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Jeff Foxworthy’s Redneck Humor and the Boundaries of Middle-Class American Whiteness:

Jeff Foxworthy’s Redneck Humor and the Boundaries of Middle-Class American Whiteness: Recent studies examine the use of rhetorical boundaries to produce intra-racial othering within whiteness. I expand this project by exploring the textual and social codes in Jeff Foxworthy humor that demarcate the boundaries between the redneck and the non-redneck. Such boundaries are complex, porous fault-lines that use symbolic pollution embedded in humor to stigmatize White outsiders. Social codes referencing symbolic pollution establish boundaries to define and insulate a normative, mainstream White identity from the intra-racial threat of redneck identity. This project provides a novel addition to whiteness studies by taking redneck humor analytically seriously and concludes by drawing comparisons between codes found in Foxworthy humor and those levied against rural Whites during the eugenics era. Keywords whiteness, redneck humor, pollution ideology, boundary theory, social constructionism gender, and poverty. I explore the textual and social codes Redneck Identity and Redneck Humor used to define redneck identity and construct the boundaries Popular culture has aided the reworking of a redneck dis- between the redneck and the non-redneck. I locate this proj- course that historically signified poor rural White southern- ect within whiteness studies literature and conceptualize the ers (Jarosz & Lawson, 2002). Solidified by comedian Jeff analysis via boundary theory and the notion of symbolic Foxworthy in the 1990s, the term redneck has been reinter- pollution. preted as an identity salient to a mass audience (Hartigan, However, it is important to recognize that although 1997). When redneck is used as a self-description or as a way Foxworthy’s redneck humor provides an important and of indicating otherness, it becomes a means of establishing influential interpretation of redneck identity, I am not sug- identity boundaries. To expand research exploring the gesting that his humor should be viewed as the final, authori- nuances of whiteness, this article seeks to illuminate how, tative word on the issue. There are many facets to redneck and why, redneck identity is being constructed in this humor. identity and the term has a long history. Indeed, although it Specifically, I seek to address three interrelated questions. appears to have originated in the British Isles, the first known recorded use of the term in the United States was in an 1830 Research Question 1: How is redneck defined according travel book by A. Royall, titled Southern Tour (Goad, 1998; to Foxworthy humor? Huber & Drowne, 2001; Webb, 2005). Royall used the term Research Question 2: How does this humor construct the redneck to describe a group of Presbyterians in Fayetteville, boundaries between the redneck and non-redneck? North Carolina (Goad, 1998). By the 1890s, redneck was Research Question 3: Do the boundaries utilized in this broadly used to describe rural White laborers in the American humor help us understand the production and mainte- south, as it had become associated with the effects of long nance of a more normative, mainstream whiteness? hours of laboring in the sun (Huber & Drowne, 2001; To address these questions, I conducted a semiotics- inspired narrative analysis of more than 300 Foxworthy red- Ivy Tech Community College, Evansville, IN, USA neck jokes derived from his comedy routine and posted on Corresponding Author: the Internet site Country Humor (Foxworthy, 1991, 2004). J. David Thomas, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ivy Tech My analysis is organized around four broad themes that per- Community College, 3501 N. First Avenue, Evansville, IN 47710, USA. meate these jokes: lifestyle and fashion, rural living, sex and Email: jthomas324@ivytech.edu Creative Commons CC-BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open Roebuck & Hickson, 1982). The term might have also been the socially situational nuances of whiteness, particularly reinforced by a vitamin deficiency called pellagra, which through how it has been impacted by class and gender. One causes the neck and other parts of the body to redden. of the fundamental assumptions of whiteness studies is that Roebuck and Hickson (1982) state that rural southern Whites White racial identity and its associated privileges are largely frequently suffered from ill health due to poor diets and a invisible, particularly to White individuals. As Perkinson general lack of medical care. Pellagra was common through- (2004) states, “White America is largely unconscious and out the southern United States, especially in the 1930s, when mute, unable to address the question of its identity as white. many believe that redneck became a nationally recognized Power does not normally have to give an account of its own term (Eisiminger, 1984). basis of operation” (p. 1). As such, exploring White identity In states such as West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, south- and exposing White privilege serves as foundational theo- ern Illinois, and Indiana, the term redneck also became syn- retical concerns in this field. Perkinson (2004) notes that onymous with unionization and its radical politics (Huber, such exposure must occur on multiple levels—from the 1994). Rednecks would wear red bandanas around their operation of structural privilege, to the organization of cul- necks as a sign of solidarity, particularly while striking. The tural habit, to the face-to-face politics of personal power. term redneck was both embraced and used pejoratively to With this focus on power and privilege, whiteness does not describe members of the United Mine Workers of America, represent a color as much as it represents a condition “ . . . a as well as their rural background (Huber, 1994). structured advantage that channels unfair gains and unjust Redneck took on more currency in popular culture in the enrichments to whites . . . ” (Lipsitz, 2011, p. 3). 1970s, particularly through the influence of country music. Of course, whiteness studies are not without critics. The With songs including Johnny Russell’s Rednecks, White most well-known critique of whiteness studies comes from Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer, the Bellamy Brothers Redneck historian Eric Arnesen (2001). Arnesen argues that whiteness Girl, and David Allen Coe’s Longhaired Redneck, it entered studies scholars in general, and labor historians working America’s popular lexicon and began to transcend its asso- within the framework of whiteness studies in particular, ciation with a strictly southern rurality. When Foxworthy’s engage in serious methodological and conceptual flaws— redneck humor first arrived in the early 1990s, redneck was particularly conceptual inflation, conceptual substitution, a nationally recognized term, and this humor has no doubt and analytical overreach (Arnesen, 2001). Arnesen argues had a significant impact on reshaping its meaning in the pop- that whiteness studies scholars inaccurately equate whiteness ular imagination. It is explicitly to that end that this article is with White supremacy, but that the two concepts are not nec- focused. What kind of redneck is being constructed in this essarily equivalent. Arnesen (2001) worries that whiteness humor? What identity boundaries are being negotiated, and studies scholars “ . . . reduce a complex, many faceted racial- does this speak to mainstream whiteness? ization process to the matter of ‘becoming white’” (p. 17). However, the claim that whiteness studies scholars are over- simplifying a complex process is not a fair or accurate accu- Whiteness, Boundary Theory, and sation, for exploring complexity and nuance in racial identity is a significant feature of whiteness studies. Jacobson (1999) Symbolic Pollution perhaps put it best when he noted, Whiteness studies are designed to exam and expose the “ter- ritory of white” to bring it under critical analysis (Ignatiev & The contest over whiteness—its definition, its internal Garvey, 1996; Jacobson, 1999; Lipsitz, 1998, 2011; Painter, hierarchies, its proper boundaries, and its rightful claimants— 2010; Perkinson, 2004; Roediger, 1991, 2006). The rapid has been critical to American culture throughout the nation’s growth of whiteness studies and the sheer number of disci- history, and it has been a fairly untidy affair. (p. 5) plines impacted has been remarkable. Arnesen (2001) argues that “few branches of the humanities and social sciences One of the many interesting discoveries of whiteness have escaped the increasing gravitational pull of ‘whiteness studies scholars is the historical flexibility of White racial studies’” (p. 4). The study of whiteness has been dominated identity. For example, throughout much of U.S. history, by the “systemic racism camp,” which focuses on the role of many light-skinned immigrants of eastern and southern power and structural inequality (Foster, 2009; Roediger, European descent, the Irish, and even poor rural Whites, 1991). The systemic racism camp associates White identity were often not viewed as fully White and did not always predominantly with privilege and oppression (Harris, 1993; receive the benefits of whiteness (Painter, 2010). Roediger Lucal, 1996; McIntosh, 1989; Pence & Fields, 1999; (2006) notes how in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Wiegman, 1999). Perhaps, the most ambitious analysis of southern and eastern European immigrants in particular were whiteness in this tradition is Painter’s (2010) tome The frequently racialized as “in-between” peoples; they neither History of White People. Painter (2010) ultimately roots the experienced the full racism of people of color, nor experi- origins of whiteness—and by extension the “white race”—in ence full inclusion as White Americans. Yet, many scholars the labels and perceptions of social elites, yet acknowledges have concluded that the epistemological and ontological Thomas 3 assumptions of the systemic racism camp in whiteness stud- Because the notion of social disorder is important for ies have greatly limited the study of White identity (Ching & understanding symbolic pollution, the application of sym- Creed, 1997; Eichstedt, 2001; Giroux, 1997; Winders, 2003). bolic pollution to a social group implies their challenge to Recent work within a stricter social constructionist tradition some normative aspect of that social order (Bean, 1981; has challenged the systemic racism camp for its tendency to Douglas, 1966, 1990). As Smith-Rosenberg (1990) argues, reify and essentialize whiteness (Bonnett, 1998; Eichstedt, “People who hold dangerously ambiguous roles are seen 2001; Foster, 2009; Jarosz & Lawson, 2002; Trainor, 2002; as antisocial: ‘dirt, obscenity, and lawlessness’ character- Weis & Lombardo, 2002). Twine and Gallagher (2007) argue ize them” (p. 165). I contend that redneck identity is a that whiteness studies are moving toward a “third wave,” dangerously ambiguous identity because it is a low status seeking to unify salient aspects of both the systemic racism identity occupied by Whites. This ambiguity poses an and constructionist approach. They state, intra-racial threat because it challenges important assump- tions and beliefs related to normative whiteness, including While whiteness often is synonymous with regimes of terror, White supremacy, American individualism, and meritoc- genocide and white supremacy, a third wave perspective on racy. Beliefs and values about dirt, garbage, or trash are whiteness rejects the implicit assumption that whiteness is consistently used to make claims and counter-claims only an unconditional, universal and equally experienced about the character of one’s status and identity (Douglas, location of privilege and power. (Twine & Gallagher, 2007, 1966; Hartigan, 2005), and thus, the accusation of being p. 7) dirty is “ . . . itself a weapon” for clarifying and strength- ening social structure (Douglas, 1966, p. 107). Redneck A core conceptual distinction between the systemic and identity is associated with symbolic pollution because it constructionist approach centers on the boundaries of White stands outside of conventional whiteness and, thus, threat- identity. In the systemic approach, whiteness is believed to ens cherished concepts important to mainstream White be primarily or even exclusively established through a con- identity. In the course of this intra-racial othering, sym- frontation with blackness (Ignatiev & Garvey, 1996; Lipsitz, bolic pollution becomes the principal means of establish- 2011; Perkinson, 2004). However, many constructionists are ing boundaries between us/them, and in the process now exploring how factors such as geographic region, gen- racializes the White Other via similar mechanisms used to der, and socio-economic status establish gradations within racialize minorities (Jarosz & Lawson, 2002). In this White identity. For example, the labels White trash and hill- unique contribution to the study of redneck identity and billy highlight the stratified social terrain of White identity White intra-racial othering, I argue below that it is through by illustrating a tradition of contempt and intra-racial other- frequent reference to symbolic pollution that Foxworthy ing (Harkins, 2004; Hartigan, 2005, 1997; Mason, 2005; humor actually constructs a particular type of pop culture Wilson, 2002; Winders, 2003). By analyzing how these redneck identity. Through this analysis, I will locate these labels are used to mark certain White identities as Other even references to symbolic pollution and explore what they as they remain White as such, we can broaden our conceptual mean for the construction of contemporary redneck iden- understanding of the formation and maintenance of White tity as well as whiteness. identity. It is precisely this process of intra-racial othering that this article seeks to explore through the boundaries con- Data and Method structed in this humor. In the redneck humor of Jeff Foxworthy, certain Whites The data consist of Foxworthy redneck jokes posted on the are marked as Other through the use of symbolic pollution. website Country Humor. Jeff Foxworthy released the com- Max Weber (1946) was the first prominent social theorist to edy album You Might Be a Redneck If . . . in 1993, ushering note how individuals occupying lower statuses are often per- in a new era for the social construction of redneck identity. ceived as dirty and that interacting with members from lower Foxworthy and Foxworthy-inspired redneck humor are cul- status groups can lead to impurity. However, Mary Douglas tural narratives articulating norms, values, beliefs, and life- (1990) was the first theorist to explore thoroughly the sym- styles about this identity (Foxworthy, 1991, 2004). With bolic construction and use of the concept “dirt.” Douglas material spanning over 25 years, Foxworthy has become the (1990) argues, largest selling comedy recording artist in history. At the time of this analysis, Country Humor had 300 of Foxworthy’s You If we can abstract pathogenicity and hygiene from our notion of Might Be a Redneck If jokes derived from his stand-up and dirt, we are left with the old definition of dirt as a matter out of printed material. I employed narrative analysis and incorpo- place . . . It implies two conditions: a set of ordered relations and rated semiotic concepts to give denotative and connotative a contravention of that order . . . This idea of dirt takes us straight readings of these jokes, exploring both literal, “common into the field of symbolism and promises a link-up of symbolic sense” references in this humor as well as the humor’s more systems of purity . . . In short, our pollution behavior is the symbolic meanings. My denotative and connotative readings reaction which condemns any object or idea likely to confuse or contradict cherished classifications. (p. 155) explore specific codes embedded in these jokes. 