Code Switch
9:03 pm
Tue April 30, 2013

On 'Hicksploitation' And Other White Stereotypes Seen On TV

Originally published on Fri May 10, 2013 5:10 am

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.

And here's the thing: There aren't nearly as many new shows like this about African-Americans or Latinos, especially if they are working class. Shows like Real Housewives of Atlanta and Love and Hip Hop Atlanta show off more lavish lifestyles and have been around longer.

Late last year, the Oxygen channel tried to create a new one, developing a pilot featuring rapper Shawty Lo bragging that he had 11 kids by 10 different women. It was supposed to be called All My Babies' Mamas.

The backlash against this travesty was immediate and powerful. Radio personalities complained on-air, harsh coverage came from CNN and Fox News, and more than 30,000 protesters signed a petition against the show on Change.org.

It worked. Oxygen announced it wouldn't develop the series.

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.

Eric Deggans is the TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, a freelance contributor to NPR and author of the new book Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation, published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Television networks offer a truckload of popular, unscripted programs, some of which lampoon working-class, white Southern culture. Think "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and "Duck Dynasty." They are popular. Our TV critic Eric Deggans has been wondering why it's so easy to start up shows that exploit stereotypes of white people.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: MTV tried cashing in on the redneck TV trend with its own, hyped-up platform for young Southern kids behaving badly, "Buckwild." And this is what it took to get it off the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWSCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER #1: Budding reality star Shain Gandee was discovered dead in his SUV, the victim of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Now, one week later, MTV is making the bombshell decision to cancel his hit show, "Buckwild."

DEGGANS: Gandee was the star of a so-called reality TV show that played like a Southern-fried version of "Jersey Shore"; its stars a dimwitted crew of young people in West Virginia, drinking hard and riding pickup trucks through ditches filled with mud.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BUCKWILD")

SHAIN GANDEE: Oh, (bleep). (Laughing) ... Miss Carrie, you ever been mudding?

MISS CARRIE: Yeah. I used to go mudding all the time in high school.

GANDEE: Oh, yeah? Well, you ain't never been mudding with me.

DEGGANS: Small wonder some locals complained the show was a black mark on West Virginia. It highlighted oversexed, undereducated kids whose favorite pastimes included joy riding inside construction equipment.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BUCKWILD")

MISS CARRIE: Oh, my.

GANDEE: Go, go, go.

DEGGANS: Southern-based hicksploitation TV shows are only the beginning of reality TV's caucasian cliches. There are the violent, in-your-face Italian ladies in VH1's "Mob Wives."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MOB WIVES")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I've poisoned people. I've shot them. I stabbed my last boyfriend in front of his mother.

DEGGANS: The backwards, rural kids wandering around New York City in TLC's "Breaking Amish."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BREAKING AMISH")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Dropped out of school early. A third or fourth grader can probably read three times better than I can.

DEGGANS: And the lustful brides in "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MY BIG FAT AMERICAN GYPSY WEDDING")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Like, my first husband was my third cousin. (Laughing) Our family believes in that stuff.

DEGGANS: That's a big pile of the worst stereotypes about white, working-class people around. And here's the thing - there aren't nearly as many shows like this about African-Americans or Latinos. Late last year, the Oxygen channel tried to create a new one, developing a pilot featuring rapper Shawty Lo.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW PILOT, "ALL MY BABIES' MAMAS")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: To you guys, he might be known as a rapper, but here in Atlanta, he's known for having 11 kids and 10 baby mamas.

DEGGANS: The backlash against this travesty was immediate and powerful.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWSCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER #2: Outrage and calls now for cancellation over a new reality show that's about to hit the airwaves. So here's what it's called: "All My Babies' Mamas."

DEGGANS: Radio personalities complained on air; harsh coverage came from CNN and Fox News; and more than 30,000 protesters signed a petition against the show on Change.org. And it worked - Oxygen announced it wouldn't develop the series. 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 it can be just as easy to stereotype white, working-class folks, and just as hard to scrub those stereotypes off our TV screens.

INSKEEP: Eric Deggans, regular guest here, and TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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