I remember when the CBS television network was derisively nicknamed by critics the "Country Broadcast System" in the 1960's because of their love and produced proliferation of situation comedies about rural types.
The kind of people a harsh person might describe as "hicks," "hillbillies," or even worse, "white trash."
Shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Andy Griffith and Gomer Pyle. The network inflicted the country yokel show Hee Haw on the American people in the time slot formerly occupied by the cancelled Smothers Brothers, a deliberate act of petty revenge. The network was angry at the brothers for using their variety show as a liberal podium to oppose Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War.
Corporate America has never opposed an American war right or wrong.
CBS loved making fun of hillbillies, or maybe I should call them "hay kickers," mocking them as morons, cretins, numbskulls, backward, degenerative, perhaps even accidents of too much intermarriage inbreeding between close relatives.
Jed Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies used the brainless expression "Yea-doggy," and Gomer Pyle "Shaa-zam!" The fictional, ethnically-underprivileged redneck, if a real person, would because of poverty, lack of education and regional cultural differences, have talked and looked different from the rest of us through no fault of his own. It became clear he was a figure of fun and ridicule to the martini-sipping millionaires who ran the network.
It also became clear the Southern, white-skinned hillbilly was the only remaining safe caricature ethnic slur left to denigrate.
The TV networks couldn't mock African Americans as they had in the 1950's with Amos and Andy. The NAACP would be on their backs. They couldn't slander Latinos either. The insulting Frito Bandito television cartoon character (symbolizing Mexicans as criminals), advertising corn chips, was withdrawn after complaints from the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee.
CBS finally became tired of the Country Broadcast label fixed on it and axed all its hillbilly shows in favor of so-called modern, hip, street-wise "relevant" shows. In place of Jed Clampett's uncomprehending squint (the implied humor in the Hillbillies was that they were childlike. They thought their pool table was for dining).
Instead, we laughed at a racist Archie Bunker in All in the Family.
We had switched from a yokel hillbilly to an urban, bigger city racist redneck.
Now, we have the bearded cable TV guys. The ignoramus hillbilly is back, the Duck Dynasty Show on A&E Channel, the Moonshiners on the Discovery Channel, the Swamp People on the History Channel and the Axe Men. If you're a bearded idiotic, fringe lunatic, you too can become a star and a role model.
More of these shows are in development.
Education no longer matters.
Just use words like "ain't," and "golly jee-wilickers," "shucks" and "jee-hoss-O-fat," spout country witticisms, like "rye whiskey rye whiskey now don't let me down, just give me a swig---and I'll run around."
There are shows about Cro-Magnon-types dynamiting parts of the Alaskan wilderness to get at its gold (Gold Rush), or brainless men-children cutting down trees, shaking their fists at each other, while destroying the forests of Oregon, Washington and Montana (Axe Men).
They use machines. They use guns. You have to get a gun. You have to act angry to be on these shows. You have to kill things. In Swamp people, a group of retrograde kooks hunt and shoot alligators for money and to make suitcases out of with high-powered rifles, spout supposedly country-wise pseudo-homilies, and try to convince us of their bravery by slaughtering helpless animals from the safety of high-powered boats.
On the show Moonshiners, a diminutive elf-man named "Tickle" achieved fame with his stoned-on-homemade brew smug grin. He's making illegal whiskey un-taxed and cheating the government and obviously has a serious substance abuse problem---and even though the show is fake---he's a real role model for children. The show tries to absolve itself of responsibility by saying in lettering on the screen at the start, "Kids, don't try this at home."
Thus, we can discern from these shows, ignorance and violence, shooting things, despoiling things, shaking your fist, yelling at each other, acting tough, acting crazy, making illegal hooch, and in the case of the Duck Dynasty Show, making judgmental pronouncements about gay people---represent some kind of twisted logic.
Since very few women participate in these shows, the sexual orientation of the bearded perhaps love-starved hillbillies could also be questioned.
Grow a beard for the show and people will think you're wise. It worked for Moses didn't it? These hillbillies on TV would not doubt describe Moses as that "Head Jew."
Americans have always enjoyed freak shows, even 100 years ago at the county fair.
That's the key. That's it. There is a curious psychological quirk---a tie-in link between the TV hillbilly shows of the past, and these new cable shows. The apparent misguided belief that somehow experience in the forest living life as a kind of rebel, primitive, despoiling, survivalist, raping-the-landscape, noble savage, is somehow representative of wisdom and toughness. Rather than what it is, just a dumb guy who has to flee a civilization he apparently can't understand or face.
It's money and ratings that count to the networks, who are owned by Hearst Corp., Disney and the oil companies, conglomerate, corporate colossus syndicates run by ruthless, conscienceless, profit-driven 26-year-old executives from skyscrapers in New York and L.A.
I never said these shows weren't successful. They appeal to the Robinson Crusoe in all of us, or perhaps Robin Hood. But I don't remember Robin Hood stoned on illegal whiskey, clear-cutting forests, or shooting helpless animals for personal profit.
These are freak shows, but we've come full circle. Like in the 60's, it's still a profitable mockery of hillbillies, and like the Vietnam War, history repeats itself.
We've learned nothing.