One cannot help but notice the popularity and proliferation of such reality TV programming as Duck Dynasty, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and Snooki & J Wow. (Disclaimer: I am a shameless reality TV addict, as my guilty pleasures include the Bravo! and E! lineups). Author Charlotte Hays’ most recent work, When did White Trash become the new normal? is sprinkled with charm and Southern wisdom as she explores the mainstreaming of White Trash culture. Throughout the book, Hays explains the popularity of such mainstays of White Trash culture including Honey Boo Boo, tattoos and body piercings, artery-arresting (yet admittedly tasty) culinary habits, religion, and overall what we have come to know as White Trash Normal (referred to henceforth as WTN).
Hays, who is herself is a product of the Deep South and offers bits of her background woven into the topics of WTN. In each chapter, Hays also draws parallels to contemporary issues to the popularity of WTN, exploring such hot topics as the war on obesity, the decline of church attendance, and the downgrading of modern dress and appearance. Each chapter also offers a literal taste of WTN recipes for appetizers, cocktails and meal ideas that are tantalizing. Hays also talks about WTN in the context of the watering down of traditional values and etiquette as well as the subsequent greater effect on the culture.
Hays also take the time to explain other aspects of what has become WTN and tying them into the housing bubble and financial crisis of 2008. Hays writes that the mainstream media has been complicit in its enabling of the new WTN habits including taking on larger loans than one can afford, yet painting the borrower as a victim. “The media,” Hayes writes, “which still sets the agenda for the popular culture, has a different message for these deadbeats: It isn’t their fault. Let’s not be harsh. Some people got in trouble because of circumstances beyond their control, but the press and the government said in effect: don’t you dare hold any of these people responsible. The government did it with bailouts for bad borrowers at taxpayer expense, while the media wrote mash notes to deadbeats”. Furthermore, she writes, “But all too often these victim borrowers, as they were portrayed by a sympathetic press, were not victims of fate. They were the captains of their financially rickety ships, victims of nothing more than their own lack of self-discipline.”
Hays, however, is not all unsympathetic to WTN. The title of White Trash is not necessarily relegated only to the Mama Junes and Si Robertson’s, but to the elite U.S. press corps, those who earn six figures and do not have a rainy day fund, and her own life examples of attempting to pawn a treasured piece of jewelry or her own Non-Sufficient Funds experiences. She points out that hard-working janitors and waitresses who are raising their children with good values are not trash. So it is not necessarily a matter of class distinction, but the way in which one conducts oneself.
Overall, When Did White Trash Become the New Normal? is a highly recommended and enjoyable read.