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O Bama, Where Art Thou? The Southeastern Conference as a Coen Brothers Classic

This list is bona fide.

[ED: This we dreamt this up almost a year ago, and most of what we came up with was buried in my inbox. I found it recently and decided to share it with y'all now just as the offseason's kicking off. Forgive the untimeliness of this, but most of what's contained herein does have a relatively permanent quality, as far as SEC football programs go.]

Joel and Ethan Coen have always utilized their films' settings in ways that would render the story utterly ridiculous, if not impossible, in another context. Fargo couldn't have taken place anywhere but the frigid, rural upper great plains. The Big Lebowski is too hip and full of oddballs to be set anywhere but Los Angeles. And O Brother, Where Art Thou is so steeped in Southern imagery, culture, politics and behavior that its only appropriate setting is Mississippi during the Great Depression.

As it is an adaption of Homer's Odyssey, albeit with several necessary modifications, O Brother, Where Art Thou is a fantastical film, whose three protagonists are, like Homer's Ulysses, on a journey in search of a mysterious treasure, as well as to reunite Ulysses with his estranged wife. Set in the Deep South during the Great Depression, however, the film deals with abject poverty, hardly tenable race relations, populist politics, elitism, and other societal issues - albeit in a largely humorous manner.

Perhaps of most interest to us is that the film celebrates Southern speech, mannerisms, and music in a way that is neither ingratiating or condescending - unusual for Hollywood's portrayal of, really, anywhere that isn't Hollywood. These reasons, along with it being shot largely in the county I grew up in, are why this movie is one of my absolute all time favorites. It's Greek mythology meets Southern culture as directed by arguably the best filmmakers today.

The_drake, a longtime friend of the Cup and an occasional commenter, shares these sentiments with me, and has probably watched the film enough times to cite the dialogue nearly verbatim from the opening credits to the final scene. He finds it as quotable a film as any he's seen, and will interject quips about being "the damn paterfamilias" and "knocking over a Piggly Wiggly in Yazoo." He and I, sometime last Summer, came up with the idea for this post. It began with the revelation that Governor Pappy O'Daniel had obviously graduated from Ole Miss Law (because, really, just look at him) and just sorta grew from there.

So, here it is. Most of the work is the_drake's, with a few descriptions and quotables being my handiwork. It's strange, imperfect, and largely pointless but, hey, it's the offseason, so just have fun with it.

The Southeastern Conference as characters from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Ole Miss - Pappy O'Daniel - Naturally Ole Miss is best represented by the nepotistic, gregarious, haughty Governor of the state of Mississippi. After all, we run this place - always have and always will - and a certain constituency sure can get awful resentful of this fact. While we're frequently on the ropes and fighting for our life, the odds somehow always stacked against us, we always come up with the better idea and can recognize (and occasionally utilize) talent. Also, have you seen that seersucker suit?

"Moral fiber? Why, you little pasty-face sumbitch. I invented moral fiber! Pappy O'Daniel was displaying rectitude and high-mindedness when that egghead you work for was still messing his drawers!"

Mississippi State - Homer Stokes - The self-proclaimed "friend of the little man," Homer Stokes is the challenger to Pappy O'Daniel's governorship, selling himself as a populist out to overturn the very system by which Governor O'Daniel pays his bills. He pledges to put an end to "cronyism, nepotism, and rascalism" by sweeping Mississippi clean with "the broom of reform." Stokes, however, is actually a pretty terrible sumbitch himself in spite of his appeal. Try as he might to claim the moral high ground, he can't escape who he is or what he thinks (namely the fact that he's a member of the Ku Klux Klan) and is literally run out of town on a rail.

"Wait a minute! Is you is, or is you ain't my constituency?"

Texas A&M - George "Babyface" Nelson - A big bad bank robber he might be, but talk about having issues. George Nelson's always trying to run from something, especially his unhappiness with himself and how the world sees him. You never know what's coming next out of George. He's on top of the world one minute, and laying in a crumpled heap of self-pity and little man syndrome the next.

"George Nelson! Not 'Babyface'! You remember, and you tell your friends! I'm George Nelson! Born to raise hell!"

Arkansas - Pete Hogwallop - A little angry and very ugly with some strange family. Blames most of his problems on forces out of his control, aside from actually accepting the fact that he's kinda in a bad situation to begin with. I think they spent last season as a toad, as well.

"I'm gonna kill you, Judas Iscariot Hogwallop!"