4 SAGE Open Communication is in part composed of employing and oneself, one’s relatives, friends, acquaintances, or at least a interpreting culturally available codes (Barker, 2003; generalized other, with this new identity of redneck. When the Chandler, 2002). Codes serve as a key, or set of instructions, binary collapses, threatening either your or another associ- for translating a message (Barthes & Duisit, 1975; Chandler, ate’s identity, the juxtaposition of incompatible ideas has 2002; Jameson, 1977; White & Taket, 2000). They often take occurred and laughter ensues (Meyer, 2000). the form of binary oppositions that structure both the prag- Social codes referencing symbolic pollution (i.e., pollu- matic use and symbolic meaning of language (Chandler, tion codes) also provide important elements of the humor- 2002). Codes help simplify phenomena to make it easier to ous message. This particular type of social code is important communicate experiences (Gombrich, 1982). Although for understanding the cultural connotations found in this codes might not directly determine the meaning of a text, humor. Pollution codes establish symbolic boundaries they do constrain meaning so as to push for a preferred read- between types of people. Such pollution codes often take ing (Hall, 1980). Different types of codes can be important form in the binaries cleanliness/dirtiness, civilized/uncivi- for different levels of analysis (Merrill, 2007). Indeed, most lized, ordered/unordered, moral/immoral, and others. For texts have a multitude of interacting codes, and analysis example, the pollution code cleanliness/dirtiness is signi- often involves considering these codes and their inter-rela- fied when a joke states that you might be a redneck if the tionships (Jakobson, 1971). Salvation Army “declines your mattress.” In this particular One type of code is the textual code (Chandler, 2002). example, the pollution code cleanliness/dirtiness is used to Textual codes help to facilitate literary or communicative tra- construct redneck identity as dirty, and then, it becomes ditions. For example, some textual codes that can help struc- associated with all the negative connotations such dirtiness ture the narrative genre include destinator/receiver, subject/ entails. Therefore, pollution codes specify the multitude of object, and assistant/traitors (White & Taket, 2000). While ways in which status hierarchies are being implicitly con- textual codes can provide structure so as to conform to a par- structed in redneck humor. These pollution codes generally ticular genre, the text might also contain other codes that focus on one of two patterns: excess or inappropriate juxta- reflect the narrator’s cultural values, attitudes, beliefs, position. These two patterns conform to what one would assumptions, and practices. These codes can be referred to as expect concerning the nature of humor (Gross, 2007; social codes (Chandler, 2002). Social codes convey bodily, Lengbeyer, 2005; Shifman, 2007). Through the two pat- behavioral, verbal, and commodity-based dimensions of terns of excess and incongruent juxtaposition, these pollu- social life (Chandler, 2002). Hence, textual codes are more tion codes contaminate common systems of classification specific to genre structure, whereas social codes communi- in modern, mainstream, White American social life. As cate broader aspects of collective existence. illustrated below, the operation of these two patterns of Textual and social codes help inform this analysis in two humor use divergent paths yet arrive at the same destina- ways. First, I focus on the textual code subject/object because tion, the marking of redneck identity as a polluted identity this is a fundamental component of Foxworthy’s redneck outside the realm of normative whiteness. humor. The code subject/object is essential to understanding what does and does not constitute redneck identity in this Analysis: Pollution Codes in Foxworthy humor. Also, this code is important because it highlights how Redneck Humor Foxworthy jokes can be viewed as elementary narratives. Narratives often follow an initial state → disruption → new Through exploration of pollution codes implied in Foxworthy state sequence (Franzosi, 1998), and Foxworthy jokes unfold redneck humor, this analysis illuminates but one way intra- in a similarly linear pattern. The typical structure of a racial othering occurs within White identity formation. There Foxworthy redneck joke is, are four expansive themes permeating these jokes: lifestyle and fashion, rural living, sex and gender, and poverty. These If you [pause] have a half-built truck engine in the front yard of themes and the pollution codes found therein are offered as your trailer home [pause] you might be a redneck. representative of the themes and pollution codes found throughout this humor. Therefore, you can be determined to be the subject, a half- built truck engine in the front yard of your trailer home a Lifestyle and Fashion composite of social codes, and redneck the object. The humor- ous message of the joke is partially predicated on the collapse Foxworthy humor establishes boundaries to convey the char- of the code subject/object. The initial state of the linear narra- acter of redneck identity. This humor often employs cultural tive sequence is the absence of a redneck identity, which can and biological differences to separate rednecks from norma- be viewed as the preferred state. The disruption occurs during tive whiteness. Employing many pollution codes simultane- the gist of the joke, which presents a culturally compacted ously, these codes intersect and fuse so that any one joke can image of redneck identity referencing one or more social signify multiple means of pollution. Associating redneck codes. The new state of the narrative is the association of identity with lack of hygiene occurs in the jokes below in Thomas 5 part through an association with the codes culture/nature, You participate in the “who can spit tobacco the farthest” contest. cleanliness/dirtiness, and cultivated/trashy. As revealed in these jokes, rednecks are constructed as prone to bodily Redman Chewing Tobacco sends you a Christmas card. infestation by insects, animals, and/or diseases. The focus on redneck spittle highlights the dirty, disgusting You might be a redneck if: behavior of redneck tobacco use. Instead of simply associat- Chiggers are included on your list of top 5 hygiene concerns. ing redneck tobacco use with secondhand smoke, the focus on chew spotlights disgusting, tobacco-laden saliva. This Birds are attracted to your beard. focus unifies human excretions with poor lifestyle choice, irresponsibility, and immorality. Below, we also see a more You have ever bathed with flea and tick soap. direct relationship between rednecks and dirt through jokes portraying the unclean living conditions and habits of You think that Campho-Phenique is a miracle drug. rednecks. Because the human body is a key component of racialized You might be a redneck if: rhetoric, it is often a site of contention over definitions of civilized/uncivilized (Hartigan, 2005). These particular jokes You keep a can of RAID on the kitchen table. take the culture/nature binary to the level of the physical organism; the living body is constructed as the site that is The Salvation Army declines your mattress. polluted. However, it is not simply nature’s infestation of the Going to the laundromat means cleaning out the back of the body that threatens the boundary between culture and nature. truck. We also see bodily excretions and waste threaten this bound- ary. Human excrement is tabooed in all cultures because it You clean your fingernails with a stick. threatens the fundamental distinction between “me and not me” (Keskpaik, 2001, p. 315). Urine, feces, grease, and spit- You prefer car keys to Q-tips. tle emerge in this humor as human excretions associated with redneck identity. We see these references as well as others in In these jokes we see dirty, pest-infested living conditions the jokes below. intersecting with poor behavioral habits and lack of intelli- gence, or at least common sense. Poor hygiene and squalid You might be a redneck if: living conditions stand in symbolic opposition to cleanliness, Someone in your family says “Cum’n heer an’ lookit this afore I which is associated with order, civilization, and morality flush it.” (Bean, 1981). Order, civilization, and morality are chal- lenged by another stereotype that targets the moral fabric of Exxon and Conoco have offered you royalties for your hair. redneck identity: excessive alcohol use. The image of a drunken and abusive redneck demonstrates how immorality You use lava soap more than three times a day. and excess serve as a central explanation for their misfor- tune. In the jokes below the use of alcoholic imagery solidi- These jokes illustrate the intersection of pollution codes in fies the relationship between immorality and redneck this humor. The association of rednecks with feces and behavioral patterns. grease is clear in these jokes, thus connecting redneck identity with human excretions. Yet, in the first joke, it is You might be a redneck if: not simply the reference to human excrement that identi- fies the redneck, it is also the speech pattern. This speech You actually made a pyramid of cans in the pale moonlight with pattern intersects with those pollution codes associating Alan Jackson. redneck identity with laziness, rusticity, and a lack of edu- You’re a lite beer drinker, because you start drinking when it cation. We also see the intersection of human excretions, a gets light. lack of education, and immorality in the jokes addressing redneck tobacco use. You’ve ever parked a Camero in a tree. You might be a redneck if: You’ve ever put a six-pack in a casket right before they closed it. You keep a spit cup on the ironing board. The first joke in this set combines alcoholism with a domi- Your family reunion features a chewing tobacco spit-off. nant theme: rurality. The lyrics of famous country musician 6 SAGE Open Alan Jackson serves as a bridge between alcoholic excess There is a stuffed possum anywhere in your house. and rural Americans. In addition, the jokes discussing drink- You own a homemade fur coat. ing when it is light and getting into drinking and driving acci- dents illustrate how this excessive, polluted behavior is a You’d rather catch bass than get some (if you can’t guess . . . ) lifestyle choice that can lead to dire consequences. The last joke illustrates how this poor lifestyle choice then transitions We also see the intersection of the pollution codes poor/rich, into an unsavory death ritual. pre-modern/modern, and virility/impotence in the jokes above. To illustrate, rather than hunting for sport or hunting You might be a redneck if: big game, these jokes construct rednecks as hunting for util- You can’t take a bath because beer is iced down in your tub. ity, such as producing clothing, or hunting small game for decoration. Hunting for utility and hunting small game (rac- Jack Daniels makes your list of most admired people. coons, rabbits, possums) symbolically pollutes redneck iden- tity by associating it with pre-modern living conditions, You ever got too drunk to fish. poverty, and/or a lack of style. The third joke also confounds civilized/uncivilized by implying that the redneck went hunt- Your beer can collection is considered a tourist attraction in ing and shot a deer on a golf course, or was golfing, had a your home town. gun, and shot a deer in the process. In either instance, the collapse of the boundary between golf, which is traditionally The first joke in this set illustrates how alcohol interrupts viewed as an upper-middle- or upper-class sport, and hunting important purity rituals. The denotative reading is that the provides a key source of the humorous message. The sugges- redneck is unable to clean themselves; the beer is literally in tion is that rednecks do not know how to support or maintain the way. A connotative reading can relate cleanliness to important social boundaries—in this case, the boundary purity, and the redneck’s inability to bath symbolically refer- between upper-class golf and hunting. In addition, the last ences how alcohol serves to pollute redneck identity. Yet, in joke above draws redneck sexuality and virility into ques- the jokes above, it is not simply the consumption of alcohol tion, a theme that will be explored later, after we take a closer that serves as a means of pollution; it is the association of look at rurality. redneck identity with excessive alcohol use. It is not the con- tent of the joke but rather the relationship between the con- Polluted Rural Spaces: Living in the Outskirts tent and a proclivity toward excessiveness that is key here. The proclivity toward excessiveness proves to be a funda- In the code culture/nature, the rustic character of redneck mental way of differentiating the redneck from the non-red- identity is directly connected with nature. This connection neck in much of this humor. This supports Zuesse’s (1974) locates redneck identity outside of civilization, as made contention that it is gradations within categories rather than explicit in the following jokes. between categories that often differentiates the socially acceptable from the symbolically polluted. You might be a redneck if: Another example of this emphasis on gradations within Directions to your house include “Turn off the paved road.” categories involves hunting and fishing. As per the jokes below, it is not the act of hunting and fishing that marks one’s Getting a package from your post office requires a full tank of identity as redneck; it is taking behaviors associated with gas in the truck. hunting and fishing to bizarre extremes. An emphasis on excess draws the recipient of the joke’s attention to a lack of Rustics live “out” in the countryside, boondocks, boonies, self-control. A lack of self-control is associated with child- sticks, and so forth, rather than “in” the city (Ching &Creed, ishness, primitiveness, and immorality and helps explain 1997). The association between the binary in/out and the why rednecks make poor lifestyle choices. Therefore, this binary urban/rural draws our attention to the connection humor suggests that although a redneck/non-redneck might between rusticity and outness. Living in figurative outness engage in the same activity, redneck behaviors lack taste and is living external to the bounds of modern society, external self-control. to contemporary cultural norms (Ching & Creed, 1997). In the culture/nature binary, this humor uses nature as a means You might be a redneck if: of symbolic pollution. Yet, outside of this humor the reverse is often true, where civilization is constructed as dirty or You have the local taxidermist’s number on speed dial. corrupt and nature as pure or pristine. There is much schol- You owe the taxidermist more than your annual income. arly work that deals with the ideological implications of this binary for the American political system and public You’ve ever filled your deer tag on the golf course. policy (Davis, 1988; Dyer, 1987; Furedi, 2008; Haer, 1952; Thomas 7 Knoke & Henry, 1977). However, this ideological battle You might be a redneck if: often misses some broader implications of the culture/ You’ve ever raked leaves in your kitchen. nature binary. Kaika (2004) notes how the struggle between “good water” and “bad water” is analogous to the differ- You’ve ever used a weedeater indoors. ence between “good nature” and “bad nature.” Good water is clean, processed, controlled, and commodified. Bad Going to the bathroom at night involves shoes and a flashlight. water is dirty, gray, metabolized, non-processed, and non- commodified. Bad water is found in rivers, streams, creeks, You have flowers planted in a bathroom appliance in your front rainwater, sewage, and so forth, and is understood as dele- yard. terious to the human body if consumed. Good water occurs through a process of technological and cultural transforma- This binary culture/nature, and rurality more broadly, also tion. Good water is used for drinking, cleaning, swimming, serves as an important explanation for another commonly and religious services. Water is “good” after it has been assumed redneck characteristic: racism. transformed by human technology and culture (Kaika, 2004). Likewise, only after nature has been transformed— You might be a redneck if: for example, from a dangerous wilderness to a national park—does it provide enough safety and security to be There is a sheet hanging in your closet and a gun rack hanging enjoyed as “pristine.” Associating an identity with “good in your truck. nature” or “bad nature” is one means of marking status in modernity (Kaika, 2004). Members of higher statuses might Jarosz and Lawson (2002) argue that middle-class Whites enjoy “good nature” by going to a ski resort, or taking a associate extreme forms of racism with rural Whites in an weekend fishing trip to a public or private lake. Good attempt to free themselves from being implicated in institu- nature is good because it has the semblance of order; it is tional racism. By insisting that racism is a core quality of under the will and domain of humankind. However bad rednecks, middle-class Whites disassociate themselves from nature is unwieldy and dangerous; it violates boundaries racism by locating it in the primitive and pre-modern aspects and is void of culture. of White American culture. This reinforces the notion that In Foxworthy humor, the breakdown of the culture/nature racism is only a problem because of a particular kind of and order/disorder binaries also occurs through the break- White identity. Therefore, rednecks free normative middle- down of the inside and outside of the home. Living condi- class whiteness of its complicity in racist practices (Jarosz & tions is a prominent means of associating redneck identity Lawson, 2002). Moreover, the lack of education, being pre- with symbolic pollution. The jokes below highlight the dis- modern, a primitive lifestyle and ensuing racist sentiments tinction between culture/inside and nature/outside. all intersect with an association to southern regionalism. You might be a redneck if: You might be a redneck if: You have to go down to the creek to take a bath. You are still holding onto Confederate money because you think the South will rise again. You have to go outside to get something ‘out of the fridge.’ You have started a petition to change the national anthem to The best way to keep things cold is to leave ’em in the shade. “Georgia on My Mind.” Your classes at school were canceled because the path to the More than one living relative is named after a Southern Civil restroom was flooded. War general. The unification of civilization with order and nature with dis- The construction of redneck identity as pre-modern, rustic, order is most visible in jokes referencing the redneck home. out-of-touch, and often racist and regionalist creates a pol- Kaika (2004) argues that “the idea of the house as a means of luted identity that establishes boundaries for a more main- separating the inside from the outside, nature from human stream White identity. Yet, although the racist and regionalist beings, the public from the private sphere, has existed since sentiments associated with redneck identity help quell a antiquity” (p. 265). In the process of imbuing the home with more normative whiteness’s complicity in racist practices, cultural and ideological meaning “nature” is extracted and there is perhaps no better theme that illustrates the construc- then selectively allowed back in after being produced, puri- tion of degenerate whiteness than themes involving sexual fied, and commodified (Kaika, 2004). In Foxworthy humor, and gender taboo. I now explore how taboo sexual and gen- the breakdown of the binaries inside/outside and culture/ der behavior represents a major dimension of regressive nature serves to pollute redneck identity. whiteness in this humor. 8 SAGE Open These jokes suggest not only do rednecks freely engage in Polluted Sexual and Gendered Practices incestuous relations but also such relationships are common, Taboos are important means of boundary work, giving form culturally acceptable, and even expected. By transgressing to formlessness and explicitly delineating the divine from the incest taboo, the redneck is violating both the under- the human elements of social life (Levine, 1986; Zuesse, standing of what helps make one human as well as what 1974). Taboo sexual behavior is particularly threatening to helps connect humans to the divine (Levine, 1986; Zuesse, multiple culturally valued boundaries (Davies, 1982). In 1974). In this way, the actual sex act is one means of pollu- popular culture, rustic sexual expression often takes the tion, its outcome (inbred offspring) is another means of pol- form of homosexual rape, incest, or bestiality (Ching & lution, and the culture that supports this behavior is perceived Creed, 1997). In this humor, homosexual rape manifests in as dysfunctional, degenerate, and immoral. reference to the 1972 film Deliverance. Hartigan (2005) argues that the film Deliverance unfolds in a narrational You might be a redneck if: tension between nature and culture. In one particular scene, the viewer witnesses the homosexual rape of one of the Your brother-in-law is also your uncle. main characters. The rape was committed by one of several poor, rural Whites, all of whom were carrying firearms. Your family tree doesn’t have any branches. Below, this homosexual rape reemerges to serve the pur- Your gene pool doesn’t have a “deep end.” pose of polluting redneck identity. You dated your daddy’s current wife in high school. You might be a redneck if: You have to scratch your sister’s name out of the message: “for You think the mountain men in Deliverance were just a good time call . . . because you feel guilty about putting it “misunderstood.” there.” This particular joke also seems to poke fun at political cor- The use of incestuous relationships as a means of polluting rectness. Stating that the mountain men were simply misun- redneck identity offers a much-needed explanation for the derstood, combined with quotations indicating irony, very existence of such an identity. Why are there White peo- suggests a sarcastic play on the notions of cultural relativ- ple who are poor and live in rural areas? Why are they not ism and/or cultural sensitivity. Such irony is often meant to moving out of these areas and out of poverty? Their very exis- imply the opposite: that, this violent, homosexual rape is tence challenges the legitimacy of American meritocracy. indicative of something more essential, be it cultural, or Their inability to conform to White middle-class norms individual pathology. However, incest is a much more prev- demands explanation and incest offers a powerful one. This alent taboo in this humor than is homosexual rape. In popu- biological explanation conferring genetic weakness combines lar culture, incest is understood as typical redneck behavior to reinforce, and be reinforced by, poor behavior and lack of and, therefore, rednecks are perceived as coming from a self-control to explain the existence of such an identity. gene puddle instead of a gene pool (Goad, 1998). Indeed, Another common theme concerning redneck sexual incest serves as a key biological explanation for why red- behavior is a lack of male romance and chivalry. As Davies neck identity fails to conform to the standards of a more (1982) notes, the strength of taboos often lies less in content normative whiteness, and this biological explanation is one than in structure, in the separation of categories and in the of the most transparent ways redneck identity is racialized. keeping apart of like and unlike elements. While associating Following this tradition of racialization through an empha- redneck sexuality with homosexual rape or incest is more sis on incest, sexuality is constructed as a “family affair” in extreme than lack of male romance or chivalry, it is still used this humor. as a means of polluting redneck identity. Male sexual behav- ior and mating patterns are constructed as uncultivated, You might be a redneck if: insufficiently romantic, and trashy. You view the next family reunion as a chance to meet girls. You might be a redneck if: You can’t get married to your sweetheart because there is a law Your idea of talking during sex is “Ain’t no cars coming, baby!” against it. After making love you ask your date to roll down the window. You stand under the mistletoe at Christmas and wait for Granny and cousin Sue-Ellen to walk by. “Honey? Are the lights out? Is the door locked? Is the parking brake set?” is what you hear right before you and your wife/girl You go Christmas shopping for your mom, sister, and girlfriend, make love. and you only need to buy one gift. Thomas 9 These jokes pollute redneck identity by attacking their chiv- redneck identity by associating it with redneck femininity. In alry toward their partners. Courting and romance can be seen addition, while working class manual labor pollutes redneck as an important means of separating the civilized man from femininity, so does an association with what is beautiful ver- the primitive man. Such jokes imply that rednecks are not sus what is ugly. Polluted appearances are unattractive and really “men” because they lack the desire, the means, or the tacky. Because redneck identity is a polluted identity, and knowledge to properly court their partners or engage in redneck femininity is polluted by working class masculinity, romantic love making. Attacking the romantic virtue of then redneck women are, through symbolic touching, “primitive males” has deep historical roots. For example, unattractive. African American male sexuality was constructed as primi- You might be a redneck if: tive and lacking in chivalrous virtue by the antebellum south- ern aristocracy (Bay, 2000). Considering the historical Your wife’s hairdo has ever been ruined by a ceiling fan. association of the term redneck with the American south, such jokes might reflect deeply embedded attitudes that Your wife weighs more than your refrigerator. established boundaries between southern gentlemen and unrefined rednecks. Your wife has a beer belly and you find it attractive. Nonetheless, in contemporary popular culture, redneck identity is also understood as a traditional and masculine The lack of self-discipline and being old fashioned are also identity. The masculinity of redneck identity often intersects sources of pollution. The first joke establishes a sense of the with alcoholism, an abusive disposition toward women, and redneck woman’s “big hair,” an old fashioned hairstyle taken the support of traditional gender roles. to an extreme in this particular joke. Likewise, in the second joke all the cultural stereotypes associated with being over- You might be a redneck if: weight serve to pollute redneck women, such as being lazy, lacking self-discipline, and being immoral. Also, the last You think “loading the dishwasher” means getting your wife joke in this set offers a good example of how most jokes drunk. targeting redneck women are often still geared toward a male audience. It is not just that your wife has a beer belly—a In this humor, masculinity is more often constructed as a stereotypically male phenomenon, and that the belly pollutes characteristic of redneck women. Redneck women are con- her identity. It is also that you find it attractive. In other structed as grossly masculine and lacking in feminine virtue. words, feminine identity being polluted by masculine iden- Indeed, rather than focusing on redneck identity as a means tity is not the only pollution code. It is also polluting those of enforcing traditional gender roles, most jokes focus on men who choose such women, and it is often the men who how the feminine is polluted by the masculine in redneck are the primary targets of the joke. Therefore, the impact of identity. Femininity is polluted by constructing the wife as a these pollution codes is dependent upon a firm dichotomy manual laborer, as well as through behavior traditionally between man/woman and masculine/feminine. Any acts or viewed as unbecoming of women. characteristics that threaten these binaries are a menace to You might be a redneck if: culturally valued boundaries, and thus, can serve as possible sites of pollution. Your wife can climb a tree faster than your cat. Another means of polluting redneck femininity with mas- culine traits is by associating redneck femininity with Your wife wants to stop at the gas station to see if they’ve got the tobacco use and alcoholism. new Darrell Waltrip Budweiser wall clock. You might be a redneck if: Your wife’s best pair of shoes is steel-toed Red Wings. Your mom gives you tips on how to sneak booze into sporting Your wife’s job requires her to wear an orange vest. events. Symbolic pollution is often associated with mundane, physi- Your mother doesn’t remove the Marlboro from her lips before cal work, and materiality (Bean, 1981). These last two jokes telling the State Trooper to kiss her ass. specifically focus on how being working class and working in manual labor pollutes the feminine in redneck identity. Your mother keeps a spit cup on the ironing board. These jokes expressly address “your wife,” and then associ- The tobacco chewers in your family aren’t just men. ate “your wife” with a masculine trait. Therefore, you know you might be a redneck if “your wife” possesses overtly mas- culine, working class traits. Consequently, this humor uses Such jokes challenge redneck femininity by associating red- “symbolic touching” (Levine, 1986, p. 982) to pollute male neck women with two characteristics that strongly define 10 SAGE Open redneck masculinity: alcohol and tobacco use. Yet, these You buy your wife tube socks at the flea market. jokes also pollute redneck femininity by implicitly challeng- You think “taking out the trash” means taking your in-laws to a ing the redneck woman’s ability to perform a most cherished movie. traditional cultural role, that of mother. Tobacco and alcohol are not only a masculine redneck trait, excessive alcohol and In the first four jokes above, we see how the boundary tobacco use are seen as immoral regardless of one’s gender. between literal and figurative trash often breaks down in The sneaking of alcohol into sporting events implies a dispo- social practice. The first three jokes connect redneck identity sition toward criminality, drunkenness, or both. Likewise, with literal trash, things that have been discarded. The first the three jokes discussing tobacco use also entail an uncouth two jokes can also be read in reference to immoral and/or disposition and criminality. Such jokes imply that masculin- criminal behavior, because the cable spool and speakers ity is not the only danger associated with redneck femininity. might have been stolen. The connection between redneck Redneck femininity is also dangerous to a man’s ability to identity and literal trash also associates redneck identity with form and/or maintain a wholesome family life. And, this figurative trash. The transition from literal to figurative trash highlights an interesting component of Foxworthy’s redneck is complete in the last joke relating trash to “in-laws.” humor that I would like to make explicit: namely, the unspo- Things that are socially and symbolically “discarded” are ken gender scripts related to work and family life. This also “physically relocated” (Keskpaik, 2001, p. 321). humor operates with restrictive and traditional gender role Material objects that are physically relocated to special sites assumptions. It is essentialist, as the masculine/feminine become trash. For example, the placement of a computer exists as an innate, natural binary. This humor is predicated next to a garbage bin designates that computer, no matter on the notion that femininity is inherently soft and emotive. how new or functional, as “trash,” again highlighting how It presupposes the existence of clear boundaries and scripts pollution leads to infection through contact (Levine, 1986). that are rooted in very traditional and conservative percep- Trash is on the periphery, and similarly trailer parks are on tions of gender. These traditional and conservative percep- the periphery of American culture. The trailer park, as a tions might reflect the educational distance and class-based social code, is so polluted that U.S. culture has a unique term assumptions of redneck and mainstream whiteness, because for individuals who live in trailer homes: trailer trash. The it is through their working class jobs, alcohol and tobacco jokes below show how redneck identity is polluted by an use, and comfort or embrace of violence, that redneck women association with trailers and trailer trash. transgress acceptable gendered boundaries. As such, the transgression of these boundaries not only pollutes their You might be a redneck if: identity but also pollutes the identities of those redneck males associated with them. Yer mom calls ya over t’ help, cause she has a flat tire . . . on her Last, I conclude this analysis of Foxworthy redneck jokes house. by exploring how poverty, education, and status intertwine and serve as a primary means of polluting redneck identity. You own a home that is mobile and 5 cars that aren’t. You replace a flat tire on your truck with a tire from your house. The Pollution of Poverty Your home has more miles on it than your car. Trash is related to poverty both literally and figuratively. Trash is related to poverty literally because poverty often Your richest relative invites you over to his new home to help forces people to exploit what others have discarded as him remove the wheels and skirt. “trash.” Poverty is figuratively associated with trash through labels such as White trash and other rhetorical means of sym- The theme emphasized in these particular jokes is the dichot- bolic pollution. Trash is physically relocated to the periphery omy between home and mobility. Because trailer trash live in of civilization, marking the boundary where civilization ends “mobile” homes, they lack roots in community, and hence and nature begins (Keskpaik, 2001). Similarly, by associat- are placeless. The mobile home replaces having deep roots in ing redneck identity with literal and figurative trash, red- a community with being a vagabond or tramp. In the jokes necks are symbolically removed from mainstream culture. above, we also see the juxtaposition of mobile homes and broken down vehicles. The cultural image of the redneck You might be a redneck if: lawn littered with broken down vehicles is a powerful one. Trash marks the external boundaries of culture (Keskpaik, Your coffee table used to be a cable spool. 