Twirling at Ole Miss by Terry Southern | Adapted to Film By John Tyson

Twirling at Ole Miss Cover Art (Film Short)

In 1963, Esquire Magazine commissoned the late Terry Southern to write a story about a baton twirling camp in Oxford, Mississippi. The name of the camp was the Dixie National Baton Twirling Institute. Esquire’s editors wanted Southern to address the struggles of both women and Blacks and do so by illuminating various aspects of twirling, both instruction and performance.

I signed up for a free Esquire account so I could read the article. I encourage anyone who truly loves baton twirling to read it. It’s an important commentary not only on racism and segregation, but also on women and baton twirling. It highlights struggles and some realities that still exist in the sport today.

Around 2017, a filmmaker named John Matthew Tyson adapated Southern’s 1962 article to the screen in a film short. It won so many awards, all of which you can see on Fair warning: this website is a bit trippy with various images and text boxes doing somersaults. These design features are so distracting. Unfortunate. LOL.

We have searched high and low for a trailer of the film short as well as the film itself. So far, we have had no luck finding either. We’d love to see it, so if you have a connection or source, please let us know.

Despite winning impressive awards, Twirling At Ole Miss has not garnered much of a fandom in baton twirling. The Facebook page for the film has five followers. Maybe the platform’s algorithm killed it or perhaps the film’s organizers didn’t spend much time promoting in on social media. Honestly, I have no clue, but I do know the article is a gut punch.

Academic Questions, Answers

In 2008, a teacher posed the following question on a Blogspot blog:

What does baton twirling represent in Terry Southern’s story? How does he construct or convey that meaning? Be specific in describing at least one literary technique he uses (imagery, dialog, character, point of view, tone, etc.) to achieve his effects.

Literature of Journalism

Students supplied a health dose of answers, which you may find helpful in deepending your understanding of the piece. Click here to read them.

Here is part of “Kimmy’s” answer:

Southern uses his assigned story of covering a baton twirling competition to bring light to the struggles of two groups of minorities: blacks and women.

Southern states this connection very clearly in the 5th paragraph on page 164 (pretty much until now, he was setting the scene as Ol’ Miss being very segregated): “The development of American baton twirling closely parallels the history of emancipation of our women.” He goes on to prove his statement by explaining the recent history of this sport: how it was a struggle for the sport to get the recognition it has; how women worked hard to succeed but are still being judged. “Each contestant appears singly before a Judge and Scorekeeper, and while the Judge observes and relays the grading to the Scorekeeper, the girl goes through her routine for a closely specified time.”

In the same way, and most often simultaneously, Southern suggests the connection between the struggle of blacks and the challenges of the sport of baton-twirling. “There is something almost insane about the amount of sheer effort and perseverance which seems to go into achieving even a nominal degree of real excellence- and practice of four hours a day is not uncommon.

In the context of a regular story covering this competition, the above sentence would only be referring to the sport itself. But Southern intersplices scenes of segregation to hint at such connections (1) the segregated water fountain (2) the 9-year-old black boy who Southern “admired the pride the young fellow took in his craft. you don’t see much of that these days…

Post Script

The following events described in this excerpt from Black Past describe what happened in Oxford, Mississippi prior to Southern’s arrival.

On the evening of Sunday, September 30, 1962, Southern segregationists rioted and fought state and federal forces on the campus of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford, Mississippi to prevent the enrollment of the first African American student to attend the university, James Meredith, a U.S. military veteran.

President John F. Kennedy had sent federal marshals to Oxford on Saturday, September 29, 1962 to prepare for protests he knew would arise from Meredith’s arrival and enrollment. While this occurred, Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, a publicly avowed segregationist, spoke at an Ole Miss football game encouraging action on campus to block Meredith’s entry into the university. The next day, Meredith was escorted by Mississippi Highway Patrol as he made his way to the campus to move into his dorm room. He was greeted by 500 federal marshals assigned for his protection. Thousands of rioters from across the South gathered that evening at Ole Miss. The highway patrol tried to push back the crowd, but were dismissed by Mississippi Senator George Yarbrough at around 7:25 p.m. The crowd increased rapidly, and a full riot broke out at 7:30 p.m…”

Black Past

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