5 Existential Dilemmas Behind Every Redneck Reality Show
There are many reality show genres, and they all bring their own special brand of insanity. The "rich and out of touch" genre presents the lives of young models who would eat the poor if someone told them that it would strengthen their Instagram brand. The "trapped and making out in a house" genre shows us that you shouldn't greet someone unless you're ready to offer them mouth herpes. And the "buff people competing" genre is a wonderful look into the joys of growth hormones.
But the most insane of these is the "rednecks doing stuff" genre. Shows like Party Down South, Southern Charm, Redneck Island, and Duck Dynasty paint the South as a free-for-all where the drinking of light beer is constantly and violently accompanied by nuggets of front-porch wisdom. Their insanity deserves to be documented, so that our descendants can look back on us and figure out exactly how we failed them.
They Have No Clue What Genre They Want To Be
Redneck reality shows are not bound by the confines of the other genres I just listed. It would seem out of place in The Real World if a character suddenly announced that they could create copious homemade explosives. The Bachelor would probably cut out the scene in which a contestant went on a minute-long rant about how goddamn great South Carolina is. But no one told the redneck reality shows about any of these things. And if someone did, they were promptly pushed out of the back of a moving truck.
In the same way that "rednecks" are a loosely defined group of people who can range from "person with a country accent" to "angered swamp man with a hatred of teeth and a love of machetes," depending on who you ask, the redneck reality show is a haphazard collection of themes and events all slapped together under the "REDNECK" banner. Each episode appears to cycle through scenes like they're being edited based on the movement of some kind of Southeast U.S. Stereotype roulette wheel. Normal reality shows are usually held together by the basic premise of "What will happen to these strangers when you put them in this MTV terrarium?" But redneck reality shows barely ever get that far. They survive on the idea that rednecks doing stuff is inherently worth watching because they're rednecks and, well ... they're rednecks.
"I demand nine seasons of this. Also, that bucket is filled with whiskey."
Thus, instead of having one succinct story, you get a thousand of them all crammed together. Drinking montages are followed by incomprehensible extreme sports montages, and these are succeeded by more drinking montages which feature making out as a treat for all the viewers who made it that far. One of the most famous shows of the genre, Party Down South, usually showed the Sun rising up and going down to signify the passage of time, but if you put a gun to my head and asked me to tell you how long something lasted in that show, I would weep Coors tears until you put me out of my misery.
He may still be funneling that beer. We will never truly know.
The redneck reality show is a pacing nightmare, because unless you get something specifically challenge-based, like the "Stone Cold" Steve Austin-hosted Redneck Island, it's just a blur of activities that are "redneck" because no one can quit shouting that they're redneck at you. And when I say "no one can quit," I mean it with every fiber of stupid being ...
It All Has To Tie Back Into Redneckisms (Which Aren't Followed)
We usually hold "redneck" stuff to be self-evident. That's because we've been constantly told that the core tenet of being a redneck is just doing what you like to do and not being bothered when other people don't understand it. Or you'd think it was that until you had it yelled at you by every person and T-shirt on the shows, and by all of the people in media that have ever used "redneck" as a descriptor instead of forming an interesting personality. Redneck reality shows love to preach this, among other "Praise God and pass the ammunition" colloquialisms. And the best part about these proclamations is that they're usually refuted within the next two minutes.
Jersey Shore always had cast members who would explain their actions with the rationale of "That's how we do it in JERSEY," sort of like how I yell "That's how we do it in GAMESTOP!" whenever I get caught selling moonshine out of a backpack to eighth-graders. But even at its that's-how-we-do-it-in-Jerseyist, the mentality was never pushed upon viewers as both a way of life and a righteous perch as hard as "The Southern way is the right way!" is pushed in shows like Gainesville or Buckwild. They excel at being guilty pleasure entertainment, but they're the worst Sunday School teachers in the world.
"It is us, your moral compasses."
