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‘Rednecks’ swamp TV as viewers seek grittier reality

Voice competitions, weight-loss battles and catfights over bachelors have their place on television, but viewers are turning to cable shows that give a whole nother meaning to the word “reality.”
“It’s amazing how many people I know are watching these shows,” says comedian and longtime observer of redneck culture Jeff Foxworthy. “My wife’s from Louisiana, andSwamp People is like a family reunion for her.”
And the sheer number of these shows is multiplying to accommodate viewers’ demand for more.
Why we’re staring agape at these shows, many of which pit craggy, bearded, beer-bellied and, at times, bare-chested hirsute men against nature’s bad boys — snakes, gators and big-teethed fish — could keep psychiatrists and popular culture observers busy for years.
Part of it, says Foxworthy, “is that you cannot believe that in 2012 somebody’s making a living in a jon boat pulling up alligators and shooting them in the head.”
And despite the sometimes-negative connotation of the terms, nobody — including the networks, the viewers and the stars of these shows who use the words to describe themselves — seems to be taking offense at titles such as Rocket City RednecksMy Big Redneck Vacation or Hillbilly Handfishin’.
“Do I see myself as a hillbilly? No, I don’t think so. It’s a catchy little name,” says Bivins, who’s waiting to hear if Animal Planet has renewed Handfishin’ for a second season. “The way I look at it, if you’re a hillbilly, that just means you have the ability to adapt and overcome and make the best of any situation.”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines hillbilly as “a person from the backwoods or a remote mountain area,” and redneck as a disparaging term “for a member of the white rural laboring class, especially in the southern United States.”
But to Willie Robertson, CEO of the duck-call empire Duck Commander, “Redneck is a state of mind. I don’t know if redneck has ever been properly defined.” His West Monroe, La., family, which has made millions off the sales of the calls since father Phil started the business in 1970, is shown hunting, fishing and running their enterprise in A&E’s reality series Duck Dynasty
“Being a redneck is just cutting loose and getting out there, and for us, loving living off the land,” says Robertson, asked to explain how he and his dad can call themselves rednecks even though Phil has a master’s in education from Louisiana Tech and Willie has a bachelor’s in health/human performance with a business focus from the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
“I’ve had arguments whether we’re really rednecks,” Willie Robertson says. “We may look like it and sound like it and have jobs like it but have a little bit different mentality. Maybe ‘good ol’ boys’ is a better definition.”
There’s a lot more to the bayou-based Robertsons than their bandanna-wrapped flowing locks, camouflage clothing and beards of biblical promotions, says executive producer Scott Gurney. He calls the show “Modern Family in camo.”
“To watch these guys who look like they can’t count to 10 literally talk about politics and business management and sound like they’ve come out of Harvard — you’re shocked,” Gurney says. MORE

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