The Redneck Co-Hero

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"My name is Melanie Karsak, and I love rednecks"

 
Yep, there he is, Bo Duke (above).  As many of my childhood playmates can attest, I had a poster of Bo Duke (sans Luke), much like the pin-up above, taped up in my periwinkle blue backyard club house. He was my first T.V. boyfriend, and while my taste has improved--thank you Nestor Carbonell--he was not the last redneck for whom I found myself rooting for.  But, why? 

Redneck characters seem to be a staple in modern American TV, film, and even appear in popular literature.  But the type of character they tend to portray is not always easily classified.  In fact, there seems to be two kinds of rednecks, the Cousin Eddies of the world and the Bo Dukes.  Cousin Eddies are usually the low brow comic relief of the work.  They are usually characterizes as well intended but short on intelligence.  This is the typical redneck we have grown to love.  He has many different (note I say "he") manifestations, as depicted below, but his identity generally stays the same: lovable but dumb.


He might be this guy:


or this guy:


this guy:

 
or even this cartoon truck:
 
 

But lately we have seen new manifestations of the redneck.  Is it possible that we have finally seen something in the redneck that is likable . . . maybe even admirable?  What does it mean that we are seeing redneck characters with wit?  Indeed, what might the rise of the redneck say about us? 

The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon--and his smolder.
 
While the redneck has not typically been the hero of the story, but we often like him/her just as well as the protagonist.  Sometimes the redneck character serves as a foil--Watson to Holmes--to the hero, but more recently the redneck's job in a story seems to be about more than bolstering the hero.  The redneck is not the golden goodie-goodie hero, or a foil, or an antagonist.  In the past, the redneck might have been thought to represent an anti-hero, and surely the redneck has some anti-hero traits, but these days he's usually better than that.  Anti-heroes are often immoral to evil.  Rednecks are rebels, but true to their not-so-bright origins, they still have a heart of gold.  No, the redneck character has evolved into a yet unrecognized literary form: the co-hero.  Folks, there is a new sheriff in town, and he is the redneck co-hero.  The redneck's role is not to emphasize the traits of the hero, the redneck is his own force with which to be reckoned.  Smart mouthed, tough, and oozing common sense, the redneck is generally a fan favorite, evoking cheers from male and female fans alike. 

Hey, y'all, What is a Redneck? 

Webster defines a redneck as "a white member of the Southern rural laboring class."  Well, I think that is an underdeveloped definition.  But I think the definition of redneck moves beyond white and southern.  There is something about the nature of the redneck that is Byronic in nature.  In fact, it was the great Lord Byron who was "mad, bad, and dangerous to know."  redneck's might be defined as uneducated (as it is defined by our good friends at wikipedia), but that does not mean unintelligent.  In fact, have you ever noticed that it is the redneck of the group who often has the most common sense?  Why is that?  I propose we re-define the term redneck and flesh out a new hero type.  What is a redneck hero?

Here is my definition:

The Redneck Co-Hero: "an uncultured but often cunning, skilled, observant, and street-wise character.  The Redneck Hero often possess Byronic or anti-hero qualities, yet is likable in spite of their surly disposition.  Redneck co-heroes often posses a deep-down 'heart of gold.'"

We've had a lot of gritty red-neck types grace the Western Canon over the years, from obvious folk heroes like Robin Hood--a country boy living on the fringe--to one of my favorites, Sawyer from LOST. 

The character of Sawyer fits the contemporary Redneck Co-Hero type.  His is smart-mouthed, bad, cunning (a con man before the crash), but turns over a new leaf to reveal his heart of gold.  If you never watched LOST, he is a clip of Sawyer confronting Jack, the hero of the story, in an episode titled Tabula Rosa:



May times the Redneck Co-Hero has to have a changing moment in his heroes journey to help him embrace the "heart of gold" inside of him.  Traditional heroes must face the big monster and return from the ordeal changed.  Traditional heroes often have a gift or lesson to share.  The journey of the Redneck Co-Hero is different.  He must face whatever it is that is holding back his inner goodness.  Her will never shine the same way a hero does, but once he embraces his inner-goodness, the Redneck Co-Hero often acts as heroically as the hero of the story.  Once he faces this transformation, he experiences change.  He may always be smart-mouthed, tough, salty, and driven by common sense, but now he has connected to his inner goodness.  Check out Sawyer's moment when he sacrifices himself for his friends:


There is nothing more American that the traditional Southern Redneck.  Coming from the backwoods of Pennsylvania, however, I can tell you that Redneck-ism is not limited to the south.  There is a particular type of moxy with which a Redneck man carries himself--swagger Redneck style--that has its charm.  The Redneck represents a rustic side of ourselves we long for in a world of metro-sexuality (not that there is anything wrong with metro-sexuality).  Perhaps it is our desire to be more real, to speak what is on our mind, to value common sense, to value brawn for what it is.  We are back to valuing Transcendentalist ideals of self-reliance. 


The Walking Dead's Daryl Dixon survives the zombie apocalypse because he can hunt, track, speaks his mind, stays loyal, and knows by smell what river is near him.  He is not the product of too many Starbucks and his Prius.  He is earthy.  He is natural.  The hero--be they a doctor or a sheriff--doesn't always express these same virtues.  But the Redneck does, which is why we love him, y'all.

Lost characters speaking about the heroes they played in the show:



Or in other words:

 
 
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