What does it mean to be American? Is it a love of your country, a way of life, or just simply the fact that you happened to be born there? While there are many different personal definitions, I believe that a broad cultural definition can be found in one very popular location: your living room; or more specifically, your television. Many television shows and series utilize familiar cultural values and aspects to better connect with the audience. In this action, television ensures the broadcast of a “Culture 101”, if you will. The course description for “Culture 101” reads: Will offer a crash-course in American culture in half-hour or hour blocks, and the viewer will be entertained while brushing up on basic American cultural aspects. While many shows are fine examples of our culture, I feel that one stand out among the rest. The show that I feel revealed the most “American” of values is actually one of my favorites: King of the Hill.
The show takes place deep in the heart of Texas, and the values presented in the show are homogenous with the common ideal of a “Red State”, or the overly-conservative state. The inhabitants of said state are often known as “rednecks” or “hillbillies”, and are a well-known stereotype. They are the people, who stand in the back alley drinking beer, are overly passionate about the sale of propane, and who fear any type of change; Hank Hill is all of these things and more. He lives in surroundings in which football is promoted as a man’s sport, and soccer is for sissies who are too weak to play football, as portrayed in the episode “Three Coaches and Bobby”. This society is also filled with tradition, as displayed in “What Makes Bobby Run”. In this episode, Bobby takes over as mascot for the football team, the Arlen Longhorns. Bobby runs from a tradition in which the Longhorn is always beaten up by a rival school, Belton. After Bobby runs, his own father won’t even look at him, so Bobby resorts to drastic measures and steals the rival school’s mascot, a live armadillo, just to save face. Episodes such as these set the stage for the high amounts of old-fashioned ideals and the level of importance placed on traditions that play a factor in Hank’s everyday life, essentially King of the Hill.
King of the Hill stars good ‘ole boys. The main character is Hank Hill, a proud Texan and father. His wife, Peggy, is a perfect match for Hank and a substitute Spanish teacher. The Hills’ son, Bobby, is a bit of a “problem child”, but not in the traditional sense. Bobby is a fairly progressive young man who embarrasses his parents because of his ideas, but they always end up growing in ways they never thought possible. Living with the Hills is Luann, Hank’s young niece whose mother is in jail. The series is also full of secondary characters, most in the form of neighbors, and all of them are to a varying degree, good examples of “Red State” America and its inhabitants.
The traditional American never questions the government, and Hank Hill is not one to do such. In the “Perils of Polling” episode, Luann is approaching the milestone of voting in her first presidential election. Hank and Peggy are naturally backing Texan-candidate George W. Bush and are hoping Luann decides to vote for him of her own free will. When Luann decides to become a member of the Communist party, a crisis is raised that actually mirrors an important part of American and world history. After World War II, the two largest superpowers were the United States and the Soviet Union. They were rivals in every sense of the word, and the countries were involved in a bitter Cold War for approximately fifty years. Any American knows all about this tense political situation, the hatred that still survives between the Russians and Americans, and the brinksmanship that was so carefully navigated. As Hank and Luann battle it out, the situation is made to play out a mini Cold War in a half hour program. Quite historically, the American side wins the contest in the middle of the episode, and Luann agrees to vote for someone else, but Hank soon is presented with a problem of his own.
When the Hills take Luann to a Bush rally to change her mind, Hank shakes the hand of Candidate Bush. He is stunned to find he has a weak handshake and then decides not to vote because he would feel wrong voting for anyone else, but can’t bring himself to vote for a man with a weak handshake. This episode then confronts the problem of American voting. Elections have seen a steady decline in voter turnout for years. Many major broadcasting companies, most notably MTV with their “Rock the Vote” program, have made efforts to draw voters to the polls, and offer numerous reasons to vote. From bandwagon propaganda, such as showing popular celebrities voting, to a broadcast of the presidential debates, voters are constantly bombarded with reason after reason that they should be utilizing their American right to vote. This episode chooses American pride as reason enough for anyone to vote, and no one has more pride in American than Hank Hill. After his tragic handshake, Hank decides to go to Mexico for the day with Dale, who hasn’t voted in years. As the day wears on, Hank becomes more and more nervous because he knows that he should vote and his duty as an American calls him to do so, not to mention a promise to vote with Luann. Finally, his American pride wins out and Hank rushes out and makes it to the voting booth by the skin of his teeth.
