A few years ago, reality TV was concerned with showcasing the lives of good-looking, affluent people: The wealthy lovebirds of Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica; rock royalty in The Osbournes, Ally Hilfiger and the moneyed kids on Rich Girls; Paris Hilton in The Simple Life, the sunny blondes of Laguna Beach and The Hills. But in the past couple of years, the subjects of reality shows have been of a lower socio-economic level: From Teen Mom and Jersey Shore to the latest crop of folks in programs like Hillbilly Handfishin', Swamp People, and, of course, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
As Conor Knighton writes for CBS News Sunday Morning,
If a cable television network is profiting by showing how backwards you and your family are, you might be a redneck.
For some reason, cable channels have become obsessed with "rednecks" - typically, lower-middle-class white Southerners.
Knighton, who grew up in the South, worries that the trend toward "rednecksplotation"-type shows "perpetuates outdated stereotypes." And indeed they do. There are educated, city and suburbs-dwelling folks in the South… just not on the crop of new shows like Moonshiners and Lady Hoggers.
For centuries humans have laughed and been entertained by the stock character known as the "fool." In the days of Sophocles, there was some kind of jester to the gods; the tradition continued through medieval times and Shakespeare all the way through to the sad hobo clown of Emmett Kelly to Woody on Cheers and Kramer on Seinfeld. We love to laugh at the poor and ridiculous, and in today's politically correct atmosphere, when so many targets TV would mock in the past — Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, black people, women — are now off-limits, the role of "fool" goes to hayseeds, yokels, country bumpkins, hillbillys, rednecks. We consider it acceptable to giggle at their different (read: strange, butter-loving) ways.
Much of the allure in reality TV is knowing that your problems aren't nearly as bad as the folks on screen. No matter what your life looks like, they're crazier, more pathetic, dumber, sillier, and pettier than you. The question is: When the hijinks of Southerners grow tired, who's next?