On cable TV, there’s a whole truckload of reality shows that make fun of working-class, white Southern culture. They are some of the most popular and talked about new shows, too, such as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty.
MTV tried cashing in on the redneck TV trend with its own hyped-up platform for young Southern kids behaving badly, Buckwild. It played like a Southern-fried version of Jersey Shore. Its stars were a dimwitted crew of young people in West Virginia drinking hard and riding pickup trucks through ditches filled with mud.
Then, one of them died, along with two other people, in a vehicle stuck in mud. The show wasn’t shooting at the time, but Shain Gandee’s death was enough to make MTV stop production.
Still, there are plenty more places to see blatant stereotypes of white subcultures, beyond the hicksploitation served by Buckwild. Over on VH1, Mob Wives are the cliche in-your-face Italian Mafia matriarchs. TLC has backward, barely educated rural kids wandering around New York City in Breaking Amish. And barely legal prospective brides brag about marrying their cousins in My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, also on TLC.
That’s a big pile of the worst stereotypes about white, working-class people around.
It turns out that reality shows based on these “negative” stereotypes are even more popular than any reality show based on minorities; positive or negative.
But isn’t “reality” reality after all?
The NPR journalist goes on to ask the following question.
So why haven’t these other shows stereotyping white people seen protests just as strong?
I suspect it’s because too many folks see stereotypes as a problem mostly for people of color.
We’ve got lots of practice criticizing degrading images of black and brown people. Activists know how to gather the news stories, book the media appearances and assemble the petitions to press their case. Advertisers get nervous and programmers think twice.
What many forget is that it can be just as easy to stereotype white, working-class folks, and just as hard to scrub those stereotypes off your TV screen.
There are surely many factors involved, and I’m not going to try to argue against the NPR stance, but I will offer another explanation.
As I mentioned above, reality is reality, and who gets to define what “negative” stereotypes are? For example, Honey Boo may seem “negative”, but at least the mom is raising her kids with a father. Would we consider a show about Wall Street executive wannabes with kids in a different state in a boarding school, far away from their parents’ exploitation of poorer people via the banking system a “positive” image?
One reason I enjoy “redneck” jokes is because the reality is that they apply to my life also, growing up in a rural agricultural area of America.
If your table used to be a cable spool… you might be a redneck.
If whenever you move your fridge, it leaves a yellow mark on the grass…
If your house has wheels, but none of your cars do…
I can relate to all these.
Assimilation is a one-way white-paved street
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The purpose of assimilation is basically to make all Americans “white.”
(Yes, I know that I’m generalizing and even the concept of “white” is made up and helped justify the exploitation of poor white folks by acknowledging that at least they weren’t “black,” which helps prove the point I think.)
Indian boarding schools were made to turn Native Americans “white” with Christian names and forgetting their past.
Schools in Arizona and in TUSD today ban bilingual education, segregate Mexican kids away from the student population until they learn English in ELL classrooms and Latino literature and history are banned while European history, literature, the Bible and Western Civilization are celebrated in schools.
TV is the ultimate assimilation tool.
We watch all aspects of white people on TV, and reinforce the negative stereotypes of minorities as criminals on the big screen (do we recognize this as a stereotype, or do many white Americans really think of minorities and Mexicans as “illegals?).
But we are still minorities in the end.
So I have to learn how to “fit in” to white culture and see myself in it.
Thus, I can listen to Jeff Foxworthy and see myself in the jokes. My family has plenty of rednecks in it.
When I’m in a conference of professionals I look out and see white people but not myself (unless there’s a mirror).
When I’m in the graduate science classroom, I see mostly white people but not myself.
When I attend a precinct committee meeting in my Democratic legislative district, I see mostly white people.
So I am used to seeing myself within white groups.
But I also have my minority side.
But if you are white and within the white power structure all day, when are you supposed to be exposed to minorities? At home? With your friends?
Maybe not at all?
So maybe reality shows are more popular featuring white people of any stereotype because we can all relate somehow. We all have those types of people in our family. Even though the person on the TV is white, my cousin is just like that.
I can see myself in white groups.
But can all white people do the same? Can white America look at minority life, not the template American sitcom, but “reality” and relate? Not like the George Lopez show which is basically the white sitcom but now with brown folks, but a show that takes you to the streets as does Honey Boo with a small house besides the train tracks.
Can a white person see themselves and their families in the “minority reality” show?
This may explain why any show, “positive” or “negative” about white America is popular and why minorities continue to remain off-screen for the most part. This itself may good or bad but we have gotten used to it and learned how to see reflections of ourselves despite skin color.