Monday, October 17, 2011

Is there any rural heart in "Hart of Dixie"?

A couple Monday nights back my sister Sarah requested the TV at 9:00. She was a big fan of the show "The O.C.," and one of the actresses from that show, Rachel Bilson, was starring in a new show called "Hart of Dixie." Knowing about my classes, including the class linked to this blog, Sarah suggested that I might want to watch it. "It's about culture clash between urban and rural people," she suggested, "and there are girls in tank tops and short-shorts." I decided to stay for a quick study of B-list Hollywood interpretations of the rural South... the short-shorts were a bonus.

Bilson plays a NYC doctor named Zoey Hart who is just leaving residency with hopes of becoming a heart surgeon (Real original huh? Dr. Hart, heart surgeon.). But Hart's supervisor refuses to promote her until she gets a year of general practice under her belt, to improve her "bedside manner." Hart decides to take up an offer by an older doctor who had approached her at her medical school graduation to practice in very small, rural (and fictional) Bluebell, Alabama. When she arrives in Bluebell, she finds out that not only has the old doctor died and left her his half of the town's medical practice, but that he was her biological father.

Hart decides to stay in Bluebell to learn about her father by blood and how he became such a beloved and respected doctor. But the town is very hostile to this New Yorker, with the main antagonists being the other doctor in the practice, Brick Breeland (Tim Matheson) and his daughter Lemon (Jaime King).

I was surprised by the number of rural issues the show touched on. Well, as surprised as I could be about a show focusing mainly on two overlapping love triangles, women's fashion, and showing as many sets of six-pack abs as possible (prompting a "short-shorts, huh?" from me and a sheepish grin from Sarah).

Here are some of the differences and rural problems pointed out by the show. There is the lack of adequate medical care in rural areas. Just three weeks into the show, Hart has already saved three people with her big city medical training. Hostility to outsiders is a big issue. Hart has no idea about the importance of small town traditions like hunting trips and parade floats pulled by tractors. And she doesn't help her case by often discussing the things she misses about New York that Bluebell lacks. This does not endear her to the people of Bluebell, and Hart must constantly adapt to their southern ways to try to gain acceptance.

There are also some racial issues. Hart is impressed that Bluebell is progressive enough to elect a black mayor (Cress Williams). But as progressive as that may be, there is an implied tension about interracial relationships. The Lemon character (white) and the mayor (black) have a Romeo/Juliet kind of romance going on. It is implied, though not explicitly stated, that race is what is keeping them apart. Next week it appears that the topic of rural religious dogma will be central.

[Update: Doctor Hart initially viewed the town's preacher and wife through her urban experiences. She saw the couple's Southern manners and hospitality as a pitch to join the church like Mormon missionaries or Jehovah's Witnesses would do in a city. Later she sees the preacher and his wife as kind and friendly people who are an important part of the community and who just want to make her feel welcome.]

While it's not exactly the best medium for a serious rural/urban discussion, "Hart of Dixie" does try to show the rural South in a fair light. And considering the show is mainly directed at urban women, it may help make the new South a little more accessible to some people who have never been there. But it is still a show in the romantic dramedy mold, so it's not going to stray too far from love triangles, girls in skimpy clothes and shirtless guys. I doubt the show will last for long as it just seems to have one season written all over it, but it will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

In the mean time, Bilson is wearing a tank top in the rain and about to kiss a shirtless guy who apparently spends six hours a day in the gym. Sarah and I are very engrossed.


Patricija said...

You beat me to the punch about writing on the "Hart of Dixie". One thing I was going to mention in my blog post, "Urban white knight," is the piece called "Our Diagnosis on the Series Premiere of “Hart of Dixie”" featured on CBS Tampa which can be found here: The article likes the take on "Rachel Bilson cast as the big city girl making a difference in a small town." Once again it seems the urban knight is making the difference in a needy rural community. What about what the rural town provides for her that a urban city can't or won't?

Also, I wonder if the show will use any "consultants." Shows such as "Big Bang Theory," "House," "Burn Notice," "CSI," etc. use consultants to allow help the writers, directors and actors adhere to the authenticity of the show. Perhaps in order to capture the true essence of Dixie, the show needs their very own Dixie expert. This would make this show a bit less of a guilty pleasure, turning into an informative depiction of a part of the country I have never lived in and as opposed to propagating a negative southern rural stereotype that has far reaching effects in today's society.

JWHS said...

How much of this programming do you think is regression to the norm? Like I said in "Same old South" rural culture has always been a target for TV. In the sixties there was a wave through TV where they removed rural programming, but then are bringing it back.

Fact of the matter is, rural life is always going to seem interesting. Especially, when people in the city make up the constituency of television viewers.