Covering Trailer Trash

Recent uproar (and I will let you find it yourself, cause I’m a bit burnt-out on the Bloom topic) has, I hope, led people to talk about how we talk about spaces and places – communities, neighborhoods, states, and nations.

And in my own recent take on the issue, I have tried to show the role news media play in talking about place — specifically how the Atlantic is responsible for what is published about place, no matter the author.

Ironically, the Atlantic has a web site dedicated to notions of place and community, The Atlantic Cities. While the Atlantic’s main site has been posting stories that characterizes an entire state of the nation as hickish and stalled in evolution, they are running great pieces on the meanings of built environment and perceptions of those spaces on its other site, which boasts that talking about “place matters.”

The Hillville, which was featured by The Atlantic Cities for telling stories of space and place, specifically Appalachia — the centerpiece for talk about White poor and White Trash — describes itself as:

… the online magazine of urban Appalachia. Each week, you’ll find news, features, columns, profiles of people and places that will appeal to and engage urban Appalachians. We want to create a place where we can explore our identities — mountain and metropolitan — together, as a community.

We want to tell stories that intersect at interstates and back roads, where rural meets urban, inside the boundaries of the region and out. It’s an exploration that is simultaneously personal, journalistic, investigative, curious, searching and reflective. We’ll cover art, music, moonshine, good eats, stories and writing, politics, city life, road trips and other topics of interest.

You are invited to listen in, eavesdrop and read articles to your heart’s content on The HillVille, but we cordially invite you to join the conversation and connect with us and other Urban-Apps through the comments section.  Also, find us on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Essentially, The Hillville recognizes what its region may be — economically challenged, stigmatized, and diverse in its population and in its perspectives for the future. That’s a great use of journalism that maybe didn’t come through in the stories under question about Iowa.

White Trash/Trailer Trash has become a recognized area of study (see cites at bottom) by looking at the effects and causes of poverty on often-times White America.

Scholar Harry has told us that trailer trash has come to be synonymous with White poor, a “textual marker, or indicator, of class bias in newspaper stories.” The term represents a White underclass sometimes “synonymous with being a Southern ‘redneck’” and with other characteristics of “Southern kind of poverty” – toothlessness, needless fights, and dysfunctional families.

This topic is especially important to Iowa.

In summer 2010, The Des Moines Register published an investigation into the condition of homes within the Regency Mobile Home Park, just south of Iowa City. The newspaper’s investigation revealed dozens of people living within deplorable conditions in the trailer park among unclean drinking water and in dilapidated and unsafe homes. Further, the reports said that many residents did not have legal or financial means to counter their living conditions.

The newspaper’s investigative series detailed structural influences, such as poor management by the mobile homes’ owners, lack of governmental oversight, lack of access to legal assistance among the mobile home residents, and a string of lawsuits involving the management company regarding several of its properties in Iowa and across the country.

Attention to the Iowa City mobile home problems attracted the state attorney general’s attention, who visited with park residents and mobilized local law enforcement and government officials who vowed to change the conditions. (Nothing has changed much since the stories came out).

While U.S. Census data do not specify the number, race, and socioeconomic levels of residents within the mobile home park (block and block group levels are not specific enough, and tract level data is far to large to specify the small park), initial newspaper reports said some 600 residents lived in the park, just south of the city.

Many of the residents, the paper said, were “unemployed, disabled, elderly and immigrant,” though none of the newspapers’ coverage overtly indicated the racial or ethnic makeup of immigrants.

And while Iowans and non-Iowans alike continue to debate how people talk about us, Emily Inman at The Daily Iowan wrote an interesting piece today about how Iowa Citians talk about neighborhoods of their own spaces. An interesting connection (though she doesn’t make it) to the Bloom debate — and to how we think about where we live and where we don’t.


Bouson, B. J. (2001). “‘You nothing but trash’: White trash shame in Dorothy Allison’s ‘Bastard out of Carolina,’” The Southern Literary Journal, 34(1), 101-123.

Bullock, H. E., Wyche, K. F., & Williams, W. R. (2001). “Media images of the poor,” Journal of Social Issues, 57(2), 229-246.

Clawson, R. A. & Trice, R. (2000). “Poverty as we know it: Media portrayals of the poor,” Public Opinion Quarterly, 64, 53-64.

Harry, J. C. (2004). “‘Trailer Park Trash’: News, ideology, and depictions of the American underclass,” in Class and news by Don Heider (ed.), 213-229. Rowan & Littlefield Publishers: Oxford, UK.