Obeidallah: Rednecks' turn to shine?
Move over Kim Kardashian, your crown as queen of reality TV has been stolen by rednecks. And not just one redneck, but many of them. Hollywood can't get enough redneck culture. Why? Because shows about rednecks are making Hollywood a lot of money.
The most popular reality shows on cable no longer star "beautiful people" like the Kardashians or "The Real Housewives." Nope. Now that title is held by the likes of the men from A&E's "Duck Dynasty," who make duck calls for hunters and look like a ZZ Top cover band.
Also sharing that crown is 7-year-old Alana Thompson, better known as "Honey Boo Boo." She has coined expressions like, "You'd better Redneckognize." Her show even featured a visit to the "Redneck Games," which her mother described as, "a lot like the Olympics but with a lot of missing teeth and butt cracks showing."
Then there's History Channel's smash hit, "Swamp People," which features alligator hunters in the Louisiana bayou. Also, don't forget National Geographic's "Rocket City Rednecks" and MTV's new show, "Buckwild," which stars West Virginian teens and has been dubbed the "Jersey Shore of Appalachia."
A quick look at the ratings for these programs makes it clear why the networks are red hot for rednecks. The third season of "Duck Dynasty" premiered on February 27 and the episode set the record for the highest rated show in the history of A&E. Amazingly, the premiere actually beat "American Idol" and "Modern Family" that night in the coveted 18- to 49-year-old demographic. Add to that, just last week, "Duck Dynasty" held four of the top 20 spots on all of cable, while "Swamp People" came in as the 14th highest rated cable show.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy once joked: "You may be a redneck if your lifetime goal is to own a fireworks stand." But now that line might more accurately be revised to, "You may be a redneck if your goal is to have a hit reality TV show."
What makes Hollywood's current love affair with redneck culture so intriguing is that it has demonized these folks for years. Hollywood has portrayed rednecks almost exclusively via a parade of inbreeds, morons and bigots. The film "Deliverance" is the most famous over-the-top example of this trend. There are also lighter redneck caricatures such as those in "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "The Beverly Hillbillies." The list goes on.
When Hollywood hasn't been demonizing rednecks, it has simply been dismissing them as being part of the "flyover" people who live between New York and Los Angeles.
Some people in the South are understandably not happy with these new reality shows because they may be propagating negative stereotypes. In December, Domocratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia called on MTV to cancel "Buckwild" for fear it would present "shameful behavior" and advance negative stereotypes about people from his state.
Object all you want, but the TV executives truly don't care. How can I say this? I'm from New Jersey, where we were subjected to an onslaught of similar reality shows. "Jersey Shore," "Jersey Couture" and "Jerseylicious" are our equivalent of the horsemen of the apocalypse.
"Jersey Shore" didn't end because New Jersey residents complained about the negative depiction, especially of Italian-Americans. (I'm half Italian so I was keenly aware of this issue.) No, the shows ended when America got bored with seeing people covered in self-tanner get drunk and hook up in a hot tub or punch each other in a Seaside Beach bar.
With the redneck shows, there is a silver lining that was absent with "Jersey Shore." Most of us have never seen rednecks be themselves. We have only seen Hollywood's interpretation. So while I'm sure there are things that "Honey Boo Boo" says or does that make some cringe, there are also real moments with her and her family that are endearing.
In the "Swamp People" episodes I've watched, the hunters are portrayed as resourceful people trying to outwit their hunting opponents. With "Duck Dynasty," I'll be honest, I truly have no idea what the fascination is, but I'm sure many from other parts of the country asked the same thing about "Jersey Shore."
In time, redneck reality shows will pass. A new group of Americans will become the focus of Hollywood's reality show factory. I'm not sure who that will be but I'm confident that before the reality show craze ends, every profession, race and culture in the United States will get their 15 minutes of fame.
But as long as redneck shows get ratings, Hollywood will keep pumping them out. To them, it's not about the "red" of the people's neck, it's only about the green.
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