June 26, 2005

''This is only the second show that's a comedy about the South -- this and 'Andy Griffith' -- that doesn't make fun of Southerners."

Who watches "King of the Hill"? According to this NYT piece: "men between the ages of 18 and 49, and almost a quarter of those men own pickup trucks." The theory of the article is that "King of the Hill" offers Democrats insight into how to appeal to young Southern/rural voters -- sort of like the way "South Park" gives Republicans insight into how to appeal to young, non-socially-conservative voters:
[The Democratic Governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley,] says he thinks that understanding the show's viewers might resolve some of the mysteries confronting his party about the vast swaths of red on the electoral map.... When the governor, a former prosecutor, prepares to make his case on a partisan issue, he likes to imagine that he's explaining his position to Hank -- an exercise that might be useful for his colleagues in Washington too. For instance, Easley told me that Hank would never support a budget like the one North Carolina's Senate recently passed, which would drop some 65,000 mostly elderly citizens from the Medicaid rolls; Hank, after all, has pitched in to support his own father, a brutish war veteran, and he would never condone a community's walking away from its ailing parents. Similarly, Hank may be a lover of the environment -- he was furious when kids trashed the local campground -- but he resents self-righteous environmentalists like the ones who forced Arlen to install those annoying low-flow toilets. Voters like Hank, if they had heard about it on the evening news, would have supported Easley's ''Clean Smokestacks'' law, which forced North Carolina's coal-powered electric plants to burn cleaner, but only because industry was a partner in the final bill, rather than its target.
Well, then, Easley's use of "King of the Hill" is to figure out how to sell the Democrat's usual policies to people like this, not to critique any of his party's settled assumptions. Is that the way "South Park" is used by conservatives? It seems to me "South Park" criticizes all sorts of adult follies, and any Republicans watching that show for insight into how to appeal to its young audience ought to be learning that they need to become more libertarian and less socially conservative. "South Park" has plenty of advice for Democrats too -- but it's advice about changing yourselves, not just how to improve your rhetoric.

The Democratic interest in "King of the Hill" is that it portrays voters in a region where the Democrats have a big problem. So then, tell me, what does "King of the Hill" have to say about how Democrats should actually change their policies? I haven't watched enough of "King of the Hill" to be able to answer that question, so help me out in the comments if you can.

In the meantime, here's a post from Half-Bakered that says the NYT got the show all wrong:
[The show is] about renewal of traditional values in the face of the transformative. Every time Hank encounters the kind of "transformation" that Democrats and bureaucrats and the PC peddle, he defeats them -- often using their own internal problems and philosophies against them...

Hank is a rock-ribbed Republican, I tell ya whut. Dale Gribble, his neighbor, is a Libertarian. Boomhauer is a Republican, but doesn't much care, I'm sure. Only Bill will likely vote Democrat sometime, but only because he's a softie who falls for a good line; if he admitted it to his friends, they'd blast him.

Bai [the NYT writer] also somehow manages to quote or mention pretty much only Democrats in the piece. Go read it; it's a hoot. He's either clueless or delusional.

Or as Hank would put it, "That boy ain't right."
(Via Signifying Nothing via Memeorandum.)

UPDATE: Lot's of good discussion in the comments. Makes me decide to TiVo "King of the Hill."

Also, here's the NYT review of the book "South Park Conservatives." The reviewer, Liesl Schillinger, an arts editor from The New Yorker, doesn't seem to know much about "South Park." She seems to think it represents "a new generation of Americans who refuse to accept public censure for their scornful attitudes toward gay men and lesbians, Native Americans, environmentalism and abortion rights." I say "seems" because she seems to attribute this characterization to the author of of the book. Actually, I'm really not sure what Schillinger is babbling about here. She doesn't seem to have put much effort into understanding the things she's criticizing, and the very short review is padded with irrelevant blather about "Monty Python."

Schillinger sniffs:
[T]his book isn't intended for readers of The Times and The Economist and watchers of CNN. It's for the people who are sick and tired of mainstream media and are fans of the blogs and right-wing commentators [the author Brian C. Anderson] cites so abundantly.

