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is hick the new hip?
the ruralizing of the airwaves
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)
pop culture

Note: For those of you who may not be United States citizens, today, October 10, is a US national holiday. That's right. It's my birthday.

Okay, fine. It's also the day commemorating some guy named Chris sailing three ships across some pond and failing to find the Indies. Or something.

Insert clever segue here.

So I was watching "Nanny 911" (for work) the other day. If you haven't seen this show, basically, they take a family that's so off the deep end that they need to have a nanny (always British, of course) live with them for a week and teach them things like manners, respect, safety, and the importance of treacle.

Anyway, this particular family lived in southwest Ohio. I looked it up. Their town was basically within driving distance of both Indiana and Kentucky, so it's pretty much where the South meets the Midwest. And was it ever.

The father, being interviewed, refers to himself as a "git 'er done" type of guy. Whatever that means. Then he entices the kids to break one of mom's rules: "No livestock in the house."

That's right. No. Livestock. In. The. House.

Now, I don't know under what circumstances you grew up, but I gotta tell you, I'm fairly certain that my parents never even sat down when they were discussing the household rules and said, "So, do we allow livestock in the house or not?"

But it got me thinking -- is there a trend in American culture today away from the cities and back to the heartland (for lack of a better term?) Does our pop culture now reflect a backlash against the cosmopolitanism of "Seinfeld" and "Sex And The City"? By the end of the decade, Jeff Foxworthy could be saying, "You know you're a redneck if you were... born in the US."

American culture has always reflected an interesting dichotomy between business and agriculture. Usually this plays out in the economic theater of operations: stocks vs. livestocks, S&L bailouts vs. farm subsidies, the firm of Duke & Duke vs. orange futures.

However, and I think that the recent post-Clinton elections exemplify this to a tee, that split seems to be permeating all aspects of our culture. The thing that struck me in the Red State/Blue State mapping wasn't that the red states tended to have worse educational systems (okay, that struck me, too), but that if you "zoom in," the blue voting occurred mainly on waterways, and the red voting was land-locked. There seems to be a trend these days toward "simple living" and rural life and away from the "complexities" of the big city and big city problems. It's gay marriage vs. intelligent design.

Where I really see a shift, though, is in popular culture. I think, in large part because our TV, music, and movies have tended to come out of the big cities -- especially New York and Los Angeles -- the people who create it tend to have that urban sensibility. Until recently, anyway. There is a growing trend toward the rural, middle-America ethos, with a fan base built as a grass-roots movement in the South and Midwest.

Look at "Blue Collar Comedy," for example. I know, of course, that there are plenty of "blue collar" jobs, workers, etc. in the cities. Blue collar jobs abound anywhere. But I'm fairly certain that the bridge painter living in Queens doesn't have to decide if his daughter is old enough to learn how to drive a tractor, or whether the dog run is big enough, or, for that matter, whether to allow the kids to bring the rooster into the kitchen.

This cultural split between city-rich and country-poor was exhibited in no better way than by Fox's "The Simple Life." Viewers tuned in to watch Nichole Richie and Paris what's-her-name, two young women who have never held a menial job in their lives inadvertently ruin the livelihoods of good people who probably really didn't deserve it, regardless of the release forms they signed just so they could be on TV.

I imagine that many people in the heartland of America felt more than just a little smug while watching Paris and Nichole try to work at a fast food restaurant, or a dairy, or even at a butcher's or an automotive repair shop (note: I looked those things up). I'm sure they said to themselves, "Those city girls are too stupid for words. How do you not know how to change the oil on a car or, hell, do laundry?" Now, to be fair, many of us in the cities were saying pretty much the same thing. But I'm also pretty sure that most of us have no idea how to stuff a sausage casing, cast nets for fish, or birth a cow.

I admit that I do, in fact, have a distinct leaning toward the "I need to find a gym near my office" bent and away from the "I need to find a good 'coon dog" culture. The latter just isn't in my purview. I feel as though that both helps and hinders me. I will never find myself at a loss when someone asks about the difference between Monet and Manet or wants to know what that funny green vegetable in Chinese dishes is or which fork to use and when. But I do admit that I can't assemble a car engine or clean a gun or spit with accuracy.

I don't mean to insinuate that one is better than the other, or that this return to roots is a bad trend started by stupid people. On the contrary, I find comedians like Jeff Foxworthy and Ron White pretty damned funny. But I'm looking at it as an outsider, laughing because they're funny, but not because I can relate. It's how I imagine the mother of five in Arkansas viewed "Friends" -- that Joey guy is pretty funny, but what the hell is a coffeehouse?

