TV Land's Dukes of Hazzard Slippery Slope

20 Jul 2015|spalacios

Originally published on the Huffington Post.

The General Lee has been warehoused. No more viewing Bo and Luke’s car jumping escapes from the nefarious Boss Hogg and his key enforcer, Sheriff Roscoe P Coltrane. Why? TV Land is trying to be sensitive to the cultural revulsion of the hideous act of murder in South Carolina, and the national reaction to racially charged symbols like the confederate flag. Ok, got it.

But wait! Is there a hint of racism in The Dukes of Hazzard? Can anyone lay claim to Bo and Duke’s racist proclivities? Not according to this former cast member, and not by most observers. On a relative basis, TV Land has made a political decision that is predicated on racial/ethnic sensitivities, and one that is hard to defend given other programming.

Why? Well, one simply needs to look at another TV Land show. One that is shown more often than Dukes of Hazzard ever has. One that is quintessential Americana. I am speaking of course, of Bonanza.

According to IMBd, “Bonanza is an NBC television western series that ran from September 12, 1959, to January 16, 1973. Lasting 14 seasons and 430 episodes, it ranks as the second longest running western series, and within the top 10 longest running, live-action American series.” It is a staple on TV Land, as it was for NBC in its hey day. Let’s take a look at a show that recently ran – Season 5, Episode 28 “A Pink Cloud comes from Cathay.” It stars Marlo Thomas, yes “That Girl,” as a Chinese national. Getting past an anglo woman playing a Chinese woman (while every other Chinese cast member is Asian) is a challenge unto itself (did you see this episode Cameron Crowe?). The segment portrays Chinese immigrants as simplistic, child-like, superstitious and non rational. Marlo uses a poor Chinese accent in a role that has the impressive impact of denigrating women and Chinese nationals in the same role, based on 2015 normative standards and probably standard even then. It’s hard to view this episode without seeing nearly every cliché associated with Chinese from a 1964 American context, complete with fireworks.

This is not an anomaly. Bonanza’s success as a Western is predicated on a notion of white, male, Christian power and benevolence to those lesser groups (Asians, Hispanics, Women, and rarely, African Americans who are generally not seen).

This is not an anti-Bonanza rant, even though it seems to be. This is more of an observation on TV Land’s decision to apply today’s standards to content of previous eras. Certainly, and without question, the presence of a Confederate flag is a loaded and highly emotional issue. But the substance of the issue, which relates to the portrayal of ethnic sub-groups in ways that reinforce a subordinate, less valued perspective (from a social hierarchy perspective), is more the issue. In this comparison, Bo and Duke are more acceptable by today’s normative standards than Little Joe, Hoss and the Cartwright clan.

So, how do we understand, address and experience our past? How do we reconcile it with our present? I don’t think TV Land has it figured out yet. Not sure any of us have.

Written by Stephen Palacios, Executive Director, Added Value Cheskin.

Image credits: The Dukes of Hazzard

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