Keeping up with Kincaid: what is the scariest part of Silence of the Lambs?

Managing+Editor%2C+Laken+Kincaid%2C+discusses+their+thoughts+from+the+past+few+weeks

Laken Kincaid

Managing Editor, Laken Kincaid, discusses their thoughts from the past few weeks

Laken Kincaid, Managing Editor

“You’re so ambitious, aren’t you? You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well-scrubbed, hustling rube, with a little taste. Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but you’re not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling? And that accent you’ve tried so desperately to shed – pure West Virginia… while you could only dream of getting out, getting anywhere, getting all the way to the F.B.I.”

The above quote from Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s pointed monologue in “Silence of the Lambs” has been stamped into my brain for years. I remember watching the movie for the first time in my childhood room on an old, school-provided iPad as I was washed over by orange and green seasonal lights from the Walmart Halloween decor section, the bulbs already fading out. After all, no one quite cares to check products for quality when people will take anything they can get; a sense of supply and demand if you will. 

Before indulging in the watch, I was perusing through YouTube videos of twenty-something-year-old vloggers living in the big city, buying expensive pumpkins from Whole Foods, indulging in artisanally crafted espresso beverages from a Starbucks just one city block away. To trade my burnt-out string lights for Whole Foods produce would take a three-hour drive from Beckley, one that reached the Ohio border; this was a drive that I was willing to make to try and feel less like the rube Hannibal describes. 

Six years after watching “Silence of the Lambs” for the first time, I submitted college applications to as many of the top universities in the nation that I could find on CommonApp (all out of state of course). Subconsciously, Hannibal’s words were still branded in my mind and I used them to make my decision, asking how far I would have to go to jettison my bumpkin reputation. I conceded that a six-hour distance would be great enough to escape that hillbilly notoriety that follows me both in my voice and through my actions. Apparently, it was not far enough.

While it is probably dismissible to most, I consistently critique what I do to ensure that I am not portraying that character that people like Lecter have in their minds. In spite of that, no matter how hard I try, there is always something I do that shows my roots.

For example, in West Virginia, we do not stop for emergency vehicles when driving; we just get out of their way as they careen on to tend to another overdose. However, we always slow down when going past cemeteries; the rednecks that truly bleed that of country roads and Mountain Dew will turn off their radios out of respect. We also speak to everyone like they are a close friend or cousin (everyone is related anyways) and never go without smiling at a stranger. In contrast, I think the brisk air that springs off of Lake Erie makes people act colder in northeast Ohio; no one quite cares to even flash their teeth in passing.

When I fall into these old, rustic habits, I remember how I spent hours speaking to myself in the mirror before interviews with prestigious universities built out of marble and the glimmering sweat of the 1%. I tried to sterilize my voice from drawn-out A’s or dropped double consonants before each interaction. No matter how hard I tried, it never fully worked and the drawl remained in the back of my throat, reminding me of all the Appalachian mannerisms I still harbor deep down. 

Aside from the original line from Lecter taunting Starling for this very behavior, the worst part of this monologue lies in a deleted scene that was cut from the movie. Actress Jodie Foster says that originally Lecter ends his spiel by mocking Starling’s accent, stating “you need to get more ‘fuhn’ out of life.” This shook Foster so much that they cut it from the movie. This illustrates perfectly the fear that me and many other southern academics face: we are nothing more than two-dimensional lampoons without any potential outside of our background. We will never be given another chance once people know who we truly are. 

Like Starling, I do as much as I can to hide my southern twang and tendencies from my professional colleagues, everything short of lying about where I was born. Where she buys clothes that look expensive to appear more posh, I embed myself into my studies to learn as much as possible to at least seem intelligent to those who would never know that I am from below the Mason-Dixon line. People can not call you an inbred or ask you about your connection to the inbreds if you don’t let them know your link to them in the first place. 

As those closest to me would attest, I am extremely protective over the presentation of my intelligence. In layman’s terms, one of my biggest fears is looking like an idiot. Therefore, I spend my time polishing that side of myself while running from the silhouette that comes behind it. 

While “Silence of the Lambs” has a solid place on my Halloween must-watch list based on other qualities like plot and character development, my strong allegiance to this movie comes from my relation to Clarice Starling and how she runs from her home state because of the reputation it has. I too try to scrub away that thick caricature that follows me like a shadow. The world identifies both Starling and I as the paradigm of West Virginia that is portrayed in the media, the ones you see with toxic outhouses and lost or blackened teeth. Yet, just as Agent Starling fears, it will always creep behind us no matter how hard we try, even if we “get all the way to the FBI.” 

Personally, the scariest premise is not the crimes of Buffalo Bill or Lecter’s culinary habits, but rather the thought that I will never scrub hard enough to shed that pure West Virginia that precedes my every move. Perhaps that makes the film more tangible, a driving force that keeps me coming back for more inspiration to get out as quickly as I can.