I'm sure quite a few of us watched the ABC Special last night and I have to say that my first reaction is that it wasn't nearly as negative as I feared it would be going in. Sure, there was endless talk about the drug abuse and dental difficiencies, but it was handled rather tastefully and I feel like even an outsider watching would be ultimately left with less an impression of ignorant hillbillies and more of an understanding of the hopelessness of a people who have been beaten down by life's trials.
Anyone who knows me knows I would be the last one to make excuses for a drug abuser. I've had a hard life too and haven't become a pill or meth head, but this transends the availability of a drug culture as a means of escape. As they did a good job of pointing out in the 20/20 piece, you can look at photos from decades ago and clearly see worry in the eyes of little children and the faces of the adults all communicate a sense of exhaustion and brokenness. None of this is new to Appalachia. It's just that now there exists relatively easy access to a means of escaping it all, even if only for a few brief hours.
You see an almost identical problem in other economically-shattered places. A nearly picture-perfect example of this can be seen in the rampant alcoholism that ravages many Native American Reservations, the difference being that Appalachian people don't have a multi-million dollar lobby working in our favor in Washington and they won't let us build casinos to try to pull our heads up above the water.
I suppose all we can do is hope that people on the outside watched the Special and it helped them to see the plight of these people. Only time will tell.