A Southern man don't need him around anyhow.
— Lynyrd Skynyrd
They're laughing at us.
Turn on the TV, and you'll see why.
Honey Boo Boo. The swamp people. Moonshiners. "Redneck Island" and "Buckwild." Serpent handlers, alligator wrestlers and catfish grabblers.
Last year, the reality TV industry made millions -- the new black gold! Texas tea 2.0! -- from Southern mockery. Most nights, reality TV offers a ludicrous travelogue across a Southern landscape that, if we believe our TV, is populated by an all-white, sometimes unintelligible band of often camouflaged misfits.
"You betta redneckognize," says the child known as Honey Boo Boo.
Wherefore art thou, "Hee Haw"?
These shows are the second cousins of "Deliverance," "Dukes of Hazzard" and even D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation." They take the thinnest slice of Southern culture and magnify it to meet the needs of the rest of America, hungry to still believe the stereotypes that have been brewing for decades.
Shoes? Not 'round heah. Outhouses? They're mighty fine. Marry our cousin? Shucks ma'am, she's awfully purty.
These shows tap into that old and easy parody which somehow helps the rest of America feel good about themselves. Regrettably, sometimes the parody draws out more of the very behavior it mocks. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, Southerners often respond to stereotypes by embracing them even further.
"I'd like to spit some Beech-Nut in that dude's eye," Hank Williams Jr. sings.
But like a first date in California, I'm going way too fast. Before we go farther: what does it even mean to be a redneck?
"For approximately the last one hundred years, the pejorative term 'redneck' has chiefly slurred a rural, poor white man of the American South and particularly one who holds conservative, racist or reactionary views," writes Patrick Huber in the winter 1995 issue of "Southern Cultures."
Once an insult against poor, working farmers, the term then was reclaimed in the political realm as a source of pride. As the racial cauldron of the 20th century exploded, the American psyche easily equated redneck with racist, forging a connection -- often true, often not -- that still remains.
Then came Jeff Foxworthy, introducing a Git-r-done humor that held open the door for Hollywood's favorite stereotype: the dumb redneck. (What are a redneck's last words? Hold my beer and watch this).
A few months ago, Fox News made a bold prediction: we've reached the end of redneck reality TV.
"Studio doors are locked tight when new Southern shows come a-knockin'," Fox claimed.
(I wonder: do other shows "come a-knockin'?" Or just Southern ones?)
It's doubtful this is the end, as redneck TV gives a cathartic, we-feel-better-about-ourselves relief that comes when one group laughs at another. That list is growing shorter and shorter, as white Christian men in the South are the last demographic America believes it can safely mock. Knock on Hollywood's door and tell them you want to make a reality show full of stereotyped humor about, say, Indian immigrants or a black family from inner city Chicago. See how far you get with that one.
(Yes, white men in the South have long been atop a dangerous hierarchy; I'm not asking for sympathy. Just for an end of the foolishness.)
Second, these shows will continue for one other big reason: jealousy. The rest of America is jealous.
In this ever-changing world, where folks are prepping and hoarding and twerking, this emphasis on Southern reality TV may be less a mockery and more like a subconscious Cliff Notes. How, America may be asking, can we learn from the South?
"Duck Dynasty" is popular for the same reason "The Andy Griffith Show" was. America sees something it likes. An emphasis on family. A relationship to the land that's more than pigeons on the sidewalk. A real knowledge of self-sufficiency and independence. Who do you think would last longer in a post-apocalyptic America? The Robertsons or Kardashians?
(After all, the "Walking Dead" zombie resistance takes place in Georgia, not the Upper East Side).
Sure, they may laugh at our brothers and sisters who fish for catfish with their hands or handle snakes in church. (Laugh all you want. Now come try it.) However accidentally, these shows portray an agrarian bravery of men and women with a freezer full of meat to last the winter, and a supper-table where everyone holds hands while they pray.
Hollywood may have tried to make fun of the South, but it backfired on them.
As Gomer would say: surprise, surprise, surprise.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...
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