Goad (1997) notes the use of stereotypes helps reduce uncertainties one may have with their own status or relationships in society. He goes on to suggest people use the term “redneck” to reduce their anxiety and insecurities they may have about their own ability or socio-economic status, or their concerns about the welfare of their own ethnicity in an environment where they may feel outnumbered (Goad, 1997). To resolve stereotypes generated by groups as Goad suggests, education would help placate people by addressing their fears and providing them with tools to reduce anxiety and insecurities that arise when one encounters a member of a different ethnic or cultural background. (the uncertainty reduction theory suggests most people tend to amass feelings of insecurity and anxiety when approached by members of a group unknown to them Mullin & Hogg, 1999). Another theory commonly used to explain group behaviors is the social identity theory, suggesting the “motivating force” for peoples self-identity or positive feelings of ones self is gained through the “membership” or acceptance of certain groups that hold similar ideals or ethnocentric beliefs as stated previous (Mullin & Hogg, 91). Both of these theories, the social identity theory and the uncertainty reduction model provide explanation for why many people still hold prejudice opinions of the group labeled “redneck.” The uncertainty reduction model tends to entice members of a group to embrace their “group membership” and hence exclude others (Mullin & Hogg, 91). Mullin & Hogg (1999) suggests in many groups including those that are labeled “cultish” or “totalist” it may however, be difficult or perhaps impossible to change their beliefs about “rednecks” because this would deviate from the norm they are accustomed to (Mullin & Hogg, 1999). These same groups as now evidenced derive their self-identity, or “who” they are on their membership, and subsequently adopt cognitive processes they correlate with their group membership identity (Mullin & Hogg, 1999). This in turn results in what Mullin & Hogg deem “groupie behaviors” including stereotyping certain individuals including those of low socio-economic status or education as “rednecks” (p. 91). Other philosophers and sociologies supporting the belief that the uncertainty reduction method and social identity theory correlate directly with stereotyping include Hogg & Abrams, 1988; Turner & Giles, 1981; Turner, 1982, 1991; & Robinson, 1996).
These methods and theories can correlate also with the communication accommodation theory, which proposes communicative markers also help build social identity by influencing the way individuals talk with a listener (Street & Giles, 1982). Communication accommodation theory also suggests people within a group may change the way they talk, dress or communicate subconsciously to match the style of others the group communicate with; on the other side of the coin, communication accommodation theory proposes social identity can be distinguished from others when a group or person purposely changes their style of communication so they are not seen as “similar” to others in the group (Giles & Wiemann, 1987).
Stereotypes in Television
The redneck stereotype is often found in television for the reasons stated above. Stereotypes on television often reflect the morals, ethical behaviors and customary beliefs about certain groups in society. Booker (2002) notes many shows utilize cultural stereotypes including the stereotype of a redneck to build the plot; stereotypes used on shows like the X-files for example demonstrated “degeneracy, inbreeding, and a tendency toward abject violence” to describe common beliefs held of rednecks and other cultural groups (Booker, 135).
Many have compared the character “Mulders vision” on the X-files as similar to the vision held in the television town “Mayberry” which many might consider a redneck town (Booker 136). Many small towns use the town of “Mayberry” according to Booker (2002) as the “paradigm” or model for living, except in redneck “Mayberry-like” towns there is more discussion and inference of “inbred white trash” (Booker, 2002). The use of such stereotypes is common because people enjoy it and find stereotyping others more relieving than self-stereotyping or anxiety. Many television shows also focus on the “paragons of depravity and degeneracy believed to originate in the South” as demonstrated by violence that disrupts the home and transforms good habits into bad ones (Booker, 2002). The southern whites in the X-files for example are portrayed often as lowly and degenerate in nature (Booker, 2002).
Booker (2002) actually acknowledges Goads (1997) interpretation of rednecks and stereotypes as white trash, suggesting these individuals are “the last remaining American social group against whom it is acceptable to employ sweeping negative stereotypes” (p.14).
The two others refer to stereotyping of rednecks as “classism” more so than “racism” (Booker, 169).
Harkins (2004) notes the television show “The Beverly Hillbillies” is among the first to demonstrate this growing acceptance of producing negative stereotypes of rednecks or the working class, and uses this cultural group as the basis for mockery and comedic plotlines. The television show features the lives of what many might refer to as the “savage” or “rugged” American; the term “hillbilly” is in fact often used synonymously with the term “redneck” as depicted in television (Harkins, 2004). This term is also used to define “unnamed mountain rapists” or savages in the movie Deliverance promoted in 1972 (Harkins, 3). Other films that use the stereotype include popular films LilAbner (1934) and Tolable David (1921) all of which describe rednecks as either depressed, lazy, inbred, poor or aggressive (Harkins, 3).
It is important to note however the term “hillbilly” is used in many contexts and not always negative (Harkins, 2004). Hillbilly is used historically to represent individuals living “within and outside southern mountains” and individuals that denigrate, or those that are working-class with southern ties and Caucasian (Harkins, 4). The popularity of the term “hillbilly” declined somewhat in television and the media after the 1930s although it is not uncommon to see the term used synonymously and negatively in modern television (Harkins, 2004).
Many other television programs promote the stereotyped redneck; some are less obvious and others blatantly obvious. Some examples of TV programs that still identify with the stereotypical redneck include “King of the Hill” and “Hee Haw.” Even more common, many shows do not center on the rednecks culture per se, but make fun or use the stereotypical “redneck” as a form of comical devise, as is the case with the Family Guy, a popular contemporary show that often creates jokes that belittle people living in the south that popular culture would obviously associate with the stereotypical redneck.
Many independent comedy shows feature jokes about rednecks, although they will not always make fun of rednecks alone. Minority groups and women are also a source of comedy for television in many instances and film. Why belittle these groups? Most people feel more at ease. There is a sense of “community” and “social identity” among those that belittle or poke fun of the redneck community. As stated previous, while laws exist in federal legislation prohibiting the use of racial slurs and prejudiced behaviors, they do not address these behaviors much in the way of television and other media outlets. Many people in the media knowing that poking fun of minority groups especially black people and women will result in much conflict and perhaps prosecution. Interestingly enough however, few people have problems accepting the term “redneck” and associating it in a derogatory way on television, film and in many other forms of media (Glascock, 2004; Selnow & Gilbert, 1993).
Societys acceptance of stereotypes as ordinary or useful contributes to the use of redneck stereotyping in television (Selnow & Gilbert, 1993). There is little in the way of public dissent or outrage when the “redneck” is mocked in person or on television, which is likely the reason this type of stereotyping still exists on television in contemporary society (Selnow & Gilbert, 1993; Allen, 1990). Unkind use of words and ethic labeling including “redneck” is more a joke to people that does nothing to elicit outrage. If some called a person a “nigger” however, or a “*****,” there would be public outcry, especially if such terms were used on television (Allen, 1990; Valenti, Brown & Trotta, 2000). This pattern is especially disturbing because evidence proves the media has much influence on the opinions, actions and beliefs of society, especially when presented early in life (Valenti, Brown & Trotta, 2000). This means the more young children are exposed to such stereotypes the more likely they are to believe and accept them, and continue to watch television shows depicting rednecks with humor and acceptance (Valenti, Brown & Trotta, 2000).
The researcher proposes using a qualitative case study analysis to explore stereotypes of rednecks in television and in modern life. Brown (2000) provides the theoretical framework for this research, noting qualitative case studies are useful for providing direct information about peoples behaviors, idealisms and actions with respect.