While Conservatives bemoan the crudeness of popular culture, there are 12 million viewers tuning in to watch the Season Premiere of the comparatively-positive White Trash role model “Duck Dynasty”. The largest audience ever for a reality show on cable. They’re even releasing a Holiday record “Duck the Halls”. Now those rich rednecks know how to market themselves.
As reality’s first family, the Kardashians, have seen their ratings steadily decline over the past several years, shows like “Pawn Stars,” “American Restoration” and “Duck Dynasty” have risen to dominate basic cable.
Last year, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” which features a cornucopia of social ills, was TLC’s highest-rated show, attracting more cable viewers than the Republican National Convention, which had the misfortune to share the time slot with the charmers from Georgia. The show’s matriarch, June Shannon, has four daughters by four men, one of whose names she can’t recall.
Students of Arnold Toynbee, the English historian, will recognize what is going on here. In a chapter of his “A Study of History” entitled “Schism in the Soul,” Toynbee argued that it is a sign that a society is disintegrating when it takes its cues for manners and customs from the underclass. He describes such societies as being “truant” to their own values.
Toynbee is the guide to what we see all around us today.
We modern philistines tell ourselves that rejecting the customs and conventions of a stuffy, old elite will release creativity and bring about a renaissance. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to Toynbee, self-expression replaces creativity when disintegrating societies look downward.
Aspiration is replaced by complacency. Shame vanishes. Any criticism becomes “haters gonna hate,” or the White Trash motto: “It don’t make no difference.”
White Trash signifiers have changed of course — the foreclosed McMansion with the mosquito-infested swimming pool has replaced the rusting tractor permanently bivouacked on cement blocks in the front yard. But it’s the same general idea.
Obesity, the product of a lack of discipline, sloppy dressing, loud and intimate cellphone chats broadcast to a captive audience and foul language nonchalantly uttered in the ATM line are all forms of this “self-expression.”
Pre-White Trash, physical intimacy was reserved to private places. Now it’s reserved for the subway. You no longer have to live in a one-room shack to learn the facts of life early. Just walk down the toy aisle at Toys “R” Us for a sexpot Bratz Doll.
Children who see daytime television, broadcast in public areas, are inevitably treated to Jerry Springer reruns. How do you explain “Honey, I’m a Ho,” or “Transsexuals Attack” to a tot? Oh, wait, the tot explains it to you.
Tattoos are form of self-expression that have moved from gangs and prisons to the mainstream.