Take a look at something like Southern Charm, which is set in Charleston, South Carolina. While it differentiates itself on the surface from other redneck shows by adding a few more sleeves, it still features the drinking mishaps and the incessant "We do it different down here" shit that lands it firmly in the genre. For every bit of "We are Southern gentlemen and we work hard to be where we are!" you get a nice helping of people ruining their own lives, because that kind of wisdom is only dished out when it serves them best.
"Here's to sleeping with everything."
If a male character in the aforementioned Gainesville told another male character that he wasn't going to try to hook up with the second character's ex out of respect for some redneck anti-boner bro law, that ex was gonna be pantsless before the next commercial break. Big Tips Texas sang the gospel of the importance of redneck sisterhood in between slaps, and Party Down South loved to set up its dominoes in a pattern of "We're from the South. We just like to relax and have fun!" and then knock them all over with clumsy barroom altercations. And this reaction was primarily fueled by alcohol, because if redneck reality shows have given us any real information, it's that ...
It's Really Hard To Be Good At Drinking
There's a huge difference between being able to drink a lot and being able to drink a lot with grace. I know this because I'm in the first category. I can drink enough that, when someone offered up the idea of shooting a high-powered rifle at my bachelor party last weekend, it sounded like the most revolutionary idea ever to me. However, I am not good enough at drinking to not have this giant gash above my right eye from where the rifle scope kicked back at me, leaving me bleeding all over the package of mini bottles that I'd had for lunch.
I mentioned before that drinking scenes are a huge part of redneck reality shows, and they're used the way the Rocky series uses training montages. The story is going to end with a victory, and in the case of the redneck reality show, that victory is the triumph of the human shout over the human brain. But before all the "training" can take place, there must be a showcase of an affirmation of willpower. In the Rocky movies, this occurs when someone else tells Rocky that he needs to buckle down and win. In the redneck reality show, this occurs with a declaration that drinking will be done soon, and that it will be done with gusto, and that it will be great. "Whoo!" or "Let's get it goin'!" and so on.
A pleasant summer evening.
But it's rarely great. I've written about the drinking standard that some rednecks hold themselves to, and there's nothing wrong with that. Personally, being able to walk properly after I ingest my apartment's supply of bourbon makes me feel like a Godzilla. But since these shows double down on enforcing the idea that rednecks treat any potential prospect of drinking like its Christmas morning, it quickly takes a dark turn when you watch more than one episode. What the producers intended as a wish fulfillment fantasy (What if YOU could lack all responsibility and add Jagermeister to the bottom of the food pyramid?) becomes a sad look at people being crushed by their own optimism. Maybe this drinking excursion will be fun? Maybe this one won't end with another screaming match between all of the people featured in the opening credits?
This is where optimism gets you.
Oddly enough, the show that was most lambasted for being a poor representation of Southern culture, Party Down South, often ends up being a little redemptive. Drunk people taking care of drunker people might be the most beautiful example of humanity that any of these shows have to offer. At least once during every episode of PDS, a stumbling person helps to carry a formerly stumbling, now prone person inside with the promise of making them food so that the next day doesn't begin with the feeling that their brain is trying to excavate its way out of their head. Most of these shows cap off drinking with a variation of "I fucked ya' girl! And I'm not sorry!" But PDS takes the time to feature a person kneeling Christ-like beside another, saying, "You gotta eat the burger. You'll feel better if you eat the burger."
They're like little hangover dreamcatchers.
They usually go back to hating each other by the end of the hour, though. And that hate is set to a questionable melody ...
The Music Selections Are The Worst In History
The music that is usually chosen for reality shows is either whatever stock piece that they could find to set the mood, or some pop/electronic thing that puts lyrics like "I wanna. Have. FUN!" over a never-ending loop of beep-boop beep-boop-beep-boop WAMP-WAMP. The redneck reality show is in a weird spot, because on the one hand, it's got to appeal to all of the people who watch those other shows, but it's also ultimately indebted to the marketing idea of "We're rednecks, and we do not follow the rules of your puny Yankee universe." Thus, we end up with this:
Anything is possible if you believe in yourself.
