Friday Night Whites — Nighttime Drama Don’t Respect My Conway Twitty
by Kelly Kessler — DePaul University
March 23, 2007 – 09:00
As a Midwestern native born and bred in the middle of steel mill country, I have been struck by the recent high profile televised appearances of the white working class, “red necks,” and “white trash.” My Name is Earl flaunts omnipresent trailer parks, flannel shirt clad protagonists, and barroom brawls, while Friday Night Lights eschews the conspicuous consumption of Everwood and Dawson’s Creek for jobs in strip clubs and burger joints. The sitcom Earl appears—at least to me—to embrace those I often see as “my people.” Lights’ dramatic presentation of these same folks often leads me to squint, cringe, and wallow in my own class-based guilt. Light’s seemed to lack Earl’s respect for rednecks when football heartthrob Tim Riggins’ father’s spurned lover recently shouted (from her permanent hotel room), “Hey, if you see him, I want you to do somethin’ for me! You tell him I want my Conway Twitty back! They don’t have it at Target no more!” Perhaps my feeling of uneasiness has to do with narrative positioning of characters who feel content with their social position. After all, Earl’s folks want nothing more than to hang at the Crab Shack, visit Patty the daytime hooker, and play beer can tag. Our lady who misses her Twitty and Tyra’s whole family (a waitress, a stripper, and a semi-employed codependent mom), however, appear far from desirable types even within the working class town of Dillon. Sure, sitcoms like Earl, Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, and All in the Family have worked through their contested relationships with working class America. How do today’s generic dictates of the family drama or nighttime soap seem to be working with or against nuanced depiction of the white working class? Does an American pressure to erase class and strive for middle classness produce recurring images of a marginalized white working class? In short, can television muster respect for working class white middle America or self-proclaimed rednecks? Where? As a scholar by choice—redneck by birth, I was simply wondering.