Every time there’s any sort of Tennessee or Southern-based humor, any laughter on my part is always followed by an unsettling thought: does this make us look bad?
Stanley Fish wrote these words in The New York Times:
When I was growing up in the ’40s and ’50s, a single question was asked in my neighborhood of every piece of news, large or small, local or national: “Is it good for the Jews?” We have now learned to identify this question in all of its versions – Is it good for the Catholics? Is it good for the Latinos? Is it good for the gays? and on and on – as the paradigmatic question of identity politics, the politics that is derived not from some general, even universal, assertion of what is good, but from a particularized concern with insular interests. Is it good for us, for those of our kind, for our tribe?
Which brings me to Red State Update. Red State update is a web-based series of videos purporting to show two rednecks, Jackie Broyles and Dunlap, who pontificate on the issues of the day from behind a table covered with Budweiser beer cans and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Carried by Salon.com and YouTube, Red State Update usually never says anything about Tennessee, but because the Tennessee state flag hangs behind the two along with Old Glory, these characters, intentionally or not, contribute to Tennessee’s national image.
They leapt to wider fame during the CNNYouTube Democratic candidates debate when the two, identifying themselves as living in Murfreesboro, asked the candidates if all the attention Al Gore was getting “hurt y’all’s feelings.” The studio audience, and people all over the country, roared with laughter.
Last week, the Nashville Scene did the best article I’ve seen on Red State Update. It turns out that these two individuals–Jackie Broyles is really Travis Harmon and Dunlap is Jonathan Shockley–have worked on their comedy for a long time. As writer Jim Ridley points out, Red State Update has taken its place in the things-aren’t-really-what-they-seem-to-be world of The Onion and Stephen Colbert. Some conservatives think they are real, while liberals slyly poke each other in the ribs and feel in on the joke.
So–are Jackie and Dunlap good for the Tennesseans? I think we’ll survive them. It’s the bumbling and stumbling by Fred Thompson that worries me more.