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    Southern Stereotypes

    Rise in TV “hixploitation”

    by | Dec 8, 2011

    There has been a rise in “hixploitation,” or hick exploitation, on television in recent years with shows like “Call of the Wildman,” “Hillbilly Handfishin'” and “Swamp People” flooding the airwaves and becoming hit reality TV shows. The protagonists seem proud of their new-found fame, like Turtleman (aka Ernie Brown Jr.) of Lebanon, Ky., star of “Call of the Wildman.” But as Matt Frassica of The Courier-Journal in Louisville reports, the compulsion to watch such shows is not very clear.

    Karen L. Cox, a history professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, told Frassica it’s still socially acceptable to regard the South as different from the rest of the U.S. and poke fun at the region. “The reality shows trade in stereotypes. You roll your eyes and think, ‘How do we move beyond that?'” Cox said. Others, like the author of “Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched,” play on a longing for “agrarian nostalgia,” Mark Andrejevic told Frassica. He also said these shows may be seeing an increase in audience due to extreme economic uncertainty. Indiana University associate professor of gender studies Brenda Weber said the shows are not about looking down on people and making fun of them: “These reality shows are more concerned with the personal challenge of overcoming adversity. All of them take away their character’s civilized comforts and test their abilities as outdoorsmen and women.”

    That resembles the view voiced by MTV’s programming director, David Janollari, about the station’s new docu-series called “Buck Wild.” Michael Schneider of TV Guide reports the series focuses on recent high school graduates living in West Virginia from “across the socio-economic strata – from the more well-off kids living ‘up in the hills’ to the working-class kids down ‘in the holler.'” Janollari insists the show will not be ridiculing the graduates: “the show is so wholeheartedly not making fun of these kids.” Rather, the station seems to be taking an approach more like Diane Sawyer’s “Children of the Mountains” on ABC’s “20/20″ almost three years ago. Said Janollari: “Historically, we’ve had great success at MTV diving into unique and unexplored youth cultures.”

    UPDATE: Another article concerning television “hixploitation” has surfaced, this time focusing on whether or not showcasing illegal activities is in fact legal. John Jurgensen of The Wall Street Journal reports  the Discovery Channel is trying to cash in on the odd jobs reality show craze with shows like “Weed Wars” and “Moonshiners,” about California medical marijuana dispensaries and Appalachians making corn liquor, respectively. Jurgensen reports: “Reality TV’s exploration of the subcultures of work, especially the macho variety, is an effort to rope in coveted male viewers who might have a voyeuristic curiosity about Gulf Coast fishermen (History Channel’s ‘Big Shrimpin”), boar hunters (A&E’s ‘Lady Hoggers’) or Texas oil workers (TruTV’s ‘Black Gold’).”

    ###
    Ivy Brashear

    Ivy Brashear

    A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, Ivy Brashear is a regular contributor to The Rural Blog and Kentucky Health News.

     

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    • Gitasmith

      Wow, this is exactly what the spouse and I were talking about the other day when Moonshiners came on. We counted up the number of shows and said, “Dangit! What’s with all the backwoods/swamp/men-in-overalls stereotypes, and how can WE cash in?”  We don’t cook meth, talk to snakes or play banjos. Unless someone wants to make a show about the lives of former newspaper employees, we’re S.O.L.

    • Wtoliver

      Ivy,
               Thanks for recognizing this trend. It seems to be equal parts taking solace in those we see as less fortunate, exalting in their own kinds of victories, and laughing at the last racial stereotype that it’s acceptable to laugh at : poor working class whites. Author Jim Goad says it better in “The Redneck Manifesto” than I ever could, and, I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already. I’ve grown quite cynical about, so-called, reality t.v. which, more and more is scripted reality. I laugh at the accents and country witicisms on “Lizard Lick Towing” because I know those people, hell, I am those people.
               Several years ago Ga. ex-governor and political turncoat, Zell Miller, came out in opposition to a proposed reality show about some real life Beverly Hillbillies. He didn’t want his people poked fun at, anymore. The ficticious show was bad enough, I remember thinking, when I was a young teen and it was still on t.v. But, suddenly, we’re inundated with a plethora of shows dancing around the same subject. Why do we watch Jescoe White, the Dancing Outlaw, and his whole, wierd, wonderful White clan. Because we can ? It’ll be interesting to see how MTV treats these young folks in WV. Will it be illuminating or just more sideways glances and stifled guffaws? This may exist in other cultures, as well, but, as Patterson Hood of the Driveby Truckers once said, “It always plays better with a southern accent.” Indeed !  

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