Over at the National Review, Rod Dreher writes an essay on upcoming CBS docu-sitcom "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" that deserves at least two thumbs down. So go read Tim Cavanaugh's first, at Reason.com. And then return here for mine.
Back? OK. First, there's Dreher presumption that the show will in fact feature poor white Southerners. As it turns out, however, the Washington Post article that he references says nothing about any racial preferences: it simply states that CBS "has a crew of casting agents combing 'mountainous, rural areas' in Arkansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky in search of a 'multi-generational family.'"
Now, there may not be many non-white families in those areas, but there's gotta be at least one or two, right? And while CBS will undoubtedly choose a white one, because TV shows depicting non-white families barely even survive in the niche worlds UPN and the WB, shouldn't we at least pretend that a non-white family has a shot at becoming the next Osbournes? Otherwise Jesse Jackson, whom Dreher suggests would raise hell if CBS were searching Compton or the Bronx for their potential Clampetts, might really get mad.
In any case, it's hard to see why this is going to be such a bad deal for whichever lucky family CBS chooses. After all, poor Southern whites (along with others of varying hue and economic strata) exuberantly flaunt their rural charms on The Jerry Springer Show every day of the week, and how much are they getting out of the deal, other than a night or two in a cheap Chicago hotel?
In the end, what this really is is a case of affirmative action -- a family of authentic hicks is being handed the sort of prime-time gig that Barry Williams, the hardest-working has-been in showbiz, would eat a plate of poisonous squirrel brains for, not because they're talented entertainers or even phenomenol fellators, but simply because they're poor, rural, and white.
Thus, it might make sense for Dreher to argue that the "hapless rubes" who will appear on the show don't deserve such benevolence, because TV shows should be awarded based on merit and how hot you are, not geographical/economic happenstance and race. While Dreher goes to great pains (or maybe it's just painful to readers) to establish the fact that he grew up in a hardscrabble middle-class trailer somewhere off of Highway 61, it's pretty clear that he's more interested in exploiting an opportunity to cry racism than he is in keeping Appalachia's delicate rustics safe from the insensitive jibes of the snobby denizens of Beverly Hills. But while the "poor nobodies from the hills of West Virginia" may be almost as "dumb" as Dreher suggest that they are, my guess is they won't be quite so dumb as to pass up an opportunity like this. After all, that's the kind of dumbness only the rich and privileged can aspire to.
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