Hollywood lures hillbillies for new reality show
This article originally appeared in The Tiger on March 7, 2003 | PRINT

Reality TV has frequently been accused of catering to the lowest common denominator and presenting America with a false sense of what "reality" should be. It is viewed by many people as an evil contributor to a society already on its way down the ladder into an oblivion of moral decrepitude. While this view is exaggeratedly pessimistic, it has remained prevalent throughout the short but proud tradition of reality TV. The pattern of one-upmanship that characterizes all trends in popular culture has affected this new medium very deeply with every major network station creating their own versions of reality.

Many of these shows rely on such classy gimmicks as explicit sexuality, gross-out contests and scandal mills to keep their ratings high. However, all of these shows have come onto the scene with relatively little controversy compared to their newest compatriot from CBS, the upcoming "Real Beverly Hillbillies." The idea for this show is far from new. It will be based on the the concept of the 1960s hit sitcom, offering an authentic Appalachian hillbilly family the opportunity to move to Beverly Hills and have the events of their new (and well compensated) lives broadcast to a national audience in sort of a cross between MTV's "The Real World" and "The Osbournes."

This comparatively innocent premise has triggered a firestorm of opposition from critics who don't see it as such an innocuous spin-off. They view it as a dangerous platform for perpetuating stereotypes and exploiting unsuspecting backwoods simpletons. These real dangers pushed the show to the back burner for several months and nearly stopped it before it had a chance to take its place in the bad taste hall of fame. But, as Hank Williams Jr. said, "A country boy can survive," and so has this project. It seems that the momentum picked up from all the attention has kept the wheels turning and, ultimately, given new life to the ailing concept. So, now the show is moving forward, leaving critics cringing and trash TV aficionados nodding with approval. But, the question is, which group has the right idea about the fate of this show?

It is possible that throwing a brood of uneducated bumpkins into the big city might confirm the suspicions of cosmopolitan urbanites that anyone from a town with a population under 100,000 is inferior and almost certainly pitiably ignorant of the ways of the world. Perhaps the family selected by the good people at CBS will end up showing mainstream America that natives of intensely rural areas truly are shotgun-toting, inbred troglodytes, embarrassing both themselves and others like them in the process. The scouts from CBS are obviously not going to choose the most upstanding citizens from any of the sleepy hamlets they visit. They are going to hand pick the most backward crew of Bubbas they can locate in order to increase the chances that they will in fact get to perpetuate these myths.

But, in order for people to buy into this stereotype based on the activities of one shameless, corporate sponsored, nuclear unit, don't they have to be just a little ignorant themselves? The fact is that no one family can possibly represent the true personality of an entire culture or lifestyle, and anyone willing to believe that they are representative should not be so quick to judge. The concept behind this show may be mean-spirited, but it is not evil. Like any other trend, reality program will eventually burn itself out, but not before it claims some unsuspecting victims.

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