Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Them's Fightin' Words

Greeting, Pickers and/or Grinners!

In my humble opinion, one of the worst things you can call someone is a "redneck". Which is kind of a pity because the term began innocently enough as a literal descriptor for poor, hard-working farmers who could easily be identified by their sun-charred necks.

Eventually "redneck" began to take on another, darker meaning. Since many of the people described in this manner weren't exactly the most educated, urbane or open-minded folks, the word soon became synonymous with bigotry, ignorance and rigidity. In turn, it's a label that every single Southerner has been unfairly tarred with; a prejudice that's as myopic and intolerant as any other.

Even though I personally don't understand the appeal of NASCAR, buck hunting, Will Hoge, camouflage bed-sheets and half-ton trucks (especially as a Canadian), I do know that just because people like these things it doesn't automatically make them inbred, Bible-thumping racists. As you might expect, folks get a tad prickly when you call them "redneck" just because they have a fetish for watching cars drive around in a semi-circle.

Which is why you've seen a redneck reclamation effort recently. Hell, Sarah Palin nearly got to within one step of the Presidency on the back of her oblivious, corn-pone "charm". Both Jeff Foxworthy and Larry The Cable Guy have inexplicably managed to parlay the concept into nominal, one-note comedy careers. Tyler Farr had a tryin'-too-hard hit this year called "Redneck Crazy". Daryl Dixon is justifiably the most popular character on The Walking Dead. And although Honey Boo-Boo and her clan aren't exactly rocket scientists, they aren't a bunch of intolerant assholes either.

And then there's the high water mark for redneck chic:

Having never watched a single episode of Duck Dynasty, I can only guess as to why it's so ludicrously popular right now. Here then are my theories:
  • "It's got jen-you-wine FAMILY VALUES which is in short supply on the TEE VEE nowadays."
  • "If'n you get the right idea and you work hard you can go from RAGS TO RICHES."
  • "It's great to see real people on the TEE VEE that'r jus' like us and not like them uppity Kardashians."
  • "Even though some members of your family are COLORFUL CHARACTERS that GET ON YER NERVES, you still love 'em anyways."
  • "It's also nice to see someone on the TEE VEE openly express their FAITH IN GOD."
  • "I jus' love it when Phil, Miss Kay, Si, Willie and the rest of 'em get into all them hi-jinx. IT'S JUS' LIKE MY OWN PACK O' NUTS!"
  • "It's nice to see good, honest, God-fearin' people win out for a change instead of all them over-edumacated snobs that Rick Santorum is always talkin' about."  
If you insist on frittering away chunks of your life watching the empty mental calories of reality T.V., you could actually do a lot worse. At face value, Duck Dynasty is just a modern-day, real-life spin on The Beverly Hillbillies: with innocent, well-intentioned, "new money" hayseeds who rock the rich establishment with their own home-spun brand of down-to-earth charm. We root for them for the same reason we cheer on Kathy Bates as the "Unsinkable", and refreshingly sassy, Molly Brown in Titanic.   

But ever since Duck Dynasty became a cultural phenomenon, I've wondered just how legitimately "rednecky" these guys really are. After all, it doesn't matter how back-woodsy these guys claim to be, if they're multi-millionaires, then they have to posses some gar-run-teed, lee-jit-uh-mit smarts. And sure enough, after a cursory bit of research, you can quickly suss out the real reality behind these counterfeit clodhoppers:

Jase Robertson B.C. (Before Camouflage). Is this an errant page from the J. Crew catalog?  

While he attended Louisiana Tech University, Phil had the sort of haircut you could calibrate scientific instruments with.

Willie has a Bachelor's degree in Health and Human Performance with a minor in Business from the University of Louisiana.  Hmm, I wonder if Rick Santorum would call these guys snobs?

Sy was once a clean-cut military man.

But just as I was about to write them all off as a bunch of closeted New England Blue Bloods, Robertson family patriarch Phil recently uttered the following eye-opening quote:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”  

As soon as I read that I was like: "Okay, theeeeere's the pompous, know-it-all certainty disguised as intolerance and hatred that I usually associate with rednecks. Maybe these guys are legit after all."

Confession time: I'm forty-three years old and hopefully part of the last generation to grow up during a climate of open hostility towards homosexuals. When I was a kid, people actually thought that being gay was a lifestyle choice, presumably due to some sort of sexual fetish or psychological deficiency. 

But this never made sense to me. Why would someone consciously pick a sexual orientation that threatened to alienate them from their family and friends? Why would you chose a predilection that would open you up to a lifetime of societal scorn? I know for a fact that there were gay kids in our High School who spent years wrestling with self-esteem issues and depression brought on by open hostility and alienation.    

In the 70's and 80's, broad, stereotypical depictions of gays and lesbians in the media were a constant source of ridicule. Eddie Murphy openly expressed a particularly vile form of homophobia that makes both Delirious and Raw nearly unwatchable today. Gay and lesbian actors and musicians, harshly "outed" by the press, were immediately branded with harsh epithets like "lezzie", "faggot" and "queer" in private circles.

As you might expect, if you spend years growing up immersed in this warped prevailing attitude there's a pretty good chance that you'll buy into it as well. I'm not proud to admit it, but back then when I was a stupid, impressionable kid, I found myself entertaining these idiotic thoughts from time to time. 

But even during my most ignorant and callow days I never, ever openly expressed the sort of vitriol embodied in Phil's quote to anyone. Even when people were being openly hurtful and verbally cruel I just couldn't bring myself to join in. Probably because, as a scrawny, geeky kid I'd been on the receiving end of enough ridicule to know how it felt to be ostracized just for being different. 

In most cases, university becomes the place in which we leave our narrow view of the world behind and expand our minds. Unfortunately, these moronic thoughts were actually re-enforced somewhat during my first few years living in residence. It wasn't until I got out into the workforce and met and befriended some truly fantastic people before my embryonic but omnipresent positive stance on gay rights finally pushed its way to the vanguard. 

During this time I swiftly came to recognize my borderline-redneckian leanings for what they truly were: a symptom of my own ignorance and personal failing. With this firmly established I went out, got myself informed, divorced myself from these infantile thoughts and now I'm a much better person for it. 

So I beseech everyone reading this: please, please stop referring to yourself in such oxymoronical terms as a "proud redneck". Now I'm not saying that you can't sport a mullet, attend Monster Truck rallies and watch CMT, just don't characterize yourself in such limited way.   

To me, a redneck is someone who's given up on trying to make themselves a better person, someone who is 100% convinced that they're right about everything and everyone else is wrong. They cling stubbornly to their own narrow point of view, even when their woefully under-informed opinions are filled with bitterness, insecurity and hate.

So if anyone ever calls you a redneck to your face, you have my permission to punch them right square in the larynx.     
EPIC RANT  This is what happens when one particularly awesome Southerner gets tired of being depicted as a bigoted asshole:

EPIC FUNNY   Comedian Patton Oswalt perfectly sums up my own thoughts on gay marriage right here. Not suitable for work, even though it should be.

HUMANITY FAIL   If you recognize any portion of yourself in the following GQ Magazine interview then you got some work to do on yourself, son. Phil's insistence that poor, segregated blacks were "Godly...and happy" and no-one was "singing the blues" back then is equally baffling, but that's a blog entry for another time.       

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