My latest NPR adventure: Reality TV's addiction to the Southern redneck stereotype
Here's the thing about most stereotypes which endure: They're appealing.
That's not something we're used to considering in this post-Obama, multicultural pop culture universe. Many Americans' picture of a stereotype in action involves something unsavory; an unappealing person leveraging ugly ideas on people who clearly don't deserve the baggage.
But that's not how modern stereotypes work. 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.
When I called it out on NPR Wednesday, I gave it a name: Redneck TV.
The people on these shows often fit lots of handy stereotypes about so-called rednecks: they party hard, they're connected to the land, and they have accents thick enough that Yankees could use subtitles to understand them. Also, they're often involved in a job or way of life so oddly compelling, viewers feel like they have front-row seats to the biggest show on cable every week.
Because we're so used to slinging words like stereotypes in connection to racial minorities, these shows get away with portraying their white stars in ways which might not be tolerated with others. But this also guarantees few people of color appear on the shows, despite the fact that statistics show nearly 60 percent of America's black population now lives in the South.
Look below for my commentary, which tried to excavate some of the more annoying examples of the trend. And feel free to weigh in below: