A term used to describe an area of the Gulf Coast of the United States, stretching (roughly) from Gulfport, Mississippi to Apalachicola, Florida. Prior to the encroachment of mankind in the 20th Century, this region was an unspoiled paradise of unspeakable beauty. It features mile after mile of large bays and inlets, estuaries, barrier islands, and beaches composed of the most amazing, sugar-white sand that can be found nowhere else in the world. The writings of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings that describe the environment of 1920s Florida give an excellent impression of what this region once was - and in a few places, still is.
Sparsely populated until the 1940s (with the exception of large deep-water ports like Mobile, Alabama and Biloxi, Mississippi to the west, and smaller ports like Port St. Joe and Apalachicola, Florida to the east), the land in this area was regarded by most people as being virtually worthless due to sandy soil conditions. Since the value of land was determined largely by its ability to support agricultural crops, development of this region did not come quickly or in an organized manner, as tourism had not yet developed as a significant economic factor. By the late 1950s, small family-owned businesses catering to tourists began to emerge as a noticable element of the local economy.
Railroad infrastructure had been constantly expanding in the area since the 1900s, driven by the industries of shipping, lumber, fisheries and later on, paper production. Pullman cars brought more and more people from up north seeking jobs, and for some, a vacation/holiday. With road crews working as part of the Public Works Administration of FDR and the automobile growing in popularity after World War II, Americans hit the roads for the Gulf Coast in record numbers. Hotels and restaurants were the first small forays into the tourist economy, followed by a sometimes bizarre variety of amusement attractions. Many of these fascinating landmarks are documented in the book Dixie Before Disney: 100 Years of Roadside Fun by Tim Hollis (1999, University Press of Mississippi).
It is difficult to detemine exactly who coined the phrase "Redneck Riviera" to label this area of the Gulf Coast, but it is referenced by some sources dating back to the early 1980s. The term is somewhat pejorative, and reflects not only of the tourists that flock to the gulf shores, but to the residents of the area. The unofficial "hub" of the Redneck Riviera is Panama City Beach, Florida, which hosted MTV's Spring Break for several years during the 1990s. A realistic character study of life in this seaside city can be found in the film Ruby In Paradise (1993), directed by Victor Nunez and starring Ashley Judd.
Today, the Redneck Riviera not only attracts tourist rednecks by the thousands from all over the southeastern US, but is also the home of countless rednecks, both native and transplanted. A common sight at any time of year on US Highway 98 (which runs through the entire region along the coast) is the jacked-up pickup truck with monster tires and a chrome roll-bar, sporting dual Rebel flags flying on masts mounted at the rear of the cab. With the windows rolled down and drunken Good Ol' Boys at the wheel and in the truck bed, waving domestic beer cans and whoopin' it up to the tune of "Dixie" played on the truck's modified horn system, you can bet that there's plenty of trailer parks for them to cruise before the night's conclusion - usually involving the local Sheriff's Department and a paddy wagon.
The Redneck Riviera is a flatlander's equivalent to a hillbilly's paradise: ice cold Apalachicola oysters, fishin', huntin', a-drankin', drugs, carryin' on and a Good Ol' Boy law enforcement establishment that is willing to turn a blind eye as long as you are male, white, 21 and straight.
Yeah. Right. God Bless America.