Hoo doggie, how ’bout them Southern tee-vee stereotypes?
The cable reality show landscape is crawlin’ with them these days, with epithets like ‘‘hillbilly’’ and ‘‘redneck’’ prominently displayed right in the titles.
In dozens of shows — ranging from ‘‘Hillbilly Handfishin’ ’’ and ‘‘Swamp People’’ to ‘‘Bayou Billionaires,’’ ‘‘Rocket City Rednecks,’’ and ‘‘American Hoggers’’ — sons (and daughters) of the South make moonshine, chase wild hogs, stuff dead pets, carve duck calls, wrestle alligators, catch catfish with their bare hands, mess around in swamps, and generally hoot and holler.
While these shows often play it for laughs by highlighting the antics of their rural stars, TV executives say the shows also appeal to viewers who want to see regular folks on television.
‘‘We haven’t received any negative response at all,’’ says Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet, home to the popular ‘‘Hillbilly Handfishin’.’’ ‘‘These shows are not painting people in a derogatory way, because they’re affectionate. I think some people see themselves in the show, but for others it’s reflective of an iconic way of life.’’
The shows are popular because of ‘‘the desire to connect back to something that’s a little more raw and a little bit more real,’’ Kaplan says.
Dolores Gavin, senior vice president of development and production for Discovery Channel, who produced such hits as ‘‘Moonshiners,’’ ‘‘Ax Men,’’ and ‘‘Sons of Guns’’ for the network, says they come out of the ‘‘voracious appetite’’ of elusive male audiences who crave ‘‘people who are salt of the earth, and work with their hands, and say what they mean and mean what they say.’’
Still, Ted Ownby, director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, says ‘‘people of the South get frustrated at the narrow range of representations.’’
Ownby says it’s easier for TV producers to ‘‘build on preexisting stereotypes, so they don’t need to build characters. There’s the assumption there’s something about the character of these people that are already in a lot of viewers’ minds already.’’
But TV executives insist the stars of the shows are authentic, such as the toothless Turtleman of backwoods Kentucky, Ernie Brown Jr., who is enlisted to ferret out possums and raccoons from rafters and storage sheds on Animal Planet’s ‘‘The Call of the Wildman.’’