Southern Man

Southern Man

3rd Place Winner in AIGA’s Always Summer Poster Show

The Always Summer Poster Show is an event put on by Jacksonville’s AIGA chapter. The idea behind the show is to select a song relevant to the summer and create a poster for it. I chose the song “Southern Man” as it was made relevant again through the tragic Charleston church shooting.

Neil Young is singing of the hypocrisy of the white south and their Christian morals, though this translates to the whole of America too. Some of the most poignant lyrics in Young’s song speak directly to this sad, southern hypocrisy, “Southern Man…don’t forget what your good book said.”

In the aftermath of this senseless act of violence, a dialogue started on the meaning of the Confederate flag. The flag, a symbol of hate and oppression to so many, but one that still elicits so much pride in the white south, practically set the south eastern part of the U.S. on fire and divided many over the very real racism still prevalent today. This racism is largely ignored by the majority of white Americans, an issue seemingly encapsulated in what this flag represents and it’s overwhelming popularly amongst southern whites.

A poll conducted by CNN on this found that among black Americans, 72% see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, with just 25% of white Americans agreeing. Racism is not unique to the south, but there is no denying that the racial divide in my part of the country is still broader than the rest. The same polling conducted in the south showed that 75% of southern white Americans see the flag as a symbol of pride, with 18% viewing it as a symbol of racism. This is reversed among the southern black American population, 75% viewing the flag as a symbol of racism and just 11% as a symbol of Southern pride.

Detail of dot pattern found in Corey Kolb's poster for Niel Youngs

Why now?

It makes me incredibly sad that this is the second summer in a row that racism has played a role in my poster selection. Though racism and acts of violence are not unique to the south, it still has a strong history of it that we cannot ignore. It is hard to say that this beautiful part of our country, with all of its rich cultural traditions and personalities, still harbors racist attitudes today, but it does.

Neil Young’s “Southern Man” speaks directly to this history by contrasting the richness of the white south with the black American experience. A place so revered for it’s beauty and  manners, the birthplace of the “belle” and the Rhett Butlers of our nation, has a rotten core. Though slavery isn’t our country’s issue any longer, the violence, hate, and fear still is.

Neil Young sings “Southern man when will you pay them back?”, but before reparations can be made we must first start looking in the mirror and recognize the problem still exists.

“How long? How long?” he cries in his song, a sentiment clearly still felt today.

Detail of a fly from Corey Kolb's poster of Niel Young's

Visual Linguistics

What I wanted to do with this poster was tell the story Neil Young paints of the American south with imagery. I was looking for something subtle that represented the beauty of the South, and yet also exposed the rot within it that is so painfully obvious to some and invisible to others.

I appropriated a botanical illustration of a southern magnolia, a flower that is an icon of southern beauty and charm, and with a fragrance that has permeated the memories of all who have grown up in this region. To contrast this image and symbolize the underlying ugliness of the white south, I laid the images of oversized house flies on top of the magnolia, a bug typically associated with rot and decay.

The type for southern man is Prohibition Rounded. These letter forms are strong and masculine. It could work just as well for a college football team logo type. Neil Young’s name is set in letter spaced Futura that is appropriate for the era when this song came out. I wanted this type to be strong and brute. Red was employed on the type as a nod to the violence inflicted on black Americans.

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