King of the Hill takes on green
Last Sunday, Fox’s animated show King of the Hill ran an episode called “Earthy Girls Are Easy.” (You can watch the full episode here.)
I was excited when I heard about it. KotH is a brilliant show, the only one on television that pokes fun at low-income rural white people in a way that is both hilarious and affectionate. It really captures the rhythms of speech and social folkways of that milieu, and the man at the center, Hank, is a fundamentally decent guy who works hard and takes care of his family. It’s a show with subtle wit and genuine heart — a rare beast indeed.
Sad to say, the episode itself was a horrendous letdown. It was everything KotH is usually not: thuddingly obvious, inauthentic, mean-spirited, and most damning of all, not funny. Really. At all. Characters are forced to make long speeches that sound nothing like them. Everything is discussed in terms of flat-footed caricatures. The choices and dichotomies reflect a woefully poor understanding of the subject matter. And so on. It was as though someone co-opted the show to write a long, blustery, ill-informed blog post.
At the beginning, Hank finds out that the man he works for (at a propane store) has been dumping toxic chemicals in the nearby river, so he decides the store needs to “go green.” For a while this means stuff like carpooling, keeping the air conditioner off, and turning out lights. As Hank says, fixing the boss’s mistake “is not gonna be fun.” Then Hank’s boss discovers carbon offsets, which his friend Dale takes up selling. You can imagine the rest. This should give you a flavor of the subtlety involved:
Now, this is a ham-handed and confused conception of offsets, for reasons I won’t get into yet again. But what really bugs me is the larger framing: The choice is between tedious, uncomfortable, time-consuming options that degrade your quality of life, or … fraud. Real green is castor oil. Fake green is celebrated by “Hollywood” and gullible young environmentalists.
As distant as it is from my experience, from what I see every day moving through the large and nebulous world of “green,” I must say this basic view of things seems to be extremely common, not just among right-wingers but among a certain brand of self-described tough-minded dudes who seem to fear, above all else, being taken in by some fuzzy-headed idealist. The notion that smarter use of energy and resources might improve our health, happiness, and quality of life … that’s nowhere in pop culture.
As a final note, this reinforces yet again my growing conviction that green is utterly resistant to art and humor. I’ve yet to see a pop culture manifestation of green that doesn’t make me cringe. Anybody got a counterexample?