LSU - Delmar O'Donnell - Definitely no the sharpest tool in the shed, but through some sort of crazy logic and dumb luck, he does pretty well for himself.  Also, he's convinced of things that aren't possible and eats strange meats.

[Regarding a frog] "'Course it's Pete...look at at him."

Mizzou - Lump Hudson - Oh, he's from the Ladykillers, the other Coen Brothers movie set in bad...

[This joke is kinda funny because a lot of people still speak of Missouri as if they're not in the Southeastern Conference. Get it?]

Auburn - Tommy - Sold his soul to the Devil himself. That's really the only explanation we can muster for what's going on. Tommy, like Auburn, survived far too many close calls, but somehow have gotten away from their troubles pretty much scot free and have bright future. Oh, and not to mention the animosity between Tommy and the Cyclops.

Everett: "What'd you give the for your soul Tommy?"

Tommy: "Well, he taught me how to play this here guitar real good."

Delmar: "Oh son, for that you sold your everlastin' soul?"

Tommy: "Well, I wasn't usin' it."

Alabama - Big Dan Teague, aka Cyclops - Deceitful and greedy. Mean and merciless. Powerful with few vulnerabilities. A massive presence with a monomaniacal arc. Dan, like Alabama, wants it all. Masquerading as a Bible salesman, he beats the film's protagonists within an inch of their sanity before stealing their money and their lunches. He then killed an innocent frog for seemingly no other reason than because he can.

"So long boys. See ya in the funny papers."

Tennessee - Wash Hogwallop - It's been hard times for this household. They/Wash can trust nobody, and they/Walsh can't be trusted. Wash even instructs his son to shoot at strangers which approach his house, fearing that they're men from the bank come to collect their due - which parallels nicely with the lyrics in "Rocky Top" which reference "strangers" climbing Rocky Top "lookin' for a moonshine still," only to turn up missing. He also turns Pete, Delmar, and Ulysses in, because he's a snitch who eats horse meat.

"Mrs. Hogwallop dun R-U-N-N-O-F-T."

Georgia - Penny - Georgia and Penny have a lot in common. They're very Southern. They're very convinced of themselves. They're conflicted with who they were, who they are, and who they think they can be. And they're mighty fickle.

"Lots of respectable people have been hit by trains. Judge Hobbie over in Cookville was hit by a train. What was I gonna tell them, that you got sent to the penal farm and I divorced you from shame?"

Florida - Everett McGill - Everett is mouthy, full of big plans that often go awry, loves having his hair loaded with product, and was sent to prison for practicing law without a license. If that's not the most Florida set of attributes you can find in any character in O Brother, Where art Thou?, then I'd like to see what you've come up with.

"Say, Cousin Wash, I guess it'd be the acme of foolishness to inquire if you had a hairnet."

South Carolina - The Blind Seer - In the dark and wandering for so long, but it now seems they have the answer.  Also, the old man of the group.

"I work for no man."

Kentucky - Radio Station Man - Had a true legend and let it just walk right out the door (The Soggy Bottom Boys/Bear Bryant).  Despite this, they seem quite content with what the have left (a successful radio station/basketball). He also kinda looks like Kige Ramsey.

"Ohhhh mercy yes we got to beat that competition."

Vanderbilt - Vernon T. Waldrip - What a dweeby little shit this guy is. He's some pencil-necked lawyer who thinks he can change things up, and a real thorn in Pappy O'Daniel's side. He even gets into a fight with Everett, resulting in Everett being thrown out of the Woolsworths. In the end, Waltrip loses out, as his boss' campaign is tanked and his fiancee reunites with her estranged husband, but you can't help but wonder "what'll ever happen to that old Waltrip fellow."

"I can't switch sides in the middle of a campaign. Especially to work for a man who lacks moral fiber."

Mike Slive - Sheriff Cooley, The Devil Incarnate - While seemingly outside the storyline altogether, Sherriff Cooley's vigilante pursuit of the film's protagonists is a major contributor to the story's momentum. He pursues them mercilessly, enacting punishments that are harsh, arbitrary, capricious, and for offenses which largely go unexplained. He is by no means righteous.

"The law? The law is a human institution."

BONUS! Louisiana Directional/FCS School/CUSA Cupcake - The Sirens - Beware! These sweet things may seem like an easy good time, but woe to those who walking foolishly into their snare.  Whether it be Troy State, the Ragin' Cajuns, Jacksonville State, or UL Monroe, they can take any mighty wanderer and rob him of everything, especially his dignity. Delmar put it best; when it comes to the Sirens, "do not seek the treasure."

"You and me and the devil makes three, don't need no other loving baby."