2001) and the association between redneck identity and trash often occurs through this focus on the state and character of Your stereo speakers used to belong to the Drive-in Theater. redneck vehicles. We see the connection between redneck You come home from the garbage dump with more than you went identity and trash more explicitly in the jokes below through with. the direct focus on the pitiful state of redneck vehicles. Thomas 11 You might be a redneck if: You think the French Riviera is a foreign car. There are four or more cars up on blocks in the front yard. You think that Dom Perignon is a mafia leader. Fewer than half of your cars run. You consider a six-pack and a bug-zapper high-quality entertainment. You have a rag for a gas cap (on a car that does not run). In these jokes, the juxtaposition of incongruent cultural You have a color coordinating rope that ties down your car objects or knowledge is used to elicit humor. Cultural objects hood. such as turtlenecks or Dom Perignon are falsely associated with food and people. These jokes reinforce the claim that This literal and figurative association makes special sense status is associated with bodily dimensions (Elis, 1994; considering the impact automobiles have had on American Hartigan, 2005) because redneck cultural knowledge is con- culture over the course of the 20th century. Automobiles are structed as base knowledge, related to food, the human body, symbols of American freedom and individuality, and the type and generally vulgar entertainment. This is not surprising and state of one’s vehicle can be viewed as a status symbol. considering that tabooed behavior frequently clusters around For the redneck, the automobile serves as a prime example of base activities that are “most in need of ‘culturizing’ and their polluted, lowly status. humanizing” (Zuesse, 1974, p. 493). Redneck poverty is also explained by lack of education, You might be a redneck if: which is often associated with the lack of innate intelligence. Redneck breeding patterns are seen as having created an The blue book value of your truck goes up and down depending identity that lacks a “genetic deep end.” “Bad breeding” has on how much gas it has in it. been a consistent theme explaining rural White poverty since the eugenics era at the turn of the 20th century (Hartigan, The taillight covers of your car are made of red tape. 2005; Wray, 2006). Through a focus on genetic deficiency and bad breeding, redneck identity moves away from an Your vehicle has a two-tone paint job—primer red and primer individual lifestyle choice and instead becomes a reflection gray. of broader systemic degeneracy based in family structure, family behavior, and biology. The jokes below touch upon You have a Hefty bag on the passenger side window of your car. themes of degenerate family structure and irresponsible fam- ily behavior. The image of the redneck trailer home on the outskirts of town and physically resembling a junk yard uses two impor- You might be a redneck if: tant American cultural symbols, the automobile and the home, as a means of polluting redneck identity. This utilizes The most commonly heard phrase at your family reunion is the often porous boundary between literal and figurative “What the hell are you looking at, Shithead?” trash, and in the process establishes a polluted identity that conflates poverty with lifestyle choice, laziness, and immo- You were shooting pool when any of your kids were born. rality. This conflation marks redneck identity as a low status. Yet, some jokes deal specifically with status by focusing on Your Junior/Senior Prom had a Daycare. the boundary between high culture and low culture, and con- You’ve ever climbed a water tower with a bucket of paint to necting redneck identity with low culture. The low status of defend your sister’s honor. redneck identity is explained in part by cultural primitive- ness. The redneck’s lack of cultural refinement speaks The lack of innate intelligence and educational attainment is directly to their low social status as they are constructed as constructed as a cause and consequence of redneck degen- having base interests and base cultural knowledge. These eracy. Genetic inbreeding and limited education become particular jokes highlight how rednecks lack economic, confounding factors that explain both why redneck identity social, and cultural capital. Redneck cultural knowledge is exists and how it is fundamentally different from a more nor- understood as limited, base, and inadequate. The jokes below mative, mainstream whiteness. For example, are structured with an explicit schism between high culture and low culture. You might be a redneck if: You might be a redneck if: Your dad walks you to school because you’re in the same grade. You consider pork and beans to be a gourmet food. You think a turtleneck is a key ingredient for soup. You think a subdivision is part of a math problem. 12 SAGE Open You think the stock market has a fence around it. the “outside,” in conflict with mainstream, White American middle-class identity. The boundary between the redneck The fifth grade is referred to as “your senior year.” and the non-redneck is at times a complex, porous fault-line that defines a normative whiteness by using pollution codes During your senior year you and your mother had homeroom to stigmatize White outsiders through the use of humor. By together. constructing this boundary between the redneck/non-redneck and marking redneck identity as polluted this more norma- Idiocy—rooted in an innate deficiency and a lack of educa- tive, mainstream whiteness is insulated and protected from tional attainment—is the common theme in this humor. This intra-racial threats. For example, the very existence of poor lack of intelligence and common sense produces and then is rural Whites threatens any lingering attitudes of White reinforced by poor parenting skills on the part of both red- supremacy, and therefore, these poor rural Whites must be neck mother and father. As explored in the previous section, accounted for and their social condition justified. Likewise, a the redneck woman is constructed as a danger to the tradi- persistent underclass of poor rural Whites challenge cher- tional family because she is overly masculine, uses alcohol ished notions of American individualism and meritocracy, and tobacco, is potentially violent and/or criminal, and lacks and therefore, the existence of a persistent underclass must acceptable parenting skills. We see such themes recurring in be explained away with behavioral or biological factors. jokes more specifically targeting redneck parenting skills. Finally, enduring institutional racism also threatens American individualism and meritocracy, and therefore, redneck iden- You might be a redneck if: tity serves as a necessary scapegoat for many Whites who try to reconcile a “color-blind” society (Bonilla-Silva, 2003) Your kids take a siphon hose to “Show and Tell.” with the continuing existence of racism in the United States. In the end, the most striking and profound means of pol- Your kids are going hungry tonight because you just had to have luting redneck identity in this humor comes by way of the those Yosemite Sam mudflaps. code culture/nature. The line demarcating culture/nature, and the association Your father encourages you to quit school because Larry has an of poor rural Whites with nature, is an old association. For opening on the lube rack. example, a series of studies in the early 20th century by the U.S. Eugenics Records Office (ERO) sought to demonstrate Redneck degeneracy is understood as the natural outcome scientifically that a large number of rural Whites were genet- of limited parenting skills, intelligence, and education, cou- ically defective (Wray & Newitz, 1997). This eugenics pled with cultural primitiveness and baseness. This in turn movement was perhaps the most influential outgrowth of justifies the low status and poverty associated with redneck Social Darwinism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries identity. The social construction of rural Whites as degener- and greatly influenced social policy and popular attitudes ate is not a new phenomenon. Many of the pollution codes in (McReynolds, 1997; Rafter, 1992). Family names such as this humor that are used to construct the image of the degen- “The Jukes” and “The Kallikaks” entered popular culture to erate redneck are similar to the pollution codes used to con- illustrate the poor, dirty, alcoholic, and criminally and sexu- struct the image of the dangerous rural White during the ally perverse nature of many rural people (Wray & Newitz, eugenics era. This stigmatized identity was infused into 1997; Rafter, 1992). Eugenics ideology at the turn of the 20th mainstream White understanding of the rural White Other. century interpreted the White underclass as either a direct revolt against, or simply the lack of, civilization (Hartigan, Discussion 2005; Wray, 2006). While focusing on the presumed genetic I have offered a semiotics-inspired narrative analysis of the deficiencies of rural society they supported “aggressive social construction of rednecks in Foxworthy and Foxworthy- interventions to stop further declines in the quantity and inspired humor. I conducted this narrative analysis with a quality of rural people” (McReynolds, 1997, p. 300). In focus on three interrelated research questions. First, how is eugenics ideology, the concept of biological “fitness” was this concept redneck defined according to this humor? associated with class and status distinctions, so that poor Second, in the process of defining redneck identity, how are gene pool quality created a discernable qualitative difference the boundaries between redneck/non-redneck being negoti- between urban and rural people (McReynolds, 1997, pp. ated? Last, does the rhetorical boundary redneck help us 306-307). The eugenics movement was modernist and urban, understand the production and maintenance of normative, and the White underclass represented a racial poison threat- mainstream whiteness? This humor uses pollution codes to ening both the purity of the White race as well as modernity construct redneck identity as degenerate and primitive. itself (Hartigan, 2005). Stereotypes of rural poor Whites as Pollution codes such as cleanliness/dirtiness, civilized/ incestuous and sexually promiscuous, violent, alcoholic, uncivilized, ordered/unordered, and moral/immoral establish lazy, and stupid remain to this day (Wray & Newitz, 1997, p. the boundaries necessary to articulate how rednecks exist on 2). While during the eugenics era the degeneracy of poor Thomas 13 rural Whites threatened the legitimacy of White supremacy whiteness from intra-racial threats to its normative identity. and the perceived future of the White race, today poor rural The boundaries between rednecks and non-rednecks call into Whites continue to serve as instruments in the construction question the popular assumption that White identity is a of a mainstream, middle-class whiteness. Today, redneck homogeneous identity, constructed solely in opposition to humor is infused with pollution codes that create social dis- racial minorities (McIntosh, 1989; Morrison, 1992; Winders, tance between the redneck/non-redneck rooted in these 2003). Instead, whiteness is also constructed in opposition to bodily and behavioral distinctions. These pollution codes are “redness” (Jarosz & Lawson, 2002), a status identity coupled the practical work of boundary production, and although the with those negative characteristics associated with pre-mod- outcome of their use is less “dangerous” to poor rural Whites ern rusticity. than during the eugenics era, they still signify a process of intra-racial othering within White identity formation. Over Declaration of Conflicting Interests the course of the 20th century, the response to poor rural The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect Whites who threatened modernity and its normative, White to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. middle-class identity went from a project of forced steriliza- tion to a humor industry. Funding The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or Conclusion authorship of this article. 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International Journal of Urban and Regional and Communication, 53, 631-650. Research, 28, 265-286. Twine, F. W., & Gallagher, C. (2007). The future of whiteness: A Keskpaik, R. (2001). Toward a semiotic definition of trash. Sign map of the third wave. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31, 4-24. System Studies, 29, 313-323. Webb, J. (2005). Born fighting: How the Scots-Irish shaped Knoke, D., & Henry, C. (1977). Political structure of rural America. America. New York, NY: Broadway Books. ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Weber, M. (1946). From Max Weber: Essays in sociology. New Science, 429, 51-62. York, NY: Oxford University Press. Thomas 15 Weis, L., & Lombardo, S. L. (2002). Producing whiteness: An Wray, M. (2006). Not quite white: White trash and the boundaries exploration of working class white men in two contexts. of whiteness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Discourses: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, Wray, M., & Newitz, A. (1997). White trash: Race and class in 23(2), 5-25. America. New York, NY: Routledge. White, L., & Taket, A. (2000). Exploring the use of narrative analy- Zuesse, E. M. (1974). Taboo and the divine order. Journal of the sis as an operational research method: A case study in volun- American Academy of Religion, 42, 482-502. tary sector evaluation. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 51, 700-711. Author Biography Wiegman, R. (1999). Whiteness studies and the paradox of particu- larity. Boundary 2, 26, 115-150. J. David Thomas is program chair of the Social and Behavioral Wilson, J. Z. (2002). Invisible racism: The language and ontology Sciences and assistant professor of Sociology at Ivy Tech Community of “white trash.” Critique of Anthropology, 22, 387-401. College, Evansville, IN. His research interests include whiteness Winders, J. (2003). White in all the wrong places: White rural pov- studies, redneck identity, classical and contemporary sociological erty in the postbellum US South. Cultural Geographies, 10, theory, and most recently, the southern culture of violence. He 45-63. earned the PhD in Sociology from Purdue University in 2012. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png SAGE Open SAGE

