Throughout history and literature, outsiders have long tended to characterize the American South with massive generalizations and stereotypes. What we see of the South on television, and therefore in The Dukes, is no different. Analyzing The Dukes as a representation of the South is a two step process. First, the show must be viewed in the context of television, and compared to the various other Southern television shows. What lied behind The Dukes of Hazzard is a formula that drove many other television shows of its genre before it. None of the symbols or portrayals in The Dukes offer anything new to the viewer, so they should be easy to understand and evaluate as a representation of reality.
The first of the Southern sitcoms followed the heels of country music shows like Hee Haw onto television in 1957, when ABC began its series, The Real McCoys. The debut of The Real McCoys marked the genesis of the style, and in just a few years, the list of Southern back country television shows grew to seven. They included The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle USMC, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and Mayberry, R.F.D. "The rural situation comedy became the way to portray the South and Southerners in the 1960s," says Marsha McGee in "Prime Time Dixie: Television's View of a 'Simple South.'" From 1965-1970, an average of six Southern shows aired per season, providing America with a heaping dose of the down home simple life.
By 1970, however, stories portraying the South as a land populated by a universally simple and often silly group of inhabitants" began to strike a sour note with sponsors. CBS cancelled its full lineup of Southern comedies in 1971. In spite of the fact that three of the shows remained in the top 20, the network felt pressure from advertisers to draw in a young, sophisticated, urban, audience. The recipe of heavy doses of good ole boys and girls, wise parent/grandparent figures, warm friendships, simple humor, bad grammar and beautiful women/girls in varying states of undress living in rural or small-town communities," did not fit the bill.
Bo and Luke with the General
Filmed in Covington, Ga., the show takes place in fictional Hazzard County. Hazzard, where Atlanta is referred to as "the big- city," fits the prescription for a rural community perfectly. When the Dukes visit Atlanta, Waylon Jennings, the shows narrator, it clear that the Dukes roots are not exactly sophisticated: "The Dukes are a little out of their picture when it comes to breakin' in the big city."
Hazzard qualifies as the setting input to the formula, and Bo and Luke Duke fit the "good ole boys" category perfectly, joining them with past good ole boys Andy Taylor, Jed Clampett, and Luke McCoy. The Dukes assigns the label to Bo and Luke immediately and intentionally, when Waylon Jennings belts out the first two lines of his banjo-driven theme song: Just two good old boys, never meanin no harm, beats all you never saw, been in trouble with the law since the day they was born."
With this label cast upon Bo and Luke, it is important to understand just what Good Ole Boy means as an icon in Southern culture. W.J. Cash, in his The Mind of the South (1941) summarized the ideal of the Southern man:
stand on his head in a bar, to toss down a pint of raw whisky at a gulp, to fiddle and dance all night, to fight harder and love harder than the next man, to be known eventually far and wide as a hell of a fellow-such would be his focus.Between 1941 and 1979, Good Ole Boy became the label for what Cash s ideal described. A standard episode of The Dukes shows clearly how Bo and Luke are intended to personify this ideal. In every episode, the Dukes make at least one visit to Hazzard County's local honky-tonk bar, the Boar's Nest, where they kick up their heels and throw back a few. And not only did the Duke boys drink a little whiskey, but they processed it an smuggled it as their major source of income.
In spite of their home distillery business, the Dukes also fit the good-fellow billing. The plot of nearly every Dukes episode rests on one primary foundation: Boss Hogg develops a plan to add to his riches or get the Dukes thrown in jail. Then Bo and Luke, with the help of Uncle Jesse and Daisy, foil it. In the pilot episode, Bo and Luke hijack Boss Hogg's shipment of illegal slot machines, then give the profits to an orphanage. In another episode, entitled "Money to Burn," the Dukes foil Boss Hogg's plans to steal a million one dollar bills that had been scheduled for destruction. Bo and Luke again frustrate Boss Hogg in "Return of the Ridge Raiders", when they alert the state senate about his plans to misuse funds appropriated for a senior citizen's center. Again, the theme song describes the Dukes perfectly, when Jennings croons that the boys are "Fightin' the system like two modern-day Robin Hoods." There are few characters that identify with the characterization of being known far and wide as a good fellow, as well as Robin Hood. So the Dukes, because of their association with him, take on that quality too.
