Southern Stereotypes

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’).”

Editor's Note: This article was originally published November 29, 2011, at The Rural Blog. Photo licensed by from © gremlin.
Ivy Brashear

Ivy Brashear

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