CMT's Redneck Island drafts three Floridians for an exercise in southern stereotyping
Regular readers of this space know there's no quicker way to get on my bad side than to offer up a TV show filled with demeaning stereotypes -- even when they're featuring groups which have somehow been deemed okay to lampoon for their ethnicity or cultural heritage.
So imagine my delight when I discovered CMT had pulled together a reality show ripoff of Survivor called Redneck Island, featuring 12 people presumably from working class, Southern roots, competing against each other for $100,000.
And one look at the cast list revealed a dispiriting reality: one-quarter of the contestants were from Florida -- the most of any state -- including 27-year-old Lakeland resident Jennifer Kercher. ("I wouldn't say I was redneck," Kercher told the Lakeland Ledger about her time on the show. "I would say southern; Very Southern.")
I've already written a few columns criticizing the current boom in unscripted TV shows which seem to delight in offering up hugely stereotyped, often demeaning visions of southern people.
Everything from American Hogger to Rocket City Rednecks offers a picture of southern culture which seems imported straight from old Hee Haw and Dukes of Hazzard episodes.
"Today's prejudice is often entertaining and light-hearted; goofy caricatures which spark laughter and draw attention -- even as they demean and belittle those at the heart of the depiction.
For proof look no further than the spasm of Southern-centered so-called "Reality TV" shows now filling up space on cable channels across the dial. From Hillbilly Handfishin' to Rocket City Rednecks, American Hoggers to Swamp People and Lizard Lick Towing -- a growing multitude of these unscripted shows feature guys (and a handful of gals) with thick accents, working class roots and seriously oddball behavior."
CMT wears the redneck label with pride, offering shows such as My Big Redneck Vacation and now, Redneck Island.
One problem: The channel's narrow vision of what a southern "redneck" really is.
Despite the fact that there are a lot of Southerners living in big cities, they're not represented here (at least, not judging by the hometowns listed for the contestants).
Despite the fact that 60 percent of black people now live in the South, there's no non-white people on CMT's show.
And the people who do show, are given cans of Miller lite when they reach their base camp, which features two outhouse-shaped booths for recording "confessional" video clips.
At least one blogger criticized how I talked about this subject in the past, assuming that I was equating a Southern accent and crazy job with a harmful stereotype. But I'm criticizing something deeper; series which take literal rocket scientists and film them making a submarine out of a fertilizer tank and beer kegs, or shooting up a rocket fueled with moonshine.
The stereotype there has little to do with Southern accents and everything to do with turning educated Southern guys into hard-drinking, fun-loving goofballs.
The theme song for Redneck Island enthuses about being a "creek swimmin', beer drinkin' Johnny Cash-listenin'" redneck. Host and retired WWE wrestler Steve Austin promises to find who is the reddest among them all.
But I wish these show would work harder to subvert stereotypes, rather than make a quick buck off indulging them.