Of course, these are all stereotypes. Just as I know there are plenty of people in my demographic who couldn't tell you the difference between C.P.E. and J.S. Bach or recommend a good shrink, I'm sure there are people in the more rural areas of the country who have no idea how to bake a pie or who would shy away from a debate about whether Shiner is better than Lone Star (it is.)

Another example. Five years ago, the show that every woman in America watched was "Sex and the City." They watched a bunch of early-30-somethings party it up in New York City, wearing their Manolos, drinking their cosmos, reading their Cosmos, dating their businessmen and their actors and models. Now look at TV today. What's the hottest show for women? That's right: "Desperate Housewives." Sure, there's still sex and intrigue and heartbreak and whatnot, but the show's set in suburbia, and it's about families and kids and marriage.

The single girl is dating a plumber. The cheating wife is sleeping with a gardener. And the characters actually have a past, something to ground them -- we've seen their parents, we know their histories. There's a chance that the girls on "SATC" had parents, but from my recollection, they could have just as easily sprung fully formed from the head of Donald Trump. It would explain his hair, anyway.

Now, I don't know if this is a fundamental shift in our way of life or just a temporary trend. These things do tend to be cyclical and relatively short-lived. Maybe it's a reaction to terrorism - shunning the international in favor of the things that are distinctly American; the cultural equivalent of political isolationism. Maybe the public, as it is wont to do, is just following the lead of its Commander in Chief -- a "good ol' boy" himself (if it weren't for all the money and private schooling in the Northeast) -- in embracing the image of the "man of the people/man of the soil" culture wholeheartedly.

That's all speculation, of course. It could just be that this year is "The Beverly Hillbillies" and next year will be "Mary Tyler Moore." If there's one consistent thing about the American public it's our inconsistency. So I say enjoy it while it's here. Watch Country Music Television in the open. Buy a pair of cowboy boots. Keep a wad of chewing tobacco pouched in your cheek, or, if you don't want lip cancer, shredded beef jerky (I'm not kidding about that; jerky chew kicks ass). Point is, I'm guessing that sometime in the relatively near future, being a hick will again carry a bad connotation in Hollywood and among average Americans.

So live it up, Red States. This might could be your time.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

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sandra thompson
10.10.05 @ 8:51a

Those of us who were born in the redneck culture of the deep south and who learned to read everything which came out of New York were ambivalent at the least about our "native culture." The first thing my husband and I did when he graduated from college was move to NYC, as did all our friends. We tried in vain to lose our southern accents and redneck expressions ("I reckon," "over yonder," bless your heart," etc.) but the parties we went to in the city were populated by the same people we'd been partying with in Gainesville, with a few New Yorkers and Londoners and Parisians thrown in for good measure, so we became
"cosmopolitan rednecks." I have a foot in both cultures. I'm a flaming liberal (NYC) who has subscribed to the New Yorker for fifty years (NYC) who lives in the south and says, "I reckon" (redneck) and watches Jeff Foxworthy as often as he's on TV (redneck). I listen to the opera on PBS Sunday afternoons, and I'd still be watching Heehaw if it were still on. The Blue Collar boys have sort of taken up that particular slack. Do I have to choose? Why can't we just all get along? Ya heah? Bless yo' heart.

dan gonzalez
10.10.05 @ 9:59a

You shouldn't have to choose, but the media will anyway. Demographic marketing, and all that. Madison Ave., the pinnacle of metropolitan sophistication, no bigotry there!

Why can't we just all get along? Because certain people, like all these cerbral big-city types for example, think that if you live in a cowtown, you must believe in intelligent design, can't tell the diffence between an impressionist and realist/impressionist eclectic (their dad-gum names are one confusing letter apart!) and certainly couldn't possibly know what the hell a snow pea pod was.

Assholes are assholes, whether they're country fucks or city pukes, and there's plenty of 'em. The only real difference between a big city and a cowtown is that the smaller the town, the fewer the assholes.


lisa r
10.10.05 @ 11:03a

Well, now. I do declare. I have on at least two occasions (once at a professor's house and once in my own) had baby lambs in the house. Why? Little rascals needed bottle feeding and the barn was not a good place for me to sleep. When you're responsible for livestock, you do what you have to do at the time.