Jeff Foxworthy’s Redneck Humor and the Boundaries of Middle-Class American Whiteness:

SAGE Open , Volume 6 (2): 1 – May 4, 2016

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Abstract

Recent studies examine the use of rhetorical boundaries to produce intra-racial othering within whiteness. I expand this project by exploring the textual and social codes in Jeff Foxworthy humor that demarcate the boundaries between the redneck and the non-redneck. Such boundaries are complex, porous fault-lines that use symbolic pollution embedded in humor to stigmatize White outsiders. Social codes referencing symbolic pollution establish boundaries to define and insulate a normative, mainstream White identity from the intra-racial threat of redneck identity. This project provides a novel addition to whiteness studies by taking redneck humor analytically seriously and concludes by drawing comparisons between codes found in Foxworthy humor and those levied against rural Whites during the eugenics era. Keywords whiteness, redneck humor, pollution ideology, boundary theory, social constructionism gender, and poverty. I explore the textual and social codes Redneck Identity and Redneck Humor used to define redneck identity and construct the boundaries Popular culture has aided the reworking of a redneck dis- between the redneck and the non-redneck. I locate this proj- course that historically signified poor rural White southern- ect within whiteness studies literature and conceptualize the ers (Jarosz & Lawson, 2002). Solidified by comedian Jeff analysis via boundary theory and the notion of symbolic Foxworthy in the 1990s, the term redneck has been reinter- pollution. preted as an identity salient to a mass audience (Hartigan, However, it is important to recognize that although 1997). When redneck is used as a self-description or as a way Foxworthy’s redneck humor provides an important and of indicating otherness, it becomes a means of establishing influential interpretation of redneck identity, I am not sug- identity boundaries. To expand research exploring the gesting that his humor should be viewed as the final, authori- nuances of whiteness, this article seeks to illuminate how, tative word on the issue. There are many facets to redneck and why, redneck identity is being constructed in this humor. identity and the term has a long history. Indeed, although it Specifically, I seek to address three interrelated questions. appears to have originated in the British Isles, the first known recorded use of the term in the United States was in an 1830 Research Question 1: How is redneck defined according travel book by A. Royall, titled Southern Tour (Goad, 1998; to Foxworthy humor? Huber & Drowne, 2001; Webb, 2005). Royall used the term Research Question 2: How does this humor construct the redneck to describe a group of Presbyterians in Fayetteville, boundaries between the redneck and non-redneck? North Carolina (Goad, 1998). By the 1890s, redneck was Research Question 3: Do the boundaries utilized in this broadly used to describe rural White laborers in the American humor help us understand the production and mainte- south, as it had become associated with the effects of long nance of a more normative, mainstream whiteness? hours of laboring in the sun (Huber & Drowne, 2001; To address these questions, I conducted a semiotics- inspired narrative analysis of more than 300 Foxworthy red- Ivy Tech Community College, Evansville, IN, USA neck jokes derived from his comedy routine and posted on Corresponding Author: the Internet site Country Humor (Foxworthy, 1991, 2004). J. David Thomas, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ivy Tech My analysis is organized around four broad themes that per- Community College, 3501 N. First Avenue, Evansville, IN 47710, USA. meate these jokes: lifestyle and fashion, rural living, sex and Email: jthomas324@ivytech.edu Creative Commons CC-BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage). 2 SAGE Open Roebuck & Hickson, 1982). The term might have also been the socially situational nuances of whiteness, particularly reinforced by a vitamin deficiency called pellagra, which through how it has been impacted by class and gender. One causes the neck and other parts of the body to redden. of the fundamental assumptions of whiteness studies is that Roebuck and Hickson (1982) state that rural southern Whites White racial identity and its associated privileges are largely frequently suffered from ill health due to poor diets and a invisible, particularly to White individuals. As Perkinson general lack of medical care. Pellagra was common through- (2004) states, “White America is largely unconscious and out the southern United States, especially in the 1930s, when mute, unable to address the question of its identity as white. many believe that redneck became a nationally recognized Power does not normally have to give an account of its own term (Eisiminger, 1984). basis of operation” (p. 1). As such, exploring White identity In states such as West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, south- and exposing White privilege serves as foundational theo- ern Illinois, and Indiana, the term redneck also became syn- retical concerns in this field. Perkinson (2004) notes that onymous with unionization and its radical politics (Huber, such exposure must occur on multiple levels—from the 1994). Rednecks would wear red bandanas around their operation of structural privilege, to the organization of cul- necks as a sign of solidarity, particularly while striking. The tural habit, to the face-to-face politics of personal power. term redneck was both embraced and used pejoratively to With this focus on power and privilege, whiteness does not describe members of the United Mine Workers of America, represent a color as much as it represents a condition “ . . . a as well as their rural background (Huber, 1994). structured advantage that channels unfair gains and unjust Redneck took on more currency in popular culture in the enrichments to whites . . . ” (Lipsitz, 2011, p. 3). 1970s, particularly through the influence of country music. Of course, whiteness studies are not without critics. The With songs including Johnny Russell’s Rednecks, White most well-known critique of whiteness studies comes from Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer, the Bellamy Brothers Redneck historian Eric Arnesen (2001). Arnesen argues that whiteness Girl, and David Allen Coe’s Longhaired Redneck, it entered studies scholars in general, and labor historians working America’s popular lexicon and began to transcend its asso- within the framework of whiteness studies in particular, ciation with a strictly southern rurality. When Foxworthy’s engage in serious methodological and conceptual flaws— redneck humor first arrived in the early 1990s, redneck was particularly conceptual inflation, conceptual substitution, a nationally recognized term, and this humor has no doubt and analytical overreach (Arnesen, 2001). Arnesen argues had a significant impact on reshaping its meaning in the pop- that whiteness studies scholars inaccurately equate whiteness ular imagination. It is explicitly to that end that this article is with White supremacy, but that the two concepts are not nec- focused. What kind of redneck is being constructed in this essarily equivalent. Arnesen (2001) worries that whiteness humor? What identity boundaries are being negotiated, and studies scholars “ . . . reduce a complex, many faceted racial- does this speak to mainstream whiteness? ization process to the matter of ‘becoming white’” (p. 17). However, the claim that whiteness studies scholars are over- simplifying a complex process is not a fair or accurate accu- Whiteness, Boundary Theory, and sation, for exploring complexity and nuance in racial identity is a significant feature of whiteness studies. Jacobson (1999) Symbolic Pollution perhaps put it best when he noted, Whiteness studies are designed to exam and expose the “ter- ritory of white” to bring it under critical analysis (Ignatiev & The contest over whiteness—its definition, its internal Garvey, 1996; Jacobson, 1999; Lipsitz, 1998, 2011; Painter, hierarchies, its proper boundaries, and its rightful claimants— 2010; Perkinson, 2004; Roediger, 1991, 2006). The rapid has been critical to American culture throughout the nation’s growth of whiteness studies and the sheer number of disci- history, and it has been a fairly untidy affair. (p. 5) plines impacted has been remarkable. Arnesen (2001) argues that “few branches of the humanities and social sciences One of the many interesting discoveries of whiteness have escaped the increasing gravitational pull of ‘whiteness studies scholars is the historical flexibility of White racial studies’” (p. 4). The study of whiteness has been dominated identity. For example, throughout much of U.S. history, by the “systemic racism camp,” which focuses on the role of many light-skinned immigrants of eastern and southern power and structural inequality (Foster, 2009; Roediger, European descent, the Irish, and even poor rural Whites, 1991). The systemic racism camp associates White identity were often not viewed as fully White and did not always predominantly with privilege and oppression (Harris, 1993; receive the benefits of whiteness (Painter, 2010). Roediger Lucal, 1996; McIntosh, 1989; Pence & Fields, 1999; (2006) notes how in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Wiegman, 1999). Perhaps, the most ambitious analysis of southern and eastern European immigrants in particular were whiteness in this tradition is Painter’s (2010) tome The frequently racialized as “in-between” peoples; they neither History of White People. Painter (2010) ultimately roots the experienced the full racism of people of color, nor experi- origins of whiteness—and by extension the “white race”—in ence full inclusion as White Americans. Yet, many scholars the labels and perceptions of social elites, yet acknowledges have concluded that the epistemological and ontological Thomas 3 assumptions of the systemic racism camp in whiteness stud- Because the notion of social disorder is important for ies have greatly limited the study of White identity (Ching & understanding symbolic pollution, the application of sym- Creed, 1997; Eichstedt, 2001; Giroux, 1997; Winders, 2003). bolic pollution to a social group implies their challenge to Recent work within a stricter social constructionist tradition some normative aspect of that social order (Bean, 1981; has challenged the systemic racism camp for its tendency to Douglas, 1966, 1990). As Smith-Rosenberg (1990) argues, reify and essentialize whiteness (Bonnett, 1998; Eichstedt, “People who hold dangerously ambiguous roles are seen 2001; Foster, 2009; Jarosz & Lawson, 2002; Trainor, 2002; as antisocial: ‘dirt, obscenity, and lawlessness’ character- Weis & Lombardo, 2002). Twine and Gallagher (2007) argue ize them” (p. 165). I contend that redneck identity is a that whiteness studies are moving toward a “third wave,” dangerously ambiguous identity because it is a low status seeking to unify salient aspects of both the systemic racism identity occupied by Whites. This ambiguity poses an and constructionist approach. They state, intra-racial threat because it challenges important assump- tions and beliefs related to normative whiteness, including While whiteness often is synonymous with regimes of terror, White supremacy, American individualism, and meritoc- genocide and white supremacy, a third wave perspective on racy. Beliefs and values about dirt, garbage, or trash are whiteness rejects the implicit assumption that whiteness is consistently used to make claims and counter-claims only an unconditional, universal and equally experienced about the character of one’s status and identity (Douglas, location of privilege and power. (Twine & Gallagher, 2007, 1966; Hartigan, 2005), and thus, the accusation of being p. 7) dirty is “ . . . itself a weapon” for clarifying and strength- ening social structure (Douglas, 1966, p. 107). Redneck A core conceptual distinction between the systemic and identity is associated with symbolic pollution because it constructionist approach centers on the boundaries of White stands outside of conventional whiteness and, thus, threat- identity. In the systemic approach, whiteness is believed to ens cherished concepts important to mainstream White be primarily or even exclusively established through a con- identity. In the course of this intra-racial othering, sym- frontation with blackness (Ignatiev & Garvey, 1996; Lipsitz, bolic pollution becomes the principal means of establish- 2011; Perkinson, 2004). However, many constructionists are ing boundaries between us/them, and in the process now exploring how factors such as geographic region, gen- racializes the White Other via similar mechanisms used to der, and socio-economic status establish gradations within racialize minorities (Jarosz & Lawson, 2002). In this White identity. For example, the labels White trash and hill- unique contribution to the study of redneck identity and billy highlight the stratified social terrain of White identity White intra-racial othering, I argue below that it is through by illustrating a tradition of contempt and intra-racial other- frequent reference to symbolic pollution that Foxworthy ing (Harkins, 2004; Hartigan, 2005, 1997; Mason, 2005; humor actually constructs a particular type of pop culture Wilson, 2002; Winders, 2003). By analyzing how these redneck identity. Through this analysis, I will locate these labels are used to mark certain White identities as Other even references to symbolic pollution and explore what they as they remain White as such, we can broaden our conceptual mean for the construction of contemporary redneck iden- understanding of the formation and maintenance of White tity as well as whiteness. identity. It is precisely this process of intra-racial othering that this article seeks to explore through the boundaries con- Data and Method structed in this humor. In the redneck humor of Jeff Foxworthy, certain Whites The data consist of Foxworthy redneck jokes posted on the are marked as Other through the use of symbolic pollution. website Country Humor. Jeff Foxworthy released the com- Max Weber (1946) was the first prominent social theorist to edy album You Might Be a Redneck If . . . in 1993, ushering note how individuals occupying lower statuses are often per- in a new era for the social construction of redneck identity. ceived as dirty and that interacting with members from lower Foxworthy and Foxworthy-inspired redneck humor are cul- status groups can lead to impurity. However, Mary Douglas tural narratives articulating norms, values, beliefs, and life- (1990) was the first theorist to explore thoroughly the sym- styles about this identity (Foxworthy, 1991, 2004). With bolic construction and use of the concept “dirt.” Douglas material spanning over 25 years, Foxworthy has become the (1990) argues, largest selling comedy recording artist in history. At the time of this analysis, Country Humor had 300 of Foxworthy’s You If we can abstract pathogenicity and hygiene from our notion of Might Be a Redneck If jokes derived from his stand-up and dirt, we are left with the old definition of dirt as a matter out of printed material. I employed narrative analysis and incorpo- place . . . It implies two conditions: a set of ordered relations and rated semiotic concepts to give denotative and connotative a contravention of that order . . . This idea of dirt takes us straight readings of these jokes, exploring both literal, “common into the field of symbolism and promises a link-up of symbolic sense” references in this humor as well as the humor’s more systems of purity . . . In short, our pollution behavior is the symbolic meanings. My denotative and connotative readings reaction which condemns any object or idea likely to confuse or contradict cherished classifications. (p. 155) explore specific codes embedded in these jokes. 