[27 September 2004]
I come from a working class, rural background in which my family was hit or miss when it came to matters of taste. My father loved Richard Pryor (good taste) nearly as much he loved the ceramic frog splayed on its back on our living room coffee table with a huge erection hidden under a strategically placed straw hat (bad, bad taste). Our politics were fairly divided between the old guard union Democrats and the new breed of Republicans shaped by the uniform political stridency piped in from right-wing AM radio, catering to an increasingly poor population. Surely the reason my brother couldn’t hold down a job had something to do with the black people we never saw or some caricature of the feminist as an unshaved devourer of the penis.
When I watched Blue Collar TV, I couldn’t help but think of how homogenized images of “working class” folks have become. Now, “blue collar” means white, Southern, alcoholic redneck. Blue Collar TV is a comic blight, a bastion of jokes well beyond their expiration date culled from e-mail forwards sent by the least funny of your coworkers. One typical skit involves a mulleted oaf asking his wife for the number to 9-1-1. She tells him to call information. He does. Somewhere the writers of Hee Haw sit, feeling literary.
Lest you’re fooled, Blue Collar TV is not “laughing at” those unaffectionately known as “white trash.” Rather, it’s a “laughing with” love letter written in BBQ sauce, to people who listen to Toby Keith and treat their hunting dogs with more reverence than their women. Although you’re clearly supposed to think the extremity of the skit characters is laughable, they’re cornpone savants, idiots whose essential values of meat eating, anti-intellectualism, disdain for aesthetics, and fascist patriotism are the values the viewers are all supposed to share, only with a bit more refinement. These dumb-asses are simply truth-tellers who see through the fancy learning and the legalese to reveal a fantasy of the unreconstructed man, untainted by political correctness.
It was hard to watch Blue Collar TV without wanting to punish the studio audience for laughing at this recycled truck-stop graffiti. During one courtroom sketch, the knuckle-dragging plaintiffs moon the judge, burp their answers to questions, and decide to offend the judge further so they can spend the weekend in jail, since their cable is out at home. You can see why I started to think it might be funnier if only I dug around in my nose for food while I watched.
Structurally, the show follows Saturday Night Live: an opening monologue followed by skits and a closer, with start and finish helmed by Foxworthy. In his opening monologue, Foxworthy earnestly refers to some passage from the Bible, then several sentences later, makes a stripper joke. This division within “redneck” culture is longstanding. Where I grew up, the people who shot guns, drank until their brains hemorrhaged, and had porn magazines strewn about their trailers were not the same people who went to church every Sunday. But Foxworthy’s show most closely resembles the logic of Republican voter alignments where fundamentalist Christians, blue collar workers, and middle management white males are gathered together in a mutual admiration society, united by the people they hate.
Foxworthy must notice the tension between quoting the Bible and all of the boys’ nights out humor he peddles. That affection for cheap decadence, disdain for Bible thumpers, and sexual vulgarity are some of the reasons I love country people the most. But Foxworthy never delves into the tensions of class and God, differences that might provide the kind of head-and-heart comedy that would be worth watching. This is strictly a buffet of the lowest common denominator, the kind of comedy show that would look professional at your local county fair next to the 4-H winners. Foxworthy & Co.‘s comedy isn’t exploratory and it’s only observational over a very short distance. If they have to stretch further than the remote for a joke, it ain’t happening.
Foxworthy is worse than an underachieving talent. He’s selling self-esteem as if anyone with half a brain (a delimiting factor in their marketing niche) would consider it a shortcoming. But that’s part and parcel of the Limbaugh revolution, the belief that prejudice and ignorance are states of experiential wisdom, opinions untainted by that evil Ivory Tower that looms in the distance like Mordor.
I kept thinking that my father, an auto plant worker, would smack each and every one of us kids if he thought we were glorifying ignorance or denigrating people with education. But in Blue Collar TV‘s estimation, literature and college degrees are signs of effete snobbery, the marker of some New York faggot in a Lexus. That’s because the writers’ conception of masculinity is built on fear and insecurity, where the only good woman is the one digging your beer kozy out of the couch cushions and every man wearing a button-down that’s not flannel is probably queer or European and what’s the difference there?
I hope working class people don’t fall for this cheap shot. Foxworthy claims that his former Redneck Comedy Tour played just as well in Washington State as it did in Alabama, that country folks is country folks wherever he darkens the door of the local Holiday Inn Express. Maybe. I remember people this stupid from my hometown. But at least we had the decency to find it more embarrassing than enlightening. I’ve still got my father’s Richard Pryor records if anyone’s interested.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/blue-collar-tv/