Friday, May 10, 2013

Codeswitch takes up "Hicksploitation"

NPR launched the Codeswitch blog, billed as "frontiers of race, culture and ethnicity," about a month ago.  Today, Eric Deggans, writing for the forum, takes up what he calls "hicksploitation."  Here's the lede:
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.
And, Deggans notes, "plenty more ... blatant stereotypes of white subcultures" are on display on TV, "a big pile of the worse stereotypes about white, working-class people."  He lists "Mob wives," which he describes as "cliche in-your-face Italian Mafia matriarchs" and "Breaking Amish," which he describes as "backward, barely educated rural kids wandering around New York City."  There is also "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding," which features "barely legal prospective brides brag[ging] about marrying their cousins."  

Not only is Deggans perceptive enough to see how pejorative (and offensive to some) these shows are, he is perceptive enough to note that we no longer see African-Americans or Latinos, "especially if they are working class," depicted so negatively these days--at least not in new shows.  No, he observes, shows about those racial and ethnic groups "show off more lavish lifestyles and have been around longer."  

Deggans also notes that when a show called "All My Babies' Mamas" (featuring a rapper bragging about his 11 children by 10 different women) was proposed by the Oxygen Channel last year, the backlash was "immediate and powerful." Some 30,000 protesters signed a petition opposing it on  Oxygen responded by dropping development of the series.  

Why no similar outcry against these shows that ridicule working class whites?  Deggans answer:  "too many folks see stereotypes as a problem mostly for people of color."

Deggans summarizes:
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.

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