4 SAGE Open Communication is in part composed of employing and oneself, one’s relatives, friends, acquaintances, or at least a interpreting culturally available codes (Barker, 2003; generalized other, with this new identity of redneck. When the Chandler, 2002). Codes serve as a key, or set of instructions, binary collapses, threatening either your or another associ- for translating a message (Barthes & Duisit, 1975; Chandler, ate’s identity, the juxtaposition of incompatible ideas has 2002; Jameson, 1977; White & Taket, 2000). They often take occurred and laughter ensues (Meyer, 2000). the form of binary oppositions that structure both the prag- Social codes referencing symbolic pollution (i.e., pollu- matic use and symbolic meaning of language (Chandler, tion codes) also provide important elements of the humor- 2002). Codes help simplify phenomena to make it easier to ous message. This particular type of social code is important communicate experiences (Gombrich, 1982). Although for understanding the cultural connotations found in this codes might not directly determine the meaning of a text, humor. Pollution codes establish symbolic boundaries they do constrain meaning so as to push for a preferred read- between types of people. Such pollution codes often take ing (Hall, 1980). Different types of codes can be important form in the binaries cleanliness/dirtiness, civilized/uncivi- for different levels of analysis (Merrill, 2007). Indeed, most lized, ordered/unordered, moral/immoral, and others. For texts have a multitude of interacting codes, and analysis example, the pollution code cleanliness/dirtiness is signi- often involves considering these codes and their inter-rela- fied when a joke states that you might be a redneck if the tionships (Jakobson, 1971). Salvation Army “declines your mattress.” In this particular One type of code is the textual code (Chandler, 2002). example, the pollution code cleanliness/dirtiness is used to Textual codes help to facilitate literary or communicative tra- construct redneck identity as dirty, and then, it becomes ditions. For example, some textual codes that can help struc- associated with all the negative connotations such dirtiness ture the narrative genre include destinator/receiver, subject/ entails. Therefore, pollution codes specify the multitude of object, and assistant/traitors (White & Taket, 2000). While ways in which status hierarchies are being implicitly con- textual codes can provide structure so as to conform to a par- structed in redneck humor. These pollution codes generally ticular genre, the text might also contain other codes that focus on one of two patterns: excess or inappropriate juxta- reflect the narrator’s cultural values, attitudes, beliefs, position. These two patterns conform to what one would assumptions, and practices. These codes can be referred to as expect concerning the nature of humor (Gross, 2007; social codes (Chandler, 2002). Social codes convey bodily, Lengbeyer, 2005; Shifman, 2007). Through the two pat- behavioral, verbal, and commodity-based dimensions of terns of excess and incongruent juxtaposition, these pollu- social life (Chandler, 2002). Hence, textual codes are more tion codes contaminate common systems of classification specific to genre structure, whereas social codes communi- in modern, mainstream, White American social life. As cate broader aspects of collective existence. illustrated below, the operation of these two patterns of Textual and social codes help inform this analysis in two humor use divergent paths yet arrive at the same destina- ways. First, I focus on the textual code subject/object because tion, the marking of redneck identity as a polluted identity this is a fundamental component of Foxworthy’s redneck outside the realm of normative whiteness. humor. The code subject/object is essential to understanding what does and does not constitute redneck identity in this Analysis: Pollution Codes in Foxworthy humor. Also, this code is important because it highlights how Redneck Humor Foxworthy jokes can be viewed as elementary narratives. Narratives often follow an initial state → disruption → new Through exploration of pollution codes implied in Foxworthy state sequence (Franzosi, 1998), and Foxworthy jokes unfold redneck humor, this analysis illuminates but one way intra- in a similarly linear pattern. The typical structure of a racial othering occurs within White identity formation. There Foxworthy redneck joke is, are four expansive themes permeating these jokes: lifestyle and fashion, rural living, sex and gender, and poverty. These If you [pause] have a half-built truck engine in the front yard of themes and the pollution codes found therein are offered as your trailer home [pause] you might be a redneck. representative of the themes and pollution codes found throughout this humor. Therefore, you can be determined to be the subject, a half- built truck engine in the front yard of your trailer home a Lifestyle and Fashion composite of social codes, and redneck the object. The humor- ous message of the joke is partially predicated on the collapse Foxworthy humor establishes boundaries to convey the char- of the code subject/object. The initial state of the linear narra- acter of redneck identity. This humor often employs cultural tive sequence is the absence of a redneck identity, which can and biological differences to separate rednecks from norma- be viewed as the preferred state. The disruption occurs during tive whiteness. Employing many pollution codes simultane- the gist of the joke, which presents a culturally compacted ously, these codes intersect and fuse so that any one joke can image of redneck identity referencing one or more social signify multiple means of pollution. Associating redneck codes. The new state of the narrative is the association of identity with lack of hygiene occurs in the jokes below in Thomas 5 part through an association with the codes culture/nature, You participate in the “who can spit tobacco the farthest” contest. cleanliness/dirtiness, and cultivated/trashy. As revealed in these jokes, rednecks are constructed as prone to bodily Redman Chewing Tobacco sends you a Christmas card. infestation by insects, animals, and/or diseases. The focus on redneck spittle highlights the dirty, disgusting You might be a redneck if: behavior of redneck tobacco use. Instead of simply associat- Chiggers are included on your list of top 5 hygiene concerns. ing redneck tobacco use with secondhand smoke, the focus on chew spotlights disgusting, tobacco-laden saliva. This Birds are attracted to your beard. focus unifies human excretions with poor lifestyle choice, irresponsibility, and immorality. Below, we also see a more You have ever bathed with flea and tick soap. direct relationship between rednecks and dirt through jokes portraying the unclean living conditions and habits of You think that Campho-Phenique is a miracle drug. rednecks. Because the human body is a key component of racialized You might be a redneck if: rhetoric, it is often a site of contention over definitions of civilized/uncivilized (Hartigan, 2005). These particular jokes You keep a can of RAID on the kitchen table. take the culture/nature binary to the level of the physical organism; the living body is constructed as the site that is The Salvation Army declines your mattress. polluted. However, it is not simply nature’s infestation of the Going to the laundromat means cleaning out the back of the body that threatens the boundary between culture and nature. truck. We also see bodily excretions and waste threaten this bound- ary. Human excrement is tabooed in all cultures because it You clean your fingernails with a stick. threatens the fundamental distinction between “me and not me” (Keskpaik, 2001, p. 315). Urine, feces, grease, and spit- You prefer car keys to Q-tips. tle emerge in this humor as human excretions associated with redneck identity. We see these references as well as others in In these jokes we see dirty, pest-infested living conditions the jokes below. intersecting with poor behavioral habits and lack of intelli- gence, or at least common sense. Poor hygiene and squalid You might be a redneck if: living conditions stand in symbolic opposition to cleanliness, Someone in your family says “Cum’n heer an’ lookit this afore I which is associated with order, civilization, and morality flush it.” (Bean, 1981). Order, civilization, and morality are chal- lenged by another stereotype that targets the moral fabric of Exxon and Conoco have offered you royalties for your hair. redneck identity: excessive alcohol use. The image of a drunken and abusive redneck demonstrates how immorality You use lava soap more than three times a day. and excess serve as a central explanation for their misfor- tune. In the jokes below the use of alcoholic imagery solidi- These jokes illustrate the intersection of pollution codes in fies the relationship between immorality and redneck this humor. The association of rednecks with feces and behavioral patterns. grease is clear in these jokes, thus connecting redneck identity with human excretions. Yet, in the first joke, it is You might be a redneck if: not simply the reference to human excrement that identi- fies the redneck, it is also the speech pattern. This speech You actually made a pyramid of cans in the pale moonlight with pattern intersects with those pollution codes associating Alan Jackson. redneck identity with laziness, rusticity, and a lack of edu- You’re a lite beer drinker, because you start drinking when it cation. We also see the intersection of human excretions, a gets light. lack of education, and immorality in the jokes addressing redneck tobacco use. You’ve ever parked a Camero in a tree. You might be a redneck if: You’ve ever put a six-pack in a casket right before they closed it. You keep a spit cup on the ironing board. The first joke in this set combines alcoholism with a domi- Your family reunion features a chewing tobacco spit-off. nant theme: rurality. The lyrics of famous country musician 6 SAGE Open Alan Jackson serves as a bridge between alcoholic excess There is a stuffed possum anywhere in your house. and rural Americans. In addition, the jokes discussing drink- You own a homemade fur coat. ing when it is light and getting into drinking and driving acci- dents illustrate how this excessive, polluted behavior is a You’d rather catch bass than get some (if you can’t guess . . . ) lifestyle choice that can lead to dire consequences. The last joke illustrates how this poor lifestyle choice then transitions We also see the intersection of the pollution codes poor/rich, into an unsavory death ritual. pre-modern/modern, and virility/impotence in the jokes above. To illustrate, rather than hunting for sport or hunting You might be a redneck if: big game, these jokes construct rednecks as hunting for util- You can’t take a bath because beer is iced down in your tub. ity, such as producing clothing, or hunting small game for decoration. Hunting for utility and hunting small game (rac- Jack Daniels makes your list of most admired people. coons, rabbits, possums) symbolically pollutes redneck iden- tity by associating it with pre-modern living conditions, You ever got too drunk to fish. poverty, and/or a lack of style. The third joke also confounds civilized/uncivilized by implying that the redneck went hunt- Your beer can collection is considered a tourist attraction in ing and shot a deer on a golf course, or was golfing, had a your home town. gun, and shot a deer in the process. In either instance, the collapse of the boundary between golf, which is traditionally The first joke in this set illustrates how alcohol interrupts viewed as an upper-middle- or upper-class sport, and hunting important purity rituals. The denotative reading is that the provides a key source of the humorous message. The sugges- redneck is unable to clean themselves; the beer is literally in tion is that rednecks do not know how to support or maintain the way. A connotative reading can relate cleanliness to important social boundaries—in this case, the boundary purity, and the redneck’s inability to bath symbolically refer- between upper-class golf and hunting. In addition, the last ences how alcohol serves to pollute redneck identity. Yet, in joke above draws redneck sexuality and virility into ques- the jokes above, it is not simply the consumption of alcohol tion, a theme that will be explored later, after we take a closer that serves as a means of pollution; it is the association of look at rurality. redneck identity with excessive alcohol use. It is not the con- tent of the joke but rather the relationship between the con- Polluted Rural Spaces: Living in the Outskirts tent and a proclivity toward excessiveness that is key here. The proclivity toward excessiveness proves to be a funda- In the code culture/nature, the rustic character of redneck mental way of differentiating the redneck from the non-red- identity is directly connected with nature. This connection neck in much of this humor. This supports Zuesse’s (1974) locates redneck identity outside of civilization, as made contention that it is gradations within categories rather than explicit in the following jokes. between categories that often differentiates the socially acceptable from the symbolically polluted. You might be a redneck if: Another example of this emphasis on gradations within Directions to your house include “Turn off the paved road.” categories involves hunting and fishing. As per the jokes below, it is not the act of hunting and fishing that marks one’s Getting a package from your post office requires a full tank of identity as redneck; it is taking behaviors associated with gas in the truck. hunting and fishing to bizarre extremes. An emphasis on excess draws the recipient of the joke’s attention to a lack of Rustics live “out” in the countryside, boondocks, boonies, self-control. A lack of self-control is associated with child- sticks, and so forth, rather than “in” the city (Ching &Creed, ishness, primitiveness, and immorality and helps explain 1997). The association between the binary in/out and the why rednecks make poor lifestyle choices. Therefore, this binary urban/rural draws our attention to the connection humor suggests that although a redneck/non-redneck might between rusticity and outness. Living in figurative outness engage in the same activity, redneck behaviors lack taste and is living external to the bounds of modern society, external self-control. to contemporary cultural norms (Ching & Creed, 1997). In the culture/nature binary, this humor uses nature as a means You might be a redneck if: of symbolic pollution. Yet, outside of this humor the reverse is often true, where civilization is constructed as dirty or You have the local taxidermist’s number on speed dial. corrupt and nature as pure or pristine. There is much schol- You owe the taxidermist more than your annual income. arly work that deals with the ideological implications of this binary for the American political system and public You’ve ever filled your deer tag on the golf course. policy (Davis, 1988; Dyer, 1987; Furedi, 2008; Haer, 1952; Thomas 7 Knoke & Henry, 1977). However, this ideological battle You might be a redneck if: often misses some broader implications of the culture/ You’ve ever raked leaves in your kitchen. nature binary. Kaika (2004) notes how the struggle between “good water” and “bad water” is analogous to the differ- You’ve ever used a weedeater indoors. ence between “good nature” and “bad nature.” Good water is clean, processed, controlled, and commodified. Bad Going to the bathroom at night involves shoes and a flashlight. water is dirty, gray, metabolized, non-processed, and non- commodified. Bad water is found in rivers, streams, creeks, You have flowers planted in a bathroom appliance in your front rainwater, sewage, and so forth, and is understood as dele- yard. terious to the human body if consumed. Good water