Oh, yeah, they're horrible. Horrible!
They just take idiotic unfair slams at the good people who write for mainstream media. Why they'd even slam an arts editor who works at The New Yorker! The New Yorker! Where we know what we're talking about. We know "South Park" is anti-gay... uh, right? Isn't it?

ANOTHER UPDATE: I TiVo'd and watched an episode of "King of the Hill." The episode -- "The Petriot Act" -- involved taking care of a pet for a soldier who'd gone overseas. Hank feels the call of duty to take care of a dog, as a friend of his is doing, but he signs a contract that turns out to require him to take care of a cat, which turns out to be annoying and sick, and because he's agreed to use a particular, expensive vet, costs him the money he'd saved for the family vacation. He does his duty, without being particularly grumpy or cheerful about it, and in the end the family settles for a dinner out in a modest restaurant, all they have money left for. This is a very straightforward tale about living up to one's obligations. There is a scene where Hank stands up to the vet who is overcharging him, which is the sort of thing it seems Easley was grabbing onto. Hank gets mad when another man is not being fair and honest, so I suppose that shows that Hank-types can be activated by stories about people who cheat and take advantage. The whole "King of the Hill" concept, based on that episode, seemed to be about being solidly responsible and upstanding.


Michael said...

Dale Gribble's a Bircher if he's anything.

Robert said...

I avidly watch King of the Hill. It's a microcosm of our country; if you don't understand Hank Hill and his circle of friends and family, then you don't understand America. Also, it's funny.

As for what the Democrats could learn from it, they're the same lessons anyone can learn; how to be a good spouse, parent, neighbor, friend. It's a show about morals and character, not politics.

luagha said...

And what Democrats rarely can figure out is that while all the characters in King of the Hill have their foibles and failures, they are at the same time really good at what they do. Each character has their specialty, some broader than others, and they're very smart, just not in a 'went-to-Harvard' way.

Wade Garrett said...

Hank has always struck me as an extraordinarily compassionate husband, father, and son. If the entire south was made up of people like Hank, the Democrats would not have trouble communicating in that part of the country. By the same token, if every citizen of New York City was Jack McCoy, and, in Boston, Sam Malone, the Republicans would do better there. I love King of the Hill, but I think that people who look to that, or to any other show, as representative of an entire region's culture are being a little too simplistic.

I'm Full of Soup said...

I am a conservative and northerner and just don't get this show. In fact, I hate it. But I am amused Democrats feel the need to analyze its viewers to attract southern voters. That's the core problem with Democrats- they can never simply and clearly state "here are our five core platform beliefs" because they are always reinventing themselves and blame their failures on republicans superior delivery of their message. And that's bunk!

Susan said...

I think "Designing Women" was a comedy about the South that didn't make fun of Southerners but, in fact, celebrated them. And no one can get away with a bitchy line like a woman with a Southern accent.

Wade Garrett said...

I agree with AJ. Republicans don't watch Will & Grace and say, oh, that Will looks like a nice guy, how can we tailor our message to appeal to people like him? Nor do they watch Seinfeld and say, that Jerry looks like a normal guy, perhaps we should tone down our evangelical Christian rhetoric? Republicans just make a list of their beliefs and sell them by repeating them over and over again - keeping it simple and straightforward. The Democrats could benefit from the same!

H.D. Miller said...

Let me be the first in this string of comments to praise Mike Judge.

Not only did he give us the redoubtable Hank Hill, but he's also the genius behind one of the greatest movies of all time, "Office Space", a movie that reaffirms the value of honesty, treating your subordinates fairly, and manual labor.

Ann Althouse said...

Terrence: What I'd like Republicans to do is look at Jerry Seinfeld and realize they should actually modify some of their positions. That's my point re Democrats too. Both parties rely on rhetoric and both are devious to some extent. I'd like to see more moderate and appealing policies.

Andrew Graff said...

"What I'd like Republicans to do is look at Jerry Seinfeld and realize they should actually modify some of their positions."

Why? All the characters in Seinfeld are fundamentally evil, selfish, and willfully ignorant people. I watched a couple of episodes and not only found them unfunny, but rather sickening. The characters were incredibly unlikable. At least the writer was self-aware enough to, at the end of show which was about people's pointless, urban, self-centered existance, cart the whole lot of them off to jail as they deserved.