That being said, would I have livestock in the house as a pet? No. They don't housebreak easily (well, pigs do, but I'm not going to allow a pig in the house. Unless it is in the form of Lexington barbecue or a nice pork tenderloin, marinated and grilled.) Livestock belongs in the barn--that's what they build those for, you know.

I would venture to say there's really a little redneck in everyone--some are just better at hiding it than others. And for those people who go through life with their noses turned up--you're missing something. There's nothing like watching a brand new foal or calf kick up it's heels for the very first time on a cool, quiet spring morning. Give me that over taxicab horns and bumper-to-bumper gridlock any day of the week.

adam kraemer
10.10.05 @ 12:05p

I wasn't aware those were the options.

It's funny; since I wrote the column (last week), even more examples have popped up. Turns out there's a Trailer Trash: The Musical coming to New York.

caitlin taylor
10.10.05 @ 2:56p

Okay, I think that was one your best pieces yet!

I agree with you that our culture has taken on somewhat of a "redneck" mentality.

And Adam....you want to talk about livestock. Boy, do I have stories for you then. Growing up in Nebraska, I learned a few things about farming. Birthing a calf is not all that its cracked up to be, don't believe the Discovery channel.

If you ever want to come to Nebraska with me, I'll teach you how to drive a tractor and milk a cow, but for now, I'm happy with my subway, my crowds, my ability to hail a taxi at almost any point in the city, my New York.

emily odom
10.10.05 @ 10:04p

A.) I turned 25 on Thursday.

B.) I live in what is classified as a certifiable red neck region.

C.) I went to the Poconos for the first time this weekend.

You people love us.

jill bronner
10.11.05 @ 3:49p

As a new Nashville resident, I have to say that it is not as uncommon as one living in the NYC area would think to have livestock, to drive a pick up truck, or to be missing a tooth or two... that being said, it is also not uncommon for Southerns to have a college education, have manners and be some of the nicest people that I have ever met. Still, I do miss NYC.

Happy Birthday Adam!

lisa r
10.11.05 @ 3:58p

We native Southerners (I still maintain I'm simply temporarily misplaced above the Mason-Dixon line) do clean up pretty well.

In all fairness, I must admit that it amuses me greatly when someone hears my southern accent and expresses incredulity that not only can I string together complete sentences but can do so with words of more than one syllable. Just don't expect me to wear white gloves and a dainty little hat when I serve you a glass of iced tea. I do have my limits--but I promise to provide a slice of lemon instead of a plastic squeeze bottle.

I hate making typos, really I do.


dr. jay gross
10.11.05 @ 5:44p

You ain't been there, 'til you been there! I was born and raised in New Jersey. I chose to leave that life behind and enrolled in Transylvania University/University of Kentucky for an undergraduate degree.

I awoke in a place that 'almost spoke English'. "Come back soon ya all, heah." (I thought that I had done something wrong.) I tried reading lips to try and understand what was being said....months would go by.

Yankees are not dumb, so I thought. Culture, literacy, epicurian sense, worldliness all were part of my cosmopolitan education. Right? A short story will shoot that in the ass -

I arrived in Lexington, KY, a few days before freshman classes were to begin. After several puddle-jumper flights I was tired and hungry. Lexington, at that time, was a one horse town. There was a diner not far from the dorm where I had parked my suitcase. The daily menu was written on a chalk board above the grill. I immediately recognized a familiar offering, "Sloppy Joe". I ordered, with a coke (in a bottle of course). Very shortly the platter arrived. I stared at it. A hamburger bun lay there, open with a generous blob of what looked like spaghetti sauce with too much meat. I HADN'T ORDERED THIS. "Waitress!" "This isn't what I ordered." "Shu you did.....that's ouah best seller. Everyone love ouah Sloppy Joes." she beamed. "But this isn't a Sloppy Joe"...."A Sloppy Joe is a multi-level sandwich with corned beef, coleslaw....." "Now wait a minute son, that is NOT anything'like I've ever heard of. If you don't like it I takes it back." I was tongue tied - just didn't know what to say.

I quickly learned that I was in a very different 'country' or part of the one in which I was born. Kentucky isn't all that far from New Jersey, but it WAS a world away from the Yankee culture of the 60's.

