Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 2002/ 26 Elul, 5762
The Beverly Hillbillies just got dumber
Hollywood has confirmed yet again what folks in my neck of the woods have long known: In the land of "hate" crimes, affirmative action, diversity and multiculturalism, it's still OK to revile Southerners.
This truth is underscored by CBS' imminent revival of the '60s ditzcom The Beverly Hillbillies, except this time the show will feature real bubbas, not actors, in the spirit of reality TV.
Even as we scratch our heads in wonderment (yes, television can get worse), casting directors are scouring the back roads of Arkansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky in search of the perfect multigenerational numbskull family, which will be transported to a real Beverly Hills mansion for a year of public ridicule.
The idea -- brilliant as only people far removed from real life can conceive it -- is to place unsophisticated people in a posh environment and watch the struggle. White trash at the Riviera. What a hoot. Family members will be given money like they've never seen, luxuries they've only imagined, and the kind of attention only celebrities have grown accustomed to.
The rest of us high-tech sophisticates, presumably, will guffaw and slap our thighs as we observe these pathetic people making fools of themselves, like Romans watching enslaved gladiators who also happen to be amputees.
No one enjoys lampooning stupidity more than I. But there's a difference between informed stupidity, as in "we know better," and ignorance born of disadvantage or poverty. Southerners who are racists deserve our scorn, as do Northerners and Midwesterners and New Englanders who are also racists.
But rural Southerners who happen to have a certain accent -- and exactly who decided that a Boston cab driver's is better? -- who happen not to have grown up with what I consider luxuries (books, music, libraries) are not products of informed stupidity. Some, like the original Beverly Hillbillies portrayed by actors, are "ignorant," at least according to our cultural standards, by circumstance rather than by volition.
And just possibly as a matter of definition only. Ignorance comes in many forms, and Hollywood's is both smugly informed and viscerally repellent.
Not to be too defensive of my fellow Carolinians, but I've met just as many smart people on the blue highways of Appalachia and the Piedmont as I have in the communications chambers of some of Fortune's anointed 500. The main difference between the two groups is diction and syntax. And, in the case of so-called hillbillies, a higher regard for truth.
One truth that can't be ignored is that we enlightened 21st century Americans would never permit such blatant denigration of any other group. Let your mind wander around the ghettos of minorities or recent immigrants and imagine the swell time that could be had by all. Nope, we don't do that in this country because it isn't fair. And what isn't fair is never funny.
Actors get paid lots of money to pretend to be stupid, and we reward them accordingly. There isn't enough money to pay real people to be ridiculed and scorned for being less than we luckier few think they should be.
Given which, I've got a much better idea for a TV series. Let's take some Hollywood directors, producers and actors, give them a backpack and a tarp, and set them loose on the Appalachian Trail somewhere around, oh, James Dickey's Chatooga River. That could be amusing.
Unfortunately, they're much more likely to bump into a bunch of middle-aged bankers on an Outward Bound weekend for executives than they are a pack of renegade rednecks with a fondness for making grown men squeal. Thanks in large part to television, we've become a nature-imitating-art world. Authentic rubes are getting harder and harder to find.
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