"Hank has always struck me as an extraordinarily compassionate husband, father, and son. If the entire south was made up of people like Hank, the Democrats would not have trouble communicating in that part of the country."

On the contrary, it is because so much of the South is made of people like Hank that the Democrats (at least the ones controlling the party agenda) are unable to communicate with them. And, one thing I've long gotten tired of is Yankees telling me about what the South is like, even though they've never lived there. I have found that my own perception of the South has been unconsciously colored by the North's commentary and judgement on the South in the past, and that until I moved to the North, spent a few years there, and saw the hipocricy and ignorance first hand, I was not able to shake myself loose of that. I now have seen the plank in the eye of the Blue states, and it's not pretty. I strongly suggest they turn there attention to fixing thier own problems, and let us fix ours. Now that I've lived outside the South, I more truly appreciate the character of the South, and I'm very much glad to be back.

Don M said...

I was born in OK, raised in NY, and went to college in MO, AZ and CA. I have worked in CA and TX.

In my periapatic existance I have enjoyed the people in TX but found the acceptance of Democratic Corruption to be worse there than other places.

Skewed Left said...

celebrim: You are absolutely right about Northern hypocracy and a condescending attitude toward the South, but that doesn't seem to explain the fact that Democrats seem to do so well in North Carolina.

Mike Easley is pro-gun and pro-death penalty, as is the Democratic Atty. General, Roy Cooper. These aren't your traditional Democrats. We also don't have your "mainstream" Republicans here either - no one is pushing evolution out of schools and protection of marriage amendments aren't really hot-button issues (although civil unions won't be happening anytime soon) In an area fueled by biotech and pharma - cuts in federal research money = layoffs.

If I had to guess - not to sound all kumbaya - I suppose politics isn't so contentious because we all work together, we have to get along.

I know lots of Republicans, often Christians, that laugh at the fact we still have a co-habitation law on the books. They like lattes too and they don't think the university is full of nutcase anti-American liberals (at least NC State :). At the same time, as a Democrat here, I don't feel outrage that Good Friday is a recognized state holiday, I enjoy a trip to the shooting range, and I also worry about the effects of hyper-sexualized popular culture.

Compromise, moderation, and adaptation are "mainstream", not rhetorical bomb-throwing or opposition to compromise. The last gubernatorial election was a battle of moderates - the Jesse Helms endored candidate lost in the Republican primary.

Both sides need to cool it with the righteous indignation - the Republicans need to throw the scary Christians off the bus and the Democrats need to drop the shrieking identity politics. Pick a few key issues and fight to reach common ground.

Jeff with one 'f' said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff with one 'f' said...

King of the Hill is character-based humor, so it requires getting a few episodes under the belt before real appreciation of the humor can come. There are a lot of really funny situations and "jokes", but they are not very punchline based. The humor comes from knowing the characters well enough to fill in the blanks in given situations; some of the biggest laughs come from knowing what a character is thinking rather than saying.

Having said that, I can attest as a former Texas resident that the show is an accurate if slightly idealized depiction of Texans, including the Khan family. It's important to point out that the show makes a number of fine distinctions between various social types that would be lost on your average New Yorker. (I live in NY- open-minded it is not.)

Hank and his friends have very precise ideas of where they stand in the social order. They are all technically blue-collar but see themselves as solidly middle-class (except for Khan, who derides them as hillbillies). They would be entirely unpersuaded by Thomas Franks' Marxist view of their lives. (A key point for Democrats looking for red state votes)

Which is not to say that the show sugarcoats the economics of their world; "Mega-Lo Mart" both enables and threatens Hank's lifestyle. He and his wife are careful with money and take pride in their thrift, responsibility and self-reliance. Which is one of the biggest areas where they part company with the Democratic party, I think.

Hank and his family place importance on civic duty and participation in the political process; the show has gentle fun with Hank taking the Heimlich County board of commissioners more seriously than the board members themselves do.

I would say that the worldview of King of the Hill is a socially responsible, reasonably conservative community. The emphasis on community and responsibility. The neighbors are flawed and selfish in normal ways but also look out for each other and take responsibility for themselves. This is of course in contrast to the usual depiction of conservatives (or Republicans) as rich, selfish, and self-centered.