I think what you've touched on, Adam, is the contemporary mixing of cultures with the homogenizing of our population, the education provided by the media, and extensive travel. There is still an ethnic separation, but that is disappearing. Everyone wants to hang on to their roots.....but we can never go back. Someday all of the differences will be blended and the 'Red Neck' and the 'Yankee' will just be a historical topic read about as the 'good ole days of the 21st Century'.


lisa r
10.11.05 @ 8:07p

I can sympathize, Jay. I never heard anyone finish a sentence with "awhile" until I moved to Pennsylvania. A waitress (in a Cracker Barrel of all places) asked me if I wanted a drink awhile. I stared at her a second, and very nearly gave in to the impulse to say "No, I'd rather have it as soon as possible if you don't mind," but I bit my tongue.

I've spent three years here trying to teach Pennsylvanians that "y'all" sounds better than "youse guys". It's a lost cause.

adam kraemer
10.11.05 @ 8:08p

Either way, both sound better than "yins."

dan gonzalez
10.12.05 @ 12:33a

I'm virtually from PA now, and I say screw 'y'all'. That's for people who live south of exit 1 on 81, Red.

One thing that strikes me as funny is what Jay touched upon, the 'education' provided by the media. I live in fly-over country, and no one I know who lives out here ever thought about red states or blue states or anything like that. Total media classification, and now this perception that suddenly hicks are making a big media thrust. As if there was no Andy Griffith show, or Hee Haw, or Dukes of Hazzard, or B.J. and the Bear, or Waltons, etc., etc., etc.

There's always been rednecks, and there always will be. Heck, every immigrant group that comes here, works hard and 'Gits-r-done' are pretty red when you think about it.

lisa r
10.12.05 @ 10:16a

I'm virtually from PA now, and I say screw 'y'all'. That's for people who live south of exit 1 on 81, Red.

Which could be why I'm really hoping to move back south of the Mason-Dixon line, and the sooner the better. All joking about "y'all" aside, I've never felt at home in this state, blood ties not withstanding. I've been here for 3 years, and can count on one hand the friends I've made. I'm an outgoing person, but I've never lived anywhere that I've been made to feel more like an unwanted outsider. If you have an accent of any sort around here, they're happy to take your money but beyond that the prevailing attitude is "don't let the door hit you on the way out of the state."

adam kraemer
10.12.05 @ 11:21a

Where on earth in PA are you?

dan gonzalez
10.12.05 @ 2:02p

Me? Usually at Jim's Tavern.

tim lockwood
10.13.05 @ 10:23a

"A Sloppy Joe is a multi-level sandwich with corned beef, coleslaw....."

Wow. I don't think that's a redneck/cosmo dichotomy. Until the very moment I read this, I had never heard of a sloppy joe that had corned beef and cole slaw, and I've lived north and south and in-between, rural and urban and suburban. You learn something new every day.

What you described truly sounds tasty and interesting, but if I'm expecting a Sloppy Joe in a diner, they better serve me that big blob of ground beef soaked in reddish-brown sauce on a burger bun; otherwise I will be sorely disappointed.

Your version of a sloppy joe sounds a lot more like a northeast regional thing. Sort of like what sweet tea is to the American southeast; you can order it in a very cosmopolitan city like Atlanta or a small little burg like Paris, TN, and you will get the same thing - tea that has had the sugar brewed right in, served over ice, with a lemon wedge if you're dining fancy at the Waffle House. Order it in Fort Wayne, Indiana or El Paso, Texas, though, and the waitress is likely to bring you some heathen iced tea that hasn't been within ten feet of a sugar bowl in its short and ugly little life; then she'll tell you there are Sweet 'n' Low and Equal packets right there on the table. Yecch, say my taste buds, although there are folks out there who actually prefer their tea that way.

Vive la difference, I guess, which I suppose was my original point. Y'all.

russ carr
10.13.05 @ 10:57a

There's a good deli not far from the office here that serves a "Sloppy Louie" that's akin to what Jay's describing: a triple-decker with corned beef, turkey, pastrami, roast beef, cole slaw and dressing on rye. It's messy and delicious. But I would never confuse it for a "Sloppy Joe." I mean, there's a reason why, when you go to the grocery store and pick up a can of Manwich, it's got "Sloppy Joe Sauce" written on it, and an unambiguous photo of the intended sandwich right on the label.

You Jersey folk are freaks, no two ways about it.

russ carr
10.13.05 @ 11:09a

And Lisa, I can completely relate to the "not fitting in" mentality. As it stands, I've lived in the St. Louis metro area longer than anywhere in my life, about 14 years. I still don't feel like it's "home." I want to be within a two-hour drive of the Blue Ridge, the Smokies and the Atlantic. I want cole slaw to be the default side dish, and breakfast to come with biscuits and grits.