Bo s and Luke s surrogate father, Uncle Jesse, fits the role of the wise grandparent figure. A seasoned moonshiner, Jesse mimics the role created by Aunt Bee of Andy Griffith, Minnie Pearl of Hee Haw, Grandma and Grandpa Walton of The Waltons, and just plain Granny of The Beverly Hillbillies. It is never explained how the responsibility of overseeing three nieces and nephews fell upon his shoulders. But nonetheless, he serves as a wealthpot of knowledge and advice to the younger Duke generation. Jesse always has the answers, even if everyone else but a backwards citizen of Hazzard County probably would too. Consider this brilliant nugget of wisdom: "If I'm not mistaken, genetics has got something to do with the function of the human body. Jesse's CB name, Shepherd," provides a perfect summation of his job: when the Duke boys "mixtures of adulthood and boyish adventure" err too much on the latter side, it is Uncle Jesse who saves the day.
Daisy and Uncle Jesse at the Boar's Nest
In one episode, Daisy finds herself with a girlish crush on a visiting Englishman, but just four episodes later, in "Officer Daisy Duke," she becomes a Hazzard County deputy. Episodes substantiate both sides of the Mack Truck-powder puff paradox throughout the series. In "Mrs. Daisy Hogg," Boss Hogg's nephew sweeps Daisy off of her feet, but in the same season, Daisy and Lulu Hogg team up to champion the cause of equal rights for women of Hazzard County. Later, she gets the opportunity to become a NASCAR driver, and in another episode, she moonlights as a reporter for a local newspaper, foiling one of Boss Hogg's schemes with her investigative work. Like The Hillbillies Ellie Mae, the "former hot-pepper eating champion of Baywood, La." Daisy, is a revamped, redesigned alternative to the mousey, acquiescing Southern Belle of yesterday.
A Southern sitcom would be incomplete without its fair share of grammatical mistakes, but The Dukes fits the bill here as well. In one episode, Uncle Jesse bemoans, "There's somethin' terrible wrong with Duke." Minutes later, Jennings chips in with several tidbits that would make a grammarian cringe: "The ruination had done started, things was gettin' mighty nasty." The show comes complete with its fair share of backwater sayings too: "I ain't gonna do it 'til possums make love to hound dogs!"
The Dukes just repackaged stock characters and settings for its viewers, but it also helped solidify the status of two other elements in the inventory of Southern stereotypes. The Dukes had the benefit of drawing symbols from movies that were contemporaries of shows like The Hillbillies and The Real McCoy.
Southern television boasted a few bumbling fools before the Dukes, like Barney Fife and Gomer Pyle of Andy Griffith and Jethro of the Hillbillies, but The Dukes writers redefined the role when they introduced Boss Hogg and his cronies, whose primary influences lay on the big screen. Robert Mitchum's movie, Thunder Road, debuted in 1958, featuring a fast- talking, fast-driving, moonshining ridge whose primary escapades consisted of outsmarting incompetent, corrupt law officers. Burt Reynolds began a series of similar films in 1968, with In the Heat of the Night. In Reynolds' 1973 film, White Lightning, his adversary is a crooked Southern sheriff named Connors, who is "in cahoots with a rustic moonshine kingpin" and can not "tolerate blacks or hippies or 'commie pinkos.'" From name down on to bigotry, the directors created a satirical portrayal of infamous Birmingham police chief Eugene "Bull" Connor.
Boss Hogg and company in hot pursuit of the Dukes
Boss Hogg's demagoguery hearkens back to that of the Texas governors, with the exception that it reigns over a smaller territory. Under the auspices and protection of his sheriff's badge, Hogg spends his time figuring out new ways to embezzle, pad his bank balance, and pad his waistline. A Dukes episode can not pass without at least one shot of Deputy Roscoe P. Coltrane feeding Boss a plate of six hot dogs or a colossal pot of spaghetti. Boss, with his white suit and bib, represents nothing more than an overfed, overgrown baby. Producers delegate Rosecoe himself to the role of overgrown child also. Every episode features Roscoe carrying on one-sided conversations with his basset hound, Flash. Roscoe's assistant deputies, Cletus and Enos, have enough sexual innuendo in their names to leave little question for the viewer about their chances of chasing down the Dukes in their General Lee. Thunder Road and the Reynolds movies offered a fresh adaptation of television s bumbling fools for The Dukes to emulate, but they also helped to popularize another Southern icon and make it television ready. The Hillbillies and other shows never touched on auto-racing as a Southern element, but when Mitchum and Reynolds did, it cleared the way for The Dukes to cast it on the small screen. In 1978, Jack Kirby's Media Made Dixie discussed the growing popularity of bootlegging- autoracing themes: "Running moonshine in souped-up cars, traceable at least as far back as Thunder Road, and simply running wild in hot cars, were complementary subjects very popular in the 1970s." What caught Kirby's eye aroused interest in the Duke's writers as the perfect ingredient for their show, and the final result was the General Lee.