Lastly a word about the diversity of the show. The focus is on the cast of Hank Hill's family and his immediate friends and neighbors, but the scope of the show encompasses all of the races AND generations that can be found in Arlen: rednecks, working class (there's a difference sometimes), yuppies, academics, jocks, whites, asians, blacks (not so much), latinos, native Americans, old and young, Texans and Yankees, it goes on and on. Only the Simpsons has comparable scope.

This is of course in marked contrast to the monocultures presented in much of popular, "Blue State" culture. How diverse was Friends or Seinfeld or Will and Grace? About as diverse as Howard Dean's "White, Christian" home state.

Judge for yourself and hope that both parties learn some lessons from one of the best shows on tv.

Sam said...

I think someone is more likely to read blogs and also read the Economist than to read the Economist and also watch CNN.

Daniel said...

I see King of the Hill, as an interesting conflict between staid tradition (Hank), and ever-shifting trendiness (Peggy & Bobby).

The key to the humor of the show is having this solid-as-a-rock, traditional guy, surrounded by; his Oprah-ized wife, his pop-culture obsessed, prop-comic wannabe son, and his bubbleheaded niece, (All very likeable characters, BTW.) living under the same roof.

I'm reminded of an episode that aired last season in which Bobby got involved with a Christian youth group, where the youth leader was a skateboarding, tatooed and pierced pseudo-punk. Bobby, much to his father's concern, changed his appearance and started going to Christian-rock concerts with his new friends, (Often thrusting his fist in the air while shouting "Praise Him!")

Anyway, Bobby goes to a Christian-rock concert against Hank's wishes, and Hank goes after him. Hank finds Bobby (Somewhere at this point Hank says, "Bobby, don't you see, they're not making Christianity better, they're making Rock & Roll worse.") and drives him back home, walks him into the garage, and pulls out a large box full of Bobby's stuff.

Hank pulls out an action figure, shows it to Bobby and says "What's this?". Bobby replies, It's a Teenage Mutant Turtle action figure, but that's just kids stuff. I can't believe I was so into that!" Hank pulls something else out of the box that is an example of something that Bobby used to be really obsessed with, and get's the same response from Bobby. Then Hank says something to the effect of "Bobby, I just don't want to someday see you put Jesus in this box."

It's not often that I see a sitcom be so strangely profound.

I think that this tradition vs. fashion dynamic can also be extended to politics. I've found that many people on the Left are overly focused with whatever idea that's trendy or fashionable, and people on the right are usually pretty immune to that sort of transient BS.
(Broad generalizations, I know, but that's often been my experience.)

Wade Garrett said...

I agree with the characterization of the show as being about being "solidly responsible and upstanding." Having said that, if Southerners really cared about those two qualities Bush wouldn't have swept the south the way that he did. Our president is many things, but I suspect that even his supporters would have difficulty describing him as such.

Glenn Howes said...

Just to add a bit of historical information here.
1) Hank didn't care for the first President Bush. I recall him saying something along the lines of "...and I bet that President was from Texas, and I don't mean George Herbert Walker Bush."
2) He once shook hands with the present President Bush and was extremely disappointed in the manliness of said handshake.
3) Hank's dog is named Lady Bird, which does indicate some affection for President Johnson's family.
4) Anne Richards was on the show once, and was treated with some reverence by everyone involved. (Apart from being inadvertently mooned.)

I tend to think that the show's writers, who I would think live in L.A., are quite willing to let the Hank character be true to himself as a cultural and economic conservative; but to never actually endorse or promote Republicanism.

Jim C. said...

Terence wrote: "If the entire south was made up of people like Hank, the Democrats would not have trouble communicating in that part of the country."

Terence also wrote: "Having said that, if Southerners really cared about those two qualities Bush wouldn't have swept the south the way that he did."

No, you have it absolutely wrong. Most people, North and South, are like that, and they're getting the Democratic message perfectly. The REAL Democratic message, that is. Namely, you think they're not like that, but you yourself are. That's what's coming through, even though your other comments are positive. Even an uneducated person can see that. No amount of tailoring the message can hide it. That's why Democrats will continue to have trouble winning elections.