A lot of Americans have problems with sex in their children’s lives, and King of the Hill covers that subject quite well. In the episode “Get Your Freak Off”, Hank takes a liking to a boy-band called 4Skore. The problem is, Hank doesn’t listen to enough of the song and only hears the opening lines singing about God, and approves the CD for Bobby to listen to. Hank is also excited to find out that tickets for the 4Skore concert in Houston are on sale and buys himself and Bobby a ticket. When they arrive at the concert, Bobby meets a girl named Jordan, and asks his dad for advice on getting the girl to dance with him. Soon after, Hank is diverted to the parent’s box to watch the show. At the beginning of the concert, after the opening lines that caused Hank to like them in the first place, 4Skore rips off their tame outfits to reveal skintight and revealing costumes. Hank is horrified to see them thrusting their hips all over, and is even more horrified to find Bobby “freak dancing” with Jordan. Hank immediately removes Bobby from the concert. When they get home, Hank rips down all of Bobby’s posters and removes anything from the room that causes him to be exposed to sex, leaving Bobby with a bed for entertainment.
Many American parents pursue this action when their children begin to be exposed to sex through entertainment and music. The problem is, sex in the media is apart of American culture. It’s a common saying, “Sex sells”, and it’s true. New artists have songs about sex, sexy music videos, sexy dance moves, everything is motivated by sex. As Americans, we are taught that sex is taboo, and are thus lured to people who are more open to sex, because everyone is curious about it. The problem with trying to shelter your kids is that there is always a new medium to discover sex, such as the dreaded “friend” parent. These parents are obsessed with having their kids view them as “cool”, and often supply them with alcohol and allow them to do things that are not age-appropriate. Jordan’s parents are like this, and the Hills are the exact opposite. Because of the dancing incident, Jordan’s parents and the Hills decide to take the kids out together, and chaperone them to ensure they are not behaving in an unacceptable manner. While on this little “date”, Jordan’s parents invite Bobby to a boy-girl sleepover party, and Hank is not approving. Peggy helps Bobby sneak out, and Bobby goes to the party.
While there, a guest forces everyone to play “Seven Minutes in Heaven”, a game we’ve all heard of. If you haven’t, it is a game that puts people in the closet (“Heaven”) for seven minutes during which they are supposed to have some form of sexual relations. Hank finds that Bobby is in attendance at this party, and immediately goes to get him. He busts in, finds Bobby in the closet, and is met by a strangely happy crowd. It seems that the guests all felt very pressured to play this game, and were glad to not have to worry about sex any longer. This event occurs in every young person’s life. As children, we are all pressured to grow up quickly and one huge step is to know more about sex than the other kids. If you know about sex, you are presumed to be “cool”. In fact, many kids don’t want to know about sex until they are ready to, but do so just to keep up with everyone else. This “education” is most often perpetuated by the few children who want to learn about sex, do so, and pass the knowledge on to other kids who “want” to know. At the conclusion of this episode, Hank has the kids play a harmless party game: Pin the Tail on the Donkey. They thoroughly enjoy themselves, and are glad to see their parents arrive to pick them up. This episode really covers the issue of youth exposure to sex in America, and the friend-parent. This episode states what is true in America today: although friend-parents are fun, most kids really need the discipline from parents rather than the “do your own thing” approach of the friend-parent.
King of the Hill shows many other situations in American society, but rarely as well as it portrays the several events listed above. In doing so, the series takes a rarely used approach at examining and broadcasting American culture. It displays the traditionalist view, received from Hank, the progressionist view, given by Bobby, and then finds a middle ground between the two at which most Americans exist. In almost every episode, several cultural aspects are exposed and examined, all very quickly and yet concisely, considering the magnitude of many American social issues. This not only allows for King of the Hill to analyze very real American values and aspects, but to continue teaching a daily class of “Culture 101”. King of the Hill is a great example of a television series examining the different aspects of American culture, ensuring that any viewer receives a crash-course on “Red State” living, and all the while being a hilarious and enjoyable show. King of the Hill, in my opinion, is the next legendary animated show, such as the Simpsons, in that it has many different levels on which the show can be viewed. With such interesting subject matter and a complex yet simple foundation King of the Hill insures its own success, and will undoubtedly keep educating and entertaining audiences for years to come.