.” New media, he said, erode individual and community knowledge because personal experience is constantly reframed. He drew attention to the complicated power dynamics of space and parallels between loss of space and narration. For  example, power structures define cities as a unified whole while reality may be different. To change the narrative of the South, we need unilateral access to digital means and media/news literacy: “Open data is only impactful if people know what to do with the data to impact change,” Freedman said. We will know the narrative has changed when all citizens are digitally competent and use digital means to address the systemic issues and transform their cities.