occurs through a process of technological and cultural transforma- This binary culture/nature, and rurality more broadly, also tion. Good water is used for drinking, cleaning, swimming, serves as an important explanation for another commonly and religious services. Water is “good” after it has been assumed redneck characteristic: racism. transformed by human technology and culture (Kaika, 2004). Likewise, only after nature has been transformed— You might be a redneck if: for example, from a dangerous wilderness to a national park—does it provide enough safety and security to be There is a sheet hanging in your closet and a gun rack hanging enjoyed as “pristine.” Associating an identity with “good in your truck. nature” or “bad nature” is one means of marking status in modernity (Kaika, 2004). Members of higher statuses might Jarosz and Lawson (2002) argue that middle-class Whites enjoy “good nature” by going to a ski resort, or taking a associate extreme forms of racism with rural Whites in an weekend fishing trip to a public or private lake. Good attempt to free themselves from being implicated in institu- nature is good because it has the semblance of order; it is tional racism. By insisting that racism is a core quality of under the will and domain of humankind. However bad rednecks, middle-class Whites disassociate themselves from nature is unwieldy and dangerous; it violates boundaries racism by locating it in the primitive and pre-modern aspects and is void of culture. of White American culture. This reinforces the notion that In Foxworthy humor, the breakdown of the culture/nature racism is only a problem because of a particular kind of and order/disorder binaries also occurs through the break- White identity. Therefore, rednecks free normative middle- down of the inside and outside of the home. Living condi- class whiteness of its complicity in racist practices (Jarosz & tions is a prominent means of associating redneck identity Lawson, 2002). Moreover, the lack of education, being pre- with symbolic pollution. The jokes below highlight the dis- modern, a primitive lifestyle and ensuing racist sentiments tinction between culture/inside and nature/outside. all intersect with an association to southern regionalism. You might be a redneck if: You might be a redneck if: You have to go down to the creek to take a bath. You are still holding onto Confederate money because you think the South will rise again. You have to go outside to get something ‘out of the fridge.’ You have started a petition to change the national anthem to The best way to keep things cold is to leave ’em in the shade. “Georgia on My Mind.” Your classes at school were canceled because the path to the More than one living relative is named after a Southern Civil restroom was flooded. War general. The unification of civilization with order and nature with dis- The construction of redneck identity as pre-modern, rustic, order is most visible in jokes referencing the redneck home. out-of-touch, and often racist and regionalist creates a pol- Kaika (2004) argues that “the idea of the house as a means of luted identity that establishes boundaries for a more main- separating the inside from the outside, nature from human stream White identity. Yet, although the racist and regionalist beings, the public from the private sphere, has existed since sentiments associated with redneck identity help quell a antiquity” (p. 265). In the process of imbuing the home with more normative whiteness’s complicity in racist practices, cultural and ideological meaning “nature” is extracted and there is perhaps no better theme that illustrates the construc- then selectively allowed back in after being produced, puri- tion of degenerate whiteness than themes involving sexual fied, and commodified (Kaika, 2004). In Foxworthy humor, and gender taboo. I now explore how taboo sexual and gen- the breakdown of the binaries inside/outside and culture/ der behavior represents a major dimension of regressive nature serves to pollute redneck identity. whiteness in this humor. 8 SAGE Open These jokes suggest not only do rednecks freely engage in Polluted Sexual and Gendered Practices incestuous relations but also such relationships are common, Taboos are important means of boundary work, giving form culturally acceptable, and even expected. By transgressing to formlessness and explicitly delineating the divine from the incest taboo, the redneck is violating both the under- the human elements of social life (Levine, 1986; Zuesse, standing of what helps make one human as well as what 1974). Taboo sexual behavior is particularly threatening to helps connect humans to the divine (Levine, 1986; Zuesse, multiple culturally valued boundaries (Davies, 1982). In 1974). In this way, the actual sex act is one means of pollu- popular culture, rustic sexual expression often takes the tion, its outcome (inbred offspring) is another means of pol- form of homosexual rape, incest, or bestiality (Ching & lution, and the culture that supports this behavior is perceived Creed, 1997). In this humor, homosexual rape manifests in as dysfunctional, degenerate, and immoral. reference to the 1972 film Deliverance. Hartigan (2005) argues that the film Deliverance unfolds in a narrational You might be a redneck if: tension between nature and culture. In one particular scene, the viewer witnesses the homosexual rape of one of the Your brother-in-law is also your uncle. main characters. The rape was committed by one of several poor, rural Whites, all of whom were carrying firearms. Your family tree doesn’t have any branches. Below, this homosexual rape reemerges to serve the pur- Your gene pool doesn’t have a “deep end.” pose of polluting redneck identity. You dated your daddy’s current wife in high school. You might be a redneck if: You have to scratch your sister’s name out of the message: “for You think the mountain men in Deliverance were just a good time call . . . because you feel guilty about putting it “misunderstood.” there.” This particular joke also seems to poke fun at political cor- The use of incestuous relationships as a means of polluting rectness. Stating that the mountain men were simply misun- redneck identity offers a much-needed explanation for the derstood, combined with quotations indicating irony, very existence of such an identity. Why are there White peo- suggests a sarcastic play on the notions of cultural relativ- ple who are poor and live in rural areas? Why are they not ism and/or cultural sensitivity. Such irony is often meant to moving out of these areas and out of poverty? Their very exis- imply the opposite: that, this violent, homosexual rape is tence challenges the legitimacy of American meritocracy. indicative of something more essential, be it cultural, or Their inability to conform to White middle-class norms individual pathology. However, incest is a much more prev- demands explanation and incest offers a powerful one. This alent taboo in this humor than is homosexual rape. In popu- biological explanation conferring genetic weakness combines lar culture, incest is understood as typical redneck behavior to reinforce, and be reinforced by, poor behavior and lack of and, therefore, rednecks are perceived as coming from a self-control to explain the existence of such an identity. gene puddle instead of a gene pool (Goad, 1998). Indeed, Another common theme concerning redneck sexual incest serves as a key biological explanation for why red- behavior is a lack of male romance and chivalry. As Davies neck identity fails to conform to the standards of a more (1982) notes, the strength of taboos often lies less in content normative whiteness, and this biological explanation is one than in structure, in the separation of categories and in the of the most transparent ways redneck identity is racialized. keeping apart of like and unlike elements. While associating Following this tradition of racialization through an empha- redneck sexuality with homosexual rape or incest is more sis on incest, sexuality is constructed as a “family affair” in extreme than lack of male romance or chivalry, it is still used this humor. as a means of polluting redneck identity. Male sexual behav- ior and mating patterns are constructed as uncultivated, You might be a redneck if: insufficiently romantic, and trashy. You view the next family reunion as a chance to meet girls. You might be a redneck if: You can’t get married to your sweetheart because there is a law Your idea of talking during sex is “Ain’t no cars coming, baby!” against it. After making love you ask your date to roll down the window. You stand under the mistletoe at Christmas and wait for Granny and cousin Sue-Ellen to walk by. “Honey? Are the lights out? Is the door locked? Is the parking brake set?” is what you hear right before you and your wife/girl You go Christmas shopping for your mom, sister, and girlfriend, make love. and you only need to buy one gift. Thomas 9 These jokes pollute redneck identity by attacking their chiv- redneck identity by associating it with redneck femininity. In alry toward their partners. Courting and romance can be seen addition, while working class manual labor pollutes redneck as an important means of separating the civilized man from femininity, so does an association with what is beautiful ver- the primitive man. Such jokes imply that rednecks are not sus what is ugly. Polluted appearances are unattractive and really “men” because they lack the desire, the means, or the tacky. Because redneck identity is a polluted identity, and knowledge to properly court their partners or engage in redneck femininity is polluted by working class masculinity, romantic love making. Attacking the romantic virtue of then redneck women are, through symbolic touching, “primitive males” has deep historical roots. For example, unattractive. African American male sexuality was constructed as primi- You might be a redneck if: tive and lacking in chivalrous virtue by the antebellum south- ern aristocracy (Bay, 2000). Considering the historical Your wife’s hairdo has ever been ruined by a ceiling fan. association of the term redneck with the American south, such jokes might reflect deeply embedded attitudes that Your wife weighs more than your refrigerator. established boundaries between southern gentlemen and unrefined rednecks. Your wife has a beer belly and you find it attractive. Nonetheless, in contemporary popular culture, redneck identity is also understood as a traditional and masculine The lack of self-discipline and being old fashioned are also identity. The masculinity of redneck identity often intersects sources of pollution. The first joke establishes a sense of the with alcoholism, an abusive disposition toward women, and redneck woman’s “big hair,” an old fashioned hairstyle taken the support of traditional gender roles. to an extreme in this particular joke. Likewise, in the second joke all the cultural stereotypes associated with being over- You might be a redneck if: weight serve to pollute redneck women, such as being lazy, lacking self-discipline, and being immoral. Also, the last You think “loading the dishwasher” means getting your wife joke in this set offers a good example of how most jokes drunk. targeting redneck women are often still geared toward a male audience. It is not just that your wife has a beer belly—a In this humor, masculinity is more often constructed as a stereotypically male phenomenon, and that the belly pollutes characteristic of redneck women. Redneck women are con- her identity. It is also that you find it attractive. In other structed as grossly masculine and lacking in feminine virtue. words, feminine identity being polluted by masculine iden- Indeed, rather than focusing on redneck identity as a means tity is not the only pollution code. It is also polluting those of enforcing traditional gender roles, most jokes focus on men who choose such women, and it is often the men who how the feminine is polluted by the masculine in redneck are the primary targets of the joke. Therefore, the impact of identity. Femininity is polluted by constructing the wife as a these pollution codes is dependent upon a firm dichotomy manual laborer, as well as through behavior traditionally between man/woman and masculine/feminine. Any acts or viewed as unbecoming of women. characteristics that threaten these binaries are a menace to You might be a redneck if: culturally valued boundaries, and thus, can serve as possible sites of pollution. Your wife can climb a tree faster than your cat. Another means of polluting redneck femininity with mas- culine traits is by associating redneck femininity with Your wife wants to stop at the gas station to see if they’ve got the tobacco use and alcoholism. new Darrell Waltrip Budweiser wall clock. You might be a redneck if: Your wife’s best pair of shoes is steel-toed Red Wings. Your mom gives you tips on how to sneak booze into sporting Your wife’s job requires her to wear an orange vest. events. Symbolic pollution is often associated with mundane, physi- Your mother doesn’t remove the Marlboro from her lips before cal work, and materiality (Bean, 1981). These last two jokes telling the State Trooper to kiss her ass. specifically focus on how being working class and working in manual labor pollutes the feminine in redneck identity. Your mother keeps a spit cup on the ironing board. These jokes expressly address “your wife,” and then associ- The tobacco chewers in your family aren’t just men. ate “your wife” with a masculine trait. Therefore, you know you might be a redneck if “your wife” possesses overtly mas- culine, working class traits. Consequently, this humor uses Such jokes challenge redneck femininity by associating red- “symbolic touching” (Levine, 1986, p. 982) to pollute male neck women with two characteristics that strongly define 10 SAGE Open redneck masculinity: alcohol and tobacco use. Yet, these You buy your wife tube socks at the flea market. jokes also pollute redneck femininity by implicitly challeng- You think “taking out the trash” means taking your in-laws to a ing the redneck woman’s ability to perform a most cherished movie. traditional cultural role, that of mother. Tobacco and alcohol are not only a masculine redneck trait, excessive alcohol and In the first four jokes above, we see how the boundary tobacco use are seen as immoral regardless of one’s gender. between literal and figurative trash often breaks down in The sneaking of alcohol into sporting events implies a dispo- social practice. The first three jokes connect redneck identity sition toward criminality, drunkenness, or both. Likewise, with literal trash, things that have been discarded. The first the three jokes discussing tobacco use also entail an uncouth two jokes can also be read in reference to immoral and/or disposition and criminality. Such jokes imply that masculin- criminal behavior, because the cable spool and speakers ity is not the only danger associated with redneck femininity. might have been stolen. The connection between redneck Redneck femininity is also dangerous to a man’s ability to identity and literal trash also associates redneck identity with form and/or maintain a wholesome family life. And, this figurative trash. The transition from literal to figurative trash highlights an interesting component of Foxworthy’s redneck is complete in the last joke relating trash to “in-laws.” humor that I would like to make explicit: namely, the unspo- Things that are socially and symbolically “discarded” are ken gender scripts related to work and family life. This also “physically relocated” (Keskpaik, 2001, p. 321). humor operates with restrictive and traditional gender role Material objects that are physically relocated to special sites assumptions. It is essentialist, as the masculine/feminine become trash. For example, the placement of a computer exists as an innate, natural binary. This humor is predicated next to a garbage bin designates that computer, no matter on the notion that femininity is inherently soft and emotive. how new or functional, as “trash,” again highlighting how It presupposes the existence of clear boundaries and scripts pollution leads to infection through contact (Levine, 1986). that are rooted in