April 11, 2017 - mh9868a

Commonplace 12: S-Town and Dupont Circle

In his series S-Town, journalist Brian Reed of This American Life radio describes the small, rural town of Woodstock AL to give listeners a view of the world of John B. McLemore. Woodstock, AL is a town in Bibb County which is about forty miles from Birmingham. John’s family has lived in Woodstock for generations.

A map of Alabama showing the location of Woodstock in relation to Birmingham.

According to John, Woodstock is a shit town. He claims it is one of the child molester capital of the state, and he says that the police are outrageously corrupt. The town is crawling with drunk high school dropouts and questionable businesses. John also stresses the conservative views of rural Alabama. John also stresses the conservative religious background of Bibb County when he says, “We got ninety five churches in this damn county because we got Jesus, and Jesus is coming” (6:30 Episode 1). He emphasizes the churches because he is very scientific and believes in global warming, evolution, and chemistry. The typical person in Bibb County believes that all of those subjects are hoaxes because Jesus controls everything.

A photo of John B. McLemore on his property.

Later in the episode, John continues to paint Woodstock in a negative light. As he and Brian drive through town, John consistently speaks negatively about his hometown. When discussing John’s attitude towards Woodstock, Brian says, “[John gives] no positive comment no matter how innocuous” (28:38 Episode 1). John’s negativity does not stop there. He always talks about how miserable his life is because of the people he is surrounded by in Woodstock. He blames his unsatisfactory life on the shit town he lives in. I think it is very interesting that he believes a place can be the direct cause of so many problems and failures. I think John’s hatred of shit town says not only a lot about him, but also a lot about the regressive town he lives in.

John and Brian at John’s clock shop.

John’s drive around town with Brian became almost a digital archive of Woodstock. By listening to the first episode, I really felt like understood the norms of the town and the the people living in it. John’s detailed description of his shit town really helped listeners understand the topos of Woodstock and Bibb County. I honestly feel like listening to this podcast will help me find the topos for my location for essay two. This podcast truly gave me a great example for finding and explaining topoi, and I can use what I learned to find and explain the topoi of Dupont Circle. 

For example, John was, in his words, “queer.” While close friends of his told Brian that he was gay, gay was a word John never used to describe himself.  He never used the word gay because  in Alabama being gay is a sin that nobody talks about. However, in DC, and specifically in Dupont Circle, the LGBT+ community is celebrated.  The LGBT+ community is a major part of Dupont Circle’s identity and topoi.  For my essay, I can include the presence of the LGBT+ community and its long-time history in Dupont Circle.

Commonplace Book commonplace / dupontcircle / stown / topoi / wrtg101s17 /

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