The Daily Show and Tired Southern Tropes

Al Madrigal
Al Madrigal

I love The Daily Show, I really do.  But when it comes to segments about the South, they often do a piss poor job of it. The latest example came from correspondent Al Madrigal who did a story on the dispute between Georgia and Tennessee regarding state borders and the water supply. (Watch the segment here.)

Georgia essentially wants and needs access to the water provided by the Tennessee River, and in typical Daily Show fashion, the actual story was less important than Madrigal’s effort to highlight the stupidity of local officials.  This is nothing new, because the show’s correspondents are often satirizing politicians.  Where it fails is in its pitiful attempt to poke fun at the South, which can be done, but with more intelligence.

Instead, it’s so lame, it’s as if the writers dialed this one in. Want to discuss the South? Incorporate banjo music and, these days, mention Honey Boo Boo.  Want to suggest that rural southerners are inbred? Incorporate a clip from Deliverance. Need to establish that people are ignorant? Mock their accents to their face or include “man on the street” interviews with people who fit the stereotype.  It was on this last point where The Daily Show showed its hand, because it was clear to anyone with a keen eye that a couple of those interviews were plants, what I’ll call “hicks for hire”.

Unknown Hinson
Unknown Hinson

First, there were the two men in camouflage: one held a shotgun, while his friend offered a bug-eyed look. These two were obviously playing to the camera. Second, there was the guy who had mutton chop sideburns, slicked back hair, and sunglasses circa-1970s Elvis. The tip off that this guy was playing to the camera was his Unknown Hinson t-shirt.  While the studio audience in New York was laughing at this guy, I knew that he was saying things Al Madrigal needed to pull the piece off. And he was probably having his own laugh at Madrigal’s expense.  Like Unknown Hinson, he was portraying a character.  Everything he said played to stereotype on purpose.

So, suffice it to say, I’m disappointed with The Daily Show’s latest attempt at satirizing the South.  As usual, the writers relied on worn out tropes about the South and not only was it not amusing, it wasn’t even funny.

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Dear Jon: Let’s Talk “The South” when you’re in Charlotte

If you’re breathing, there’s a good chance you know that Charlotte, North Carolina, is hosting the Democratic National Convention (DNC).  This is an exciting time for the Queen City as we play host to conventioneers, politicians, and journalists.  There will also be a lot of kvetching over traffic and street closures, but I for one am very thrilled to see that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart will be setting up shop at Imaginon, home to the city’s Children’s Theatre and Library.

In fact, I’d really like to be on the show to discuss the media and its southern stereotypes.  I’ve written about it before here on Pop South (See posts on DNC Announcement and the one on Martin Bashir over at MSNBC), and I’m certainly scouting out other journalistic blunders on this score, but right now I am waging a campaign to be a guest on the Daily Show to talk about the subject.  And why not?  The Daily Show has numerous reports that have been tagged “the South.”  The earliest one, on Strom Thurmond, dates to 1999.  And the most recent?  On Chick fil A, of course.  I suppose the region is a gift that keeps on giving, as seen in the report on “Tarred Heels” (below), which led Jon Stewart to conclude that North Carolina is the Democrat’s “South Carolina.”  Ouch!

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Tarred Heels
www.thedailyshow.com
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Tarred Heels (watch video above)

So, Jon, if you’re listening, I’ve got a book on the topic of the South in popular culture, this here blog, and hell, I’ve even written an op-ed for the New York Times. I’m also a fan of the show, if that helps.  And, I’d love to talk “the South” with you while you’re in Charlotte.

Pop South readers: Join me in my campaign and tweet to get @Sassyprof on the air.  Tweet this message:  Give @Sassyprof a guest slot to discuss the South and the media @TheDailyShow #CharlotteDNC