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The Standard Reader

Rachel DiCarlo on southern funerals and Jordan Fabian on South Park Conservatives.

May 9, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 32
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Books in Brief

Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays (Miramax, 256 pp., $19.95) In Being Dead Is No Excuse, Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays detail everything you need to know about putting on an authentic southern funeral--how to write the obituary (skip any indiscretions), where to bury the dead (location, location, location), how to get a big turnout without increasing the liquor bill (only if the deceased went to both the local Episcopal church and AA), what flowers to choose, and, of course, the cuisine.

In the Mississippi Delta, where Metcalfe and Hays grew up, "funeral cooking is two-tiered." There's the haute funeral food--aspics, homemade mayonnaise, and dainty rolls. The rest are Campbell's soup based.

The book includes at least 100 recipes for dishes like Liketa Died Potatoes (which uses both real cheddar cheese and cheddar cheese soup), corn loaf, pickled figs, beer cheese pimiento, and ham mousse. Stuffed eggs are so important a whole section is devoted to discussing their virtues.

It's important to distinguish between Episcopal and Methodist cooking. Episcopalians are stuck up about mixes and canned goods, which they shun, while the Methodist ladies work wonders with them. "If a survey were done of the winners of the Pillsbury Bake Offs--ten to one, the winners would be Methodists," they write.

One warning Metcalfe and Hays offer is that when it comes to funeral food, "fresh is not best." "A leafy green salad just doesn't seem right when someone has died," they explain. One Yankee niece who attended her Aunt Bitsy's funeral in the Delta remarked during the reception that she'd eaten enough Velveeta and mushroom soup to last until her own funeral and asked for a Cobb salad instead. Her Aunt Sarah promptly wrote her out of her will. "Somebody so unsouthern wouldn't have the foggiest notion what to do with the family silver," she huffed.

The authors employ dozens of such anecdotes to amusing effect. Some, like the story of the woman who got Botox and hired a private jet to take her to attend her philandering ex-husband's funeral ("for the children" she told everyone), are so outrageous you almost wonder if they really happened.

Then there was Big Ann Dudley, who almost buried her husband in the deluxe JFK coffin, modeled on the one in which the president was laid to rest. Luckily her daughter, Little Ann, intervened. "Mama," she wailed, "you can't put Daddy in the JFK. He was a devoted Republican."

Along the way the authors also explain a few southernisms, like why southern women polish their silver when they're upset (memories of defending it from the Yankees), why teenage southern girls are trained by their mothers to sleep so late (endless dances and cotillions), and why certain papers list obituaries alphabetically instead of using a social hierarchy (local papers are owned by Northerners who don't know who's who).

Being Dead Is No Excuse is a delightful book that will leave even those readers who've never traveled below the Mason-Dixon Line equipped to send their loved ones off in perfect southern style.

--Rachel DiCarlo

South Park Conservatives: The Revolt against Liberal Media Bias by Brian C. Anderson (Regnery, 256 pp., $24.95) Remember the good old days when Time could compare Ronald Reagan's life and his supporters to Forrest Gump's and get away with it? Fortunately, those days are over, as Brian Anderson tells us in his new biopic of the emerging cultural uprising against "illiberal liberalism," the Fairness Doctrine, political correctness, "stinky hippy" college professors, and all things Barbra Streisand.

In South Park Conservatives, Anderson first delves into the world of "the new media"--talk radio, blogs, and Fox News--and offers a colorful description of each new outlet and its often audacious pioneers.

These new media outlets, bolstered in quantity and quality by the rise of technology, have become the conservative movement's primary spearheads in public discourse.

Since "the old-media regime long made it hard for the Right to get a fair hearing for its ideas and beliefs," Anderson makes it seem only logical that conservatives took advantage of the radio waves, cable television, and the Internet.

Inspired by new media's message, many young Americans have become part of an "anti-liberal counterculture" committed to ignoring political correctness. While many members of this movement are traditional conservatives, others are "South Park Republicans," who have adopted certain conservative beliefs but not others.

"The label is really about rejecting the image of conservatives as uptight squares. We might have long hair, smoke cigarettes, get drunk on weekends . . . and also happen to be conservative," one undergraduate told Anderson.