Kev said...

Since I'm a resident of the Dallas suburb of Garland (the nominal inspiration for KOTH's fictitious community of Arlen), I thought I should weigh in on this one, though commenter Jeff did a good job of describing the culture in this part of Texas. Some of the stereotypes are drawn a bit broadly, but most of us out here know people like most of the characters in the show (for example, my former next-door neighbor was fanatical--to the point of obnoxiousness--about his lawn).

I do fit the male 18-49 demographic cited in the article, though I don't own a pickup truck (not good enough gas mileage for the amount of driving I do for work), and alas, there's no alley in my neighborhood to crack open a beer with friends.

"I tend to think that the show's writers, who I would think live in L.A."

Actually, I'm pretty sure Mike Judge himself still lives in Austin; he was in our neighboring suburb of Richardson when the show was conceived.

Glenn Howes said...

I just remembered my favorite political reference from the show. Hank is driving his truck through Arkansas to retrieve Bobby who his boss, Mr. Strickland, has taken along on a gambling binge. He passes a sign that says "Hot Springs, Arkansas: Home of President Bill Clinton"

Seeing this, Hank locks his truck's doors.

knox said...

"bonus flush" "my tiny turds" "a particullary heavy load" "a lot of floaters"


Wade Garrett said...

When I wrote that President Bush was not solidly responsible and upstanding, I did not mean to imply that he was corrupt. Rather, he's been pretty radical - both Gore and Kerry wanted to change far LESS than he did - and I just don't see solid, responsibly, upstanding people in this country wanting to rush into war or gut as many long-standing regulations and institutions as President Bush.

It strikes me as somewhat disingenuous to say how moderate, thoughtful, and salt-of-the-earth-y southerners are, and then say 'that is why they like George W. Bush,' who is VERY far out on the right, brash and reflexive, and born on Yale's campus to landed Connecticut aristocracy.

I think that southerners, if they really are as they've been so often described, would prefer instead somebody like presidents Clinton and Carther, both of whom were moderate and thoughtful and actually from the south, instead of Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes.

Wade Garrett said...


I agree with you. Its always seemed to me that, at least in the political sphere, most southerners care more about 1) toughness and 2) Christianity than they do about any of the other things that people have mentioned in this thread. Though many people like Hank Hill live in the south, I think there are just as many Hank Hill types in the exburbs of any large city in the upper midwest or northeast.

In my opinion, the people who make the south The South are not featured on the Kill of the Hill show.

Ann Althouse said...

Hank Hill seems to be the exactly same guy as that neighbor -- I forget his name -- that Beavis and Butt-Head were always so awful to.

Andrew Graff said...

"But any ambiguity stems from the fact that he has good manners, and doesn't think it's polite to discuss his political views."

And there is the reason that Democrats always edge the Republicans in exit polls. More conservatives simply think its tacky to ask... or answer.

"I agree with you. Its always seemed to me that, at least in the political sphere, most southerners care more about 1) toughness and 2) Christianity than they do about any of the other things that people have mentioned in this thread. Though many people like Hank Hill live in the south, I think there are just as many Hank Hill types in the exburbs of any large city in the upper midwest or northeast."

Good grief, can you stop with your pretension of being an expert on the South. You've never lived there. You probably don't know any born and reared Southronss, and you couldn't tell a Tennessee accent from a South Carolina. Everything you do know about the South you learned watching the Dukes of Hazzard, so don't grandstand here trying to tell Southerners how Southerner's think.

You are not a freaking expert. In fact, you are ignorant. I know I don't know anything about the Bronx, but at least I don't pretend having watched TV makes me an expert.

And as far as rednecks go, just drive 30 minutes out of any Northern city and you'll find confederate flag flying rednecks straight out of a Northern fable. I know. I took census in Rural PA, and in Maryland I had a bunch of people try to tell me that they were 'part of the South'. (That story had them rolling on the floor in 'Bama.) One of the main differences between a northern redneck and a southern redneck, is that the southern one doesn't use profanity in front of children. But I tell you the truth, this is a NASCAR nation, and I've met cultural rednecks with Ph.D's - north and south.