That's the opening theme to Party Down South, and after listening to it for five straight seasons, I will admit that I sort of like it. I'm sorry. I know that someone yells "SMASH. DRUNK." before the first 10 seconds of the song are over, which I'd normally consider to be the singer asking for a lyrical mulligan, but it's grown on me. That doesn't change the fact that the opening features the cast saying things like "We're gonna show you what being from the South is about." If that's true, then you are off to a start that negates every institution of the South that pop culture (and some of real life) has previously adhered to.
It's the biggest indication that no, redneck reality shows are not really about actual rednecks doing anything that resembles what they'd normally do. They're about picking and choosing the most outlandish aspects of "redneck" life and packaging them in a way that's digestible for people who really like their TVs to be full of emotional 20-somethings.
What about country music? Isn't that a fairly big part of the South? It is in literally every other form of media that portrays the South in some way. But unless your song can fit over a scene of someone vomiting in the streets of Georgia, you can stay the fuck out of these shows, George Strait. We're gonna stick with something that sounds like a club remix of the Justified theme song.
They're slowly getting alcoholic hepatitis. DROP THE BASS.
So it's not really a musical choice in the first place so much as it's a messy attempt to cover everyone who might have a passing interest in reality shows in general. It's like the little bucket icon in Microsoft Paint that you click when you give up on putting excess effort into your doodle. That's the only way to describe the thought process of putting this in your TV show. "It doesn't matter if people actually like it, because someone might like it."
The Form Of Celebrity They Achieve Is Really Weird
Another country/rap song? Well, I didn't plan to add one, but since you insist ...
This one is on you.
Sorry. I lied. Honestly, I added that last video because not only did it fit the Frankenstein'd song genre choices that are made in these shows, but it also features one of the cast members of PSD in the background, dancing and contributing 18 words -- 16.67 percent of which are "booty." And while most of the casts of these shows haven't managed to get a "featuring" credit in a rap song about trucks and butts, a lot of them have achieved this type of celebrity that is innocent, quaint, and weird, all in the same measure.
They're guests at events, club shows, and festivals. Which isn't a kind of fame that most people consider as an option, because when people who are recognized from some kind of medium try to branch out, they usually bring with them an underwhelming skill. When an actor wants to be a musician, you have to prepare yourself for an album of freshman-year guitar and sophomore-year poetry. The casts of redneck reality shows aren't trying to conquer other avenues. The allure of them showing up is that they might do what they did on the show. You're going to the event so that you can drink next to them as they drink. That's like going hiking with Elijah Wood and hoping that he loses a finger on the trip.
And then we can all go hang out at the house that he undoubtedly still lives in.
Admittedly, it's not a terrible role to be in. But the backlash against these shows is just as odd as the celebrity that they bring. Facebook is littered with the "They're not real rednecks" argument, because apparently while the first commandment of redneck ideals is to be chill and kind and do what you want, the second commandment is to get passionately angry about everything that doesn't meet your expectations. Sure, the shows are grating with their "Look at how crazy everyone who lives below Maryland is!" concept, but you can't deliver a sermon on the wonderful acceptance and simplicity that comes with being a redneck, only to crap in the ears of every "redneck" that isn't you.
"These TV people aren't replicating my specific earthly experience. WTF?"
They're reality shows, and they follow the same dumb rules as other reality shows. All you can do is hope that people in other parts of the country aren't dumb enough to think "So that's Mississippi, huh? Two-liter bottle bombs and extramarital affairs." And a majority of them get cancelled before anyone knows they exist anyway, meaning that you don't have to fear the potential history lesson of "And then in 2011, the whole South ordered another round of shots, forever and ever. Amen."
Daniel has a blog. Reading it is nice.
If there is one thing Daniel Dockery knows it's rednecks. Get more redneck wisdom in 6 Unshakable Beliefs You Develop Growing Up a Redneck, and check out 'Redneck Stonehenge' in The 5 Most Incredible Things Ever Done Purely Out of Spite.
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