Hard Times

John Podhoretz, Weekly Standard, March 17, 2014

What does a poor or lower-middle-class white person, especially one from the South or Southwest, have to do to get a break from fancy high-end TV producers? It is a remarkable fact about this new Golden Age of television, which began with The Sopranos in 1999, that its primary focus of attention is the population cohort known (with the exquisite cultural sensitivity we have all learned in the era of political correctness) as “white trash.”

HBO’s sensationally powerful True Detective, with its subsidiary cast of sweaty, unshaven, tattooed, heavily accented, strip-clubbing neo-Neanderthals from Louisiana, is just the latest manifestation of the white-trashing of TV. True Detective is the second HBO series set in and around the bayou, following in the footsteps of the vampire show True Blood—and let me tell you, those swamp folk, they like their sex dirty in every sense of the word.

The new show came along just after the final episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad, about an Albuquerque scientist-turned-schoolteacher who serves as the Southwest’s key methamphetamine supplier to an endless list of Caucasian scum. (The final episode featured the stirring rescue of the teacher’s upper-middle-class-fallen-to-trash sidekick Boy Wonder, who will live to cook blue another day.) On air right now, True Detective joins Sons of Anarchy, the FX series about rival motorcycle gangs in California who spend most of their illicit gains on leather clothing. FX takes a lighter touch with Justified, the highly amusing series about a U.S. marshal forced to return to his white-trash home turf of Harlan County, Kentucky. Harlan was the nation’s paradigmatic coal-mining community and, in its day, the source of a great deal of leftist sentimentality about the plight of the working class.

No longer! We don’t care about the plight of the white trash folk who provide all this glorious local color; instead, these shows positively revel in the shabbiness of their upholstery, the grunginess of their bars, their casual brutality, their offhanded abuse and/or neglect of children. There is precious little sympathy expressed for them. {snip}


True Blood began the white-trashization of the horror genre, which has reached its apogee with the most successful series on cable television, The Walking Dead—in which enlightened survivors of an apocalyptic catastrophe must wander through rural Georgia evading flesh-eating zombies who don’t look all that different from the supporting players in the other white-trash shows.


{snip} As it happens, these shows are not embarrassing at all. For one thing (with the exception of True Blood), they’re just too good, too interesting, too flavorful. Still, rich Hollywood folk making mincemeat out of poor rural folk is another element of the ongoing American culture war that should not go unremarked.


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