very traditional and conservative percep- Trash is on the periphery, and similarly trailer parks are on tions of gender. These traditional and conservative percep- the periphery of American culture. The trailer park, as a tions might reflect the educational distance and class-based social code, is so polluted that U.S. culture has a unique term assumptions of redneck and mainstream whiteness, because for individuals who live in trailer homes: trailer trash. The it is through their working class jobs, alcohol and tobacco jokes below show how redneck identity is polluted by an use, and comfort or embrace of violence, that redneck women association with trailers and trailer trash. transgress acceptable gendered boundaries. As such, the transgression of these boundaries not only pollutes their You might be a redneck if: identity but also pollutes the identities of those redneck males associated with them. Yer mom calls ya over t’ help, cause she has a flat tire . . . on her Last, I conclude this analysis of Foxworthy redneck jokes house. by exploring how poverty, education, and status intertwine and serve as a primary means of polluting redneck identity. You own a home that is mobile and 5 cars that aren’t. You replace a flat tire on your truck with a tire from your house. The Pollution of Poverty Your home has more miles on it than your car. Trash is related to poverty both literally and figuratively. Trash is related to poverty literally because poverty often Your richest relative invites you over to his new home to help forces people to exploit what others have discarded as him remove the wheels and skirt. “trash.” Poverty is figuratively associated with trash through labels such as White trash and other rhetorical means of sym- The theme emphasized in these particular jokes is the dichot- bolic pollution. Trash is physically relocated to the periphery omy between home and mobility. Because trailer trash live in of civilization, marking the boundary where civilization ends “mobile” homes, they lack roots in community, and hence and nature begins (Keskpaik, 2001). Similarly, by associat- are placeless. The mobile home replaces having deep roots in ing redneck identity with literal and figurative trash, red- a community with being a vagabond or tramp. In the jokes necks are symbolically removed from mainstream culture. above, we also see the juxtaposition of mobile homes and broken down vehicles. The cultural image of the redneck You might be a redneck if: lawn littered with broken down vehicles is a powerful one. Trash marks the external boundaries of culture (Keskpaik, Your coffee table used to be a cable spool. 2001) and the association between redneck identity and trash often occurs through this focus on the state and character of Your stereo speakers used to belong to the Drive-in Theater. redneck vehicles. We see the connection between redneck You come home from the garbage dump with more than you went identity and trash more explicitly in the jokes below through with. the direct focus on the pitiful state of redneck vehicles. Thomas 11 You might be a redneck if: You think the French Riviera is a foreign car. There are four or more cars up on blocks in the front yard. You think that Dom Perignon is a mafia leader. Fewer than half of your cars run. You consider a six-pack and a bug-zapper high-quality entertainment. You have a rag for a gas cap (on a car that does not run). In these jokes, the juxtaposition of incongruent cultural You have a color coordinating rope that ties down your car objects or knowledge is used to elicit humor. Cultural objects hood. such as turtlenecks or Dom Perignon are falsely associated with food and people. These jokes reinforce the claim that This literal and figurative association makes special sense status is associated with bodily dimensions (Elis, 1994; considering the impact automobiles have had on American Hartigan, 2005) because redneck cultural knowledge is con- culture over the course of the 20th century. Automobiles are structed as base knowledge, related to food, the human body, symbols of American freedom and individuality, and the type and generally vulgar entertainment. This is not surprising and state of one’s vehicle can be viewed as a status symbol. considering that tabooed behavior frequently clusters around For the redneck, the automobile serves as a prime example of base activities that are “most in need of ‘culturizing’ and their polluted, lowly status. humanizing” (Zuesse, 1974, p. 493). Redneck poverty is also explained by lack of education, You might be a redneck if: which is often associated with the lack of innate intelligence. Redneck breeding patterns are seen as having created an The blue book value of your truck goes up and down depending identity that lacks a “genetic deep end.” “Bad breeding” has on how much gas it has in it. been a consistent theme explaining rural White poverty since the eugenics era at the turn of the 20th century (Hartigan, The taillight covers of your car are made of red tape. 2005; Wray, 2006). Through a focus on genetic deficiency and bad breeding, redneck identity moves away from an Your vehicle has a two-tone paint job—primer red and primer individual lifestyle choice and instead becomes a reflection gray. of broader systemic degeneracy based in family structure, family behavior, and biology. The jokes below touch upon You have a Hefty bag on the passenger side window of your car. themes of degenerate family structure and irresponsible fam- ily behavior. The image of the redneck trailer home on the outskirts of town and physically resembling a junk yard uses two impor- You might be a redneck if: tant American cultural symbols, the automobile and the home, as a means of polluting redneck identity. This utilizes The most commonly heard phrase at your family reunion is the often porous boundary between literal and figurative “What the hell are you looking at, Shithead?” trash, and in the process establishes a polluted identity that conflates poverty with lifestyle choice, laziness, and immo- You were shooting pool when any of your kids were born. rality. This conflation marks redneck identity as a low status. Yet, some jokes deal specifically with status by focusing on Your Junior/Senior Prom had a Daycare. the boundary between high culture and low culture, and con- You’ve ever climbed a water tower with a bucket of paint to necting redneck identity with low culture. The low status of defend your sister’s honor. redneck identity is explained in part by cultural primitive- ness. The redneck’s lack of cultural refinement speaks The lack of innate intelligence and educational attainment is directly to their low social status as they are constructed as constructed as a cause and consequence of redneck degen- having base interests and base cultural knowledge. These eracy. Genetic inbreeding and limited education become particular jokes highlight how rednecks lack economic, confounding factors that explain both why redneck identity social, and cultural capital. Redneck cultural knowledge is exists and how it is fundamentally different from a more nor- understood as limited, base, and inadequate. The jokes below mative, mainstream whiteness. For example, are structured with an explicit schism between high culture and low culture. You might be a redneck if: You might be a redneck if: Your dad walks you to school because you’re in the same grade. You consider pork and beans to be a gourmet food. You think a turtleneck is a key ingredient for soup. You think a subdivision is part of a math problem. 12 SAGE Open You think the stock market has a fence around it. the “outside,” in conflict with mainstream, White American middle-class identity. The boundary between the redneck The fifth grade is referred to as “your senior year.” and the non-redneck is at times a complex, porous fault-line that defines a normative whiteness by using pollution codes During your senior year you and your mother had homeroom to stigmatize White outsiders through the use of humor. By together. constructing this boundary between the redneck/non-redneck and marking redneck identity as polluted this more norma- Idiocy—rooted in an innate deficiency and a lack of educa- tive, mainstream whiteness is insulated and protected from tional attainment—is the common theme in this humor. This intra-racial threats. For example, the very existence of poor lack of intelligence and common sense produces and then is rural Whites threatens any lingering attitudes of White reinforced by poor parenting skills on the part of both red- supremacy, and therefore, these poor rural Whites must be neck mother and father. As explored in the previous section, accounted for and their social condition justified. Likewise, a the redneck woman is constructed as a danger to the tradi- persistent underclass of poor rural Whites challenge cher- tional family because she is overly masculine, uses alcohol ished notions of American individualism and meritocracy, and tobacco, is potentially violent and/or criminal, and lacks and therefore, the existence of a persistent underclass must acceptable parenting skills. We see such themes recurring in be explained away with behavioral or biological factors. jokes more specifically targeting redneck parenting skills. Finally, enduring institutional racism also threatens American individualism and meritocracy, and therefore, redneck iden- You might be a redneck if: tity serves as a necessary scapegoat for many Whites who try to reconcile a “color-blind” society (Bonilla-Silva, 2003) Your kids take a siphon hose to “Show and Tell.” with the continuing existence of racism in the United States. In the end, the most striking and profound means of pol- Your kids are going hungry tonight because you just had to have luting redneck identity in this humor comes by way of the those Yosemite Sam mudflaps. code culture/nature. The line demarcating culture/nature, and the association Your father encourages you to quit school because Larry has an of poor rural Whites with nature, is an old association. For opening on the lube rack. example, a series of studies in the early 20th century by the U.S. Eugenics Records Office (ERO) sought to demonstrate Redneck degeneracy is understood as the natural outcome scientifically that a large number of rural Whites were genet- of limited parenting skills, intelligence, and education, cou- ically defective (Wray & Newitz, 1997). This eugenics pled with cultural primitiveness and baseness. This in turn movement was perhaps the most influential outgrowth of justifies the low status and poverty associated with redneck Social Darwinism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries identity. The social construction of rural Whites as degener- and greatly influenced social policy and popular attitudes ate is not a new phenomenon. Many of the pollution codes in (McReynolds, 1997; Rafter, 1992). Family names such as this humor that are used to construct the image of the degen- “The Jukes” and “The Kallikaks” entered popular culture to erate redneck are similar to the pollution codes used to con- illustrate the poor, dirty, alcoholic, and criminally and sexu- struct the image of the dangerous rural White during the ally perverse nature of many rural people (Wray & Newitz, eugenics era. This stigmatized identity was infused into 1997; Rafter, 1992). Eugenics ideology at the turn of the 20th mainstream White understanding of the rural White Other. century interpreted the White underclass as either a direct revolt against, or simply the lack of, civilization (Hartigan, Discussion 2005; Wray, 2006). While focusing on the presumed genetic I have offered a semiotics-inspired narrative analysis of the deficiencies of rural society they supported “aggressive social construction of rednecks in Foxworthy and Foxworthy- interventions to stop further declines in the quantity and inspired humor. I conducted this narrative analysis with a quality of rural people” (McReynolds, 1997, p. 300). In focus on three interrelated research questions. First, how is eugenics ideology, the concept of biological “fitness” was this concept redneck defined according to this humor? associated with class and status distinctions, so that poor Second, in the process of defining redneck identity, how are gene pool quality created a discernable qualitative difference the boundaries between redneck/non-redneck being negoti- between urban and rural people (McReynolds, 1997, pp. ated? Last, does the rhetorical boundary redneck help us 306-307). The eugenics movement was modernist and urban, understand the production and maintenance of normative, and the White underclass represented a racial poison threat- mainstream whiteness? This humor uses pollution codes to ening both the purity of the White race as well as modernity construct redneck identity as degenerate and primitive. itself (Hartigan, 2005). Stereotypes of rural poor Whites as Pollution codes such as cleanliness/dirtiness, civilized/ incestuous and sexually promiscuous, violent, alcoholic, uncivilized, ordered/unordered, and moral/immoral establish lazy, and stupid remain to this day (Wray & Newitz, 1997, p. the boundaries necessary to articulate how rednecks exist on 2). While during the eugenics era the degeneracy of poor Thomas 13 rural Whites threatened the legitimacy of White supremacy whiteness from intra-racial threats to its normative identity. and the perceived future of the White race, today poor rural The boundaries between rednecks and non-rednecks call into Whites continue to serve as instruments in the construction question the popular assumption that White identity is a of a mainstream, middle-class whiteness. Today, redneck homogeneous identity, constructed solely in opposition to humor is infused with pollution codes that create social dis- racial minorities (McIntosh, 1989; Morrison, 1992; Winders, tance between the redneck/non-redneck rooted in these 2003). Instead, whiteness is also constructed in opposition to bodily and behavioral distinctions. These pollution codes are “redness” (Jarosz & Lawson, 2002), a status identity coupled the practical work of boundary production, and although the with those negative characteristics associated with pre-mod- outcome of their use is less “dangerous” to poor rural Whites ern rusticity. than during the eugenics era, they still signify a process of intra-racial othering within White identity formation. Over Declaration of Conflicting Interests the course of the 20th century, the response to poor rural The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect Whites who threatened modernity and its normative, White to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. middle-class identity went from a project of forced steriliza- tion to a humor industry. Funding The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or Conclusion authorship of this article. 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White trash: Race and class in 23(2), 5-25. America. New York, NY: Routledge. White, L., & Taket, A. (2000). Exploring the use of narrative analy- Zuesse, E. M. (1974). Taboo and the divine order. Journal of the sis as an operational research method: A case study in volun- American Academy of Religion, 42, 482-502. tary sector evaluation. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 51, 700-711. Author Biography Wiegman, R. (1999). Whiteness studies and the paradox of particu- larity. Boundary 2, 26, 115-150. J. David Thomas is program chair of the Social and Behavioral Wilson, J. Z. (2002). Invisible racism: The language and ontology Sciences and assistant professor of Sociology at Ivy Tech Community of “white trash.” Critique of Anthropology, 22, 387-401. College, Evansville, IN. His research interests include whiteness Winders, J. (2003). White in all the wrong places: White rural pov- studies, redneck identity, classical and contemporary sociological erty in the postbellum US South. Cultural Geographies, 10, theory, and most recently, the southern culture of violence. He 45-63. earned the PhD in Sociology from Purdue University in 2012.

Journal

SAGE OpenSAGE

Published: May 4, 2016

Keywords: whiteness; redneck humor; pollution ideology; boundary theory; social constructionism

References