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Tuesday, July 22

Appalachian culture mistrusts outside media

By The (Huntington, W.Va) Herald-Dispatch

PALESTINE, W.Va. - While many people recently seem to be seeking their ``15 minutes of fame'' with the surge of reality TV shows, the residents of Palestine seem indifferent to all the media attention they have received the past few months.

Since the capture, rescue and recuperation of renowned Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the Lynch family has remained relatively quiet.

All the attention on the small community ``freaks people out a little bit,'' said Lisa Laughlin, who lives in Calhoun County but drives to Elizabeth each day to run Mom's Place, a local restaurant.

``This is a small town. We don't even have a stop light, or a caution light,'' Laughlin said. ``There's a little green sign that says `Palestine', that's it.''

Experts who have studied Appalachian culture point to a community mindset that results in a fear of being misrepresented by ``outsiders.'' There is also a sense of being unimpressed by those outside of their community.

``There's a general mistrust that the media will mischaracterize Appalachian culture,'' said Lynda Ann Ewen, professor emeritus of sociology at Marshall University and co-director of Marshall's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia.

``The evidence is preponderant that that's what they do,'' she said. ``Because we're so highly stereotyped, we're especially sensitive.''

People from small, rural towns tend to respond more favorably to local media than media or scholars from the outside.

``People have radar to pick that up,'' Ewen said. ``People who are from this area have an advantage.''

Journalists from large cities such as Pittsburgh or New York City do not have any connection to the families of these close-knit communities.

``There's no way to build control on that,'' she said.

``If people know who your parents are or who your kindergarten teacher was or where you go to church, they feel more comfortable,'' she said.

``It's a way of establishing your identity and level of trust,'' Ewen said. ``Once they know you're connected, sociologically they know you're in a network and that makes you responsible.''

People in rural towns tend not to care so much about fame or money, it's the amount of respect they have in their community that counts.

``People take pride in their families and communities,'' Ewen said.

Ken Sullivan, executive director of the West Virginia Humanities Council in Charleston, agrees with Ewen's comments. He added that from the newspaper and television reports he has seen, the people from Wirt County and West Virginia especially are taking pride in their communities.

``We have that eagerness to make that good impression,'' he said. ``We have been misunderstood and misinterpreted so many times that we do want to make a good impression.''

He said the Lynch family has responded as any family would in this situation because they were concerned about the safety and health of their daughter.

``Grace under pressure,'' he said. ``I think it reflects that grace.''

The Lynches have done a superb job of trying to protect their daughter's privacy from exploitation, some community members said.

``They're normal people,'' said Penny McVay, town clerk in Elizabeth, W. Va. ``If that was my daughter, I would want to protect her, too. It's not our way of life, all this media. The night she was rescued, I thought, `Oh, the papers from Parkersburg and Charleston will be here tomorrow.' Boy was I wrong.''

Media from throughout North America and overseas have inundated the county with appearances and phone calls to residents.

They've done a great job of avoiding that, McVay said. ``They need to come over here and show us how to do it,'' she said.

To be captured is one thing, but being hurt is another, said Ava Earle of Mineral Wells. ``That's the worst part about it, especially if you don't have any privacy,'' she said. ``I'd like to see her have a complete recovery, and then whatever she wants to do from here on is up to her.''

Ira Lynch, Jessica's great uncle, said he's proud and hopes she gets every honor she deserves, but media have overdone it. There are plenty of other heroes fighting in the Middle East right now, he said.