Your problem, Terrance, is that you're view of the world is always through glass - TV sceens, windshields, airplane windows. You live in an air conditioned world and all the images in your head are in 2D.

Let me tell you who you remind me of. I was working for the office of country elections in a rural county (I did just about every job known to man in my bum period), when this dressed in a loud flowery dress and huge jewelry comes waltzing in demanding to speak to the person in charge at the top of her lungs. It seems she was absolutely 'appalled' that she was forced to vote in a church which violated the separation of church and state, and that there was no curtains over her booth, and she noticed that it wasn't handicapped accessible (she wasn't handicapped), and the area was so tiny that "just anybody could have seen who she was voting for." "Thing just weren't done that way when I lived in Philadelphia.", says she. Well, the supervisor patiently tells her that people have been voting in that church for 90 years, that most of the old folk go thier on Sunday, and if they need help getting up the steps someone will do so, and that he's sorry but they've been using that booth for as long as he's been here and noone has complained. Then she goes of screaming about how she's going to call the ACLU, she's going to call the UN (I kid you not), she's going to call this organization or that organization, because they hardly have a real Democracy here, etc. etc. Finally, my poor supervisor just gives her a stack of complaint forms and tells her to have at it.

All the time, I'm thinking to myself, "Where the heck does a rich retired carpet bagger get off telling people how to live thier lives and spend thier money? Doesn't she have something more productive to do?", and my supervisor he says to me, "You'd think we didn't have schools or roads to spend money on the way she was going on. If we were to move the polling station from that church, I'd have half the county calling me because thier old grandmother was lost and could find the polling station, and the other half complaining that know they couldn't reach the polling station. And for crying out loud, where else are we going to set up a polling station?"

Ann Althouse said...

James: Yes, I knew they were both Mike Judge cartoons, just couldn't remember the B&B old guy's name. It's interesting that that character was actually so important to Judge. Based on B&B, I would have thought he was more of a pathetic square. From KOTH, I can see that he's really Everyman for Judge.

Wade Garrett said...

celebrim - I have no intention of turning Professor Althouse's blog into a pissing contest. I will point out, however, that I have been to the south, and had two southern roommates in college and now have one in law school. All three of them left the south to attend Yale, Dartmouth, and the Unviersity of Wisconsin because they couldn't stand the thought of staying in a close-minded environment like their home states of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Southerners vote on issues, like notherners do. If they wanted a politician who talked and walked like them, Clinton, Gore and Edwards would have fared better down there. To see it differently would be to believe that southerners actually buy the President's chest-inflated, crotch-out, las'-letter-of-the-word-droppin', Hee-Haw castin' call impersonation of a southerner. The Bushes are Connecticut aristocracy, of the most elite stripe. I went to school with them; a teammate of mine dated the president's daughter. Both presidents Bush were born in Connecticut. Southerners vote for them because of the cultural policies they espouse, not because they see their culture reflected in him.

Matthew said...

I like the idea in theory of Democrats learning to appeal to apolitical conservatives. But doing so would entail a complete change in the way the party is currently structured.

Regular Americans are reserving judgment on Iraq and don't like to hear their military being berated. If Democrats were smart, they'd change both their rhetoric and their policy.

tom said...

Just wanted to observe that if your three roommates "left the south ... because they couldn't stand" something about it, they might not be representative of someone like Hank Hill.
I grew up in Tennessee, went to college in Georgia, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, and now live in Minnesota. My experience has been that - apart from accents and sports affiliations - you can't make too many broad generalizations about any region's population.
I voted for Bush because of his commitment to fighting terrorism. I disagree with many of his other policies.

I could have voted for a Democrat who was strong on defense and who agreed that the only way to defeat Islamic terrorists is to democratize the Middle East.

Kerry struck me as the less trustworthy of the candidates. I never trusted him, never felt that he actually had any strong beliefs about anything except his own self-interest.

Bush came out after 9/11 and was straightforward about what we would do about the attack, and - as far as I'm concerned - has continued to act on that plan to this day. I don't agree with him on other issues, but I know where he stands on them. That's more than I can say about most politicians and Kerry in particular.