Bo and Luke with their General Lee
Foreigners and Yankees might dominate the chic grand prix and Indianapolis 500, but in the rough world of the souped-up family sedan, romantic fellows from the South were elemental.
The General Lee did not exist when Kirby wrote his book in 1978, but in 1989, when the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was published, the General Lee had become famous enough that two of the three references to automobiles in the media referred to the General. Only ten years after its creation, the speeding confederate icon became the symbol for Southern racing history.
Discussion so far has centered mostly on what the Dukes of Hazzard does contain. To understand it as a representation of the South, one must also focus on what the show leaves out. As The Dukes mimics its predecessors in what it does have, so the series does in what it omits, as Christopher Geist observes:
Few series have grappled with the region's many difficulties in such important areas as race relations and economic structures, preferring instead to highlight superficial conflicts in their stories. An entire population of the South, the middle class, is rarely treated in the television South.
Race is not an issue in The Dukes of Hazzard. The only black person in the entire show is Sheriff Little of Chickasaw County. With a grimace on his face, and reflective sunglasses hiding his eyes, Sheriff little would wait at the county border to track down the Duke boys, who managed to make an occasional moonshine run into his territory or escape into Chickasaw County and get away from the incompetent Hazzard authorities. Little is a neutral character, neither an idiot nor a hero. Little was more competent than Hogg as a police officer, and nearly nabbed the Dukes once or twice, but his role had no racial underpinnings. The decision to cast Little as a black law officer was probably an attempt by Warner Brothers to give The Dukes a chance at seeming realistic.
Like the shows that preceded it, The Dukes offers no real glimpse at the Southern middle class. The Dukes, and the rest of Hazzard county, are all blue collar workers, and Boss Hogg, who owns the bank, the Boar's Nest, and most of the property in the county, serves as the lone representative of the rich. But to find someone whose occupation and speech indicate that they have had the benefit of a college education, viewers must stick to the random background characters that occasionally materialize to fill the support roles that some scripts require.
The Dukes was a simple series that required little digestion or deep thought on the part of the viewer: "Dukes considered the South to be a land of freedom, moral valued, and simple people. Good and evil are easily defined, and the good guys always won."[19 ] As a television series designed to draw a viewing audience and get a few laughs, Dukes served its purpose well, but it, and its sitcom predecessors, are should be billed as neither a thorough nor accurate representation of average working class Southerners.
Edward Ayers, in "What We Talk About When We Talk About the South," discusses misreprentations of the region: "Television, movies, novels, roadside markers, old history books, and jokes tell the same basic stories about the South over and over, even when people know they are not true to their own experience or to the complexity of human life." He uses two anthropological terms to describe this phenomena. The first is essentializing, or "to locate in some other people an essence of what they really are." The second is exoticizing: to make specific features of a society's thought or practice not only its essence but also its totality." What happens when these two things take place is that "we draw boundaries between things we call cultures and then fill in those boundaries with something to make the boundaries meaningful."
Are the writers of The Dukes of Hazzard guilty of this tendency to simplify? If the answer is not readily obvious by now, take the intangible processes that Ayers refers to and apply them to the tangible borders of Hazzard County. The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture has trouble accepting the reality of the county: "Fictional Hazzard County, the setting of the enormously successful Dukes of Hazzard series, is a land of swamps (complete with alligators!), fertile valleys, pine barrens, and mountains; in short, the fictional county's geography is that of the South as a whole." An essentialized setting provides the set for a program boasting characters essentialized and exoticized to a literally hilarious extreme. The contents of Hazzard County, as created by Warner Brothers, are a brilliant amalgamation not of what tells about the South, but what sells the South.