Now I'm no fan of most "Southern" humor, as it plays on stereotypes that are too often demeaning. I am neither dimwitted nor inbred. I have never kept a vehicle up on blocks in the yard, had intimate relations with livestock or used a match to check the level of gas in the tank. But for that matter, I'm no fan of "Northern" humor either. Oh, wait... Yankees don't have a sense of humor!

brian anderson
10.13.05 @ 11:38a

"Yinz" is really "y'uns," for "you ones": it's specific to western PA and fulfills the same grammatical area as "y'all" (without the problems that some people use "y'all" for one person and claim "all y'all" is plural). My grandmother pronounced "y'uns" in a rather charming way that I can't accurately represent in text, but the vowel was closer to a U than an I. Yinz is the normal pronunciation in Picksburgh itself, where those with the strong local accent are sometimes known as yinzers.

I am most certainly from a rural area, but I had a conversation with a North Carolinian once who claimed that northerners could be hicks, but never rednecks.

tracey kelley
10.13.05 @ 4:39p

I do not think "rural" or "Southern" automatically indicates redneck qualities. Otherwise, rich people would not have vacation homes in the country or live in Atlanta.

What you see on television is most certainly the product of New York and L.A. minds and their misguided perceptions of rural life. They're going for the exaggeration factor, because that's what draws the laughs.

Just because someone lives in the city doesn't mean they are

1) better educated
2) have more job opportunities
3) strangers to situations that, to some, seem unseemly or undignified.

Having just visited Philadelphia for the first time, for example (but not the largest city I've been to in the world, by far), there were a lot of things about the city and its people that I liked, but a considerable amount that I didn't like.

Rural people may trash up the yard around their trailer, but many big city dwellers clutter their streets, buildings and parks with everything from broken bottles to hypo needles. For every truck driver or farmer, there is a newsstand worker in a 3x6 foot box on the corner selling gum, cigs and lotto tickets and a guy spraying that same gum off the sidewalk. People in the country will often wave at you as you drive by, whether they know you or not. I can't even begin to count how many times someone in Philly stepped on my toes, poked me with an umbrella or slammed my shoulder in a rush to get ahead of me.

And don't get me started on driving.

I've lived in the big city, I've lived on a farm. Right now, I live in a fairly reasonable metro area that, while not easily walkable, still allows me to get home from work in about 15 minutes and get to full-blown country in 15 minutes. it has art, concerts, cultural areas interesting shopping and fine local restaurants. I like having a little of both worlds outside my door -

- because I can always travel elsewhere if I need to amp things up a bit. But tone it down in the city? Hardly.

I will always be a staunch supporter of Midwestern people and their general sensibilities, manners, common sense and education. If someone hasn't lived here, then they have no idea what I'm talking about or what it's really like in the "flyover" states. "Hick" describes about 20 percent of the total population - but you'd never know that by watching TV.

jael mchenry
10.13.05 @ 5:03p

This goes in a completely different direction from what Tracey was just talking about, but I don't think that this midwest-ward media mentality is real. I don't think Hollywood is paying more attention to non-LA/NY environments than it used to. Even NBC sitcoms, arguably the most cookie-cutter series of media releases in the past 15 years, were set in Boston and Chicago and Atlanta and Miami and whathaveyou. "The Simple Life" is no more or less than "Green Acres" or "The Beverly Hillbillies," shows from the distant past. "Desperate Housewives" isn't a new version of "Sex and the City," it's a new version of "Designing Women."

A lot of shows are set in NY or LA because a lot of them are filmed in NY or LA, and it's a pain in the ass to either a) film at Niagara Falls or b) pretend you're filming at Niagara Falls if you're not. That's why the imbalance exists, and it's constant. Not new. And not changing.

My $.02.

adam kraemer
10.17.05 @ 5:03p

That doesn't mean that there aren't trend patterns.

And maybe I misspoke myself. Regardless of the city in which an NBC show ostensibly takes place, it's still an urban environment.

Oh, and "Wonderfalls" (2004) took place at Niagra Falls.

jael mchenry
10.17.05 @ 5:43p

And it was filmed on the Canada side of the river because it's cheaper there. And promptly cancelled after only four episodes were shown. That's actually what I had in mind when I used N.F. as the example.

adam kraemer
10.17.05 @ 6:01p

Well, it was cancelled after 4 episodes because it was on Fox. They'd actually already filmed another 9, from what I've read.


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