Still, when CBS casting agents descended upon the Southeast last year looking for candidates for a new reality show called The Real Beverly Hillbillies, the groundswell of opposition that arose was fierece and immediate. This wasn't just shoddy, cliched treatment of Southerners, opponents cried, but an insult to all of America's poor whites. Once again, a skirmish had broken out in America's neverending battle with its own class system.
America's longstanding national mythology tells us we're a country without old Europe's hidebound class system; the truth, of course, is that the US has a large underclass that's been rendered nearly invisible through lack of attention. And if you're poor and white, you're actually doing good to be ignored; otherwise, you're openly mocked wherever you turn.
You know the stereotypes: the mullet-sporting, beer-swigging, pick-up-driving hick with charges pending. Or the trailer park princess wearing overtaxed spandex and fuchsia lipstick who does all her shopping at Wal-Mart with a litter of wailing kids in tow.
As time has progressed, so has the proliferation and variety of white trash stereotypes. The 90s alone ushered in the likes of Jerry Springer, Joey Buttafuocco, John Wayne Bobbitt, Courtney Love, Beavis and Butt-head, Kid Rock and Roseanne and Tom Arnold. Meanwhile, the hubbub surrounding The Real Beverly Hillbillies apparently sparked a brainstorm at other studios. A couple of weeks ago, UPN premiered The Mullets, a show centered around two blue-collar, wrestling-loving, beer-drinking brothers who sport the hairstyle that bears their surname. None other than 80s sex symbol Loni Anderson plays their mother, Mandi Mullet-Heidecker.
We've seen the belittling of people seen as coming from somewhere below the middle class in the media's treatment of Clinton accuser Gennifer Flowers and disgraced ice skater Tonya Harding who, although they were no doubt ridiculous in various ways, were ultimately dismissed as little more than "trailer trash." Closer to home, when the Loomis Fargo gang's leaders were revealed to be a collection of mobile home dwellers who went on a nouveau riche spending spree after the heist, the morning radio jokes and "What do you expect?" comments were often brutal in their stereotypes of poor whites.
But there's probably no greater example of the media's poor white bashing than that of Paula Jones. When she claimed in 1994 that Bill Clinton groped her and solicited sex while he was governor of Arkansas, Jones -- a low-income Arkansas state employee with a tacky wardrobe, squirrelly hair and trailer-park upbringing -- made an easy target. When Clinton defender James Carville attacked Jones by saying, "Drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park and there's no telling what you'll find," it was shocking not only because of its overt prejudice against the working class, but also because of the relative lack of public backlash it elicited. Other than her gauche hairstyle, the main slam against Jones was that she was "trailer trash." The assumption that mobile home dwellers are somehow a lower form of being has almost become routine in America.
Life a la double-wide
"Ours is the big gray doublewide with a Suburban in the driveway," says Kim Haxwell, directing me to her residence at Twin Lakes Mobile Homes, a sprawling, 250-mobile-home development in Fort Mill. In addition to the Suburban in the driveway, also out front are a portable basketball goal, a scattered collection of toys, and patches of shrubs and plants complemented with two wagon wheels and a little windmill garden ornament.
The trailer has four bedrooms and two bathrooms, and is more spacious than you'd expect after seeing it from the outside. Inside it's homey and neat, with family pictures covering the walls. Kim lives here with her husband, Brad, and their five kids, who range in ages from seven weeks to 13 years old.
There's a young boy with close-cropped blond hair sitting on the couch watching TV. The seven-week-old is in one of those automatic rockers, blissfully asleep in the corner. I see out the dining room window that the backyard resembles a playground, with several swingsets, slides and more toys.
Kim, 33, and Brad, first met in Michigan about 11 years ago, and after getting married, moved to the Charlotte area so Brad could help run his parents' pizza joint. However, things got off to a rocky start for the newlyweds. The restaurant soon went belly-up, and the couple found themselves facing a mounting number of bills.
"When my husband was younger he was wild with the credit cards," Kim said. "Financially we weren't doing too good. We had a car repossessed, and didn't have the best credit. We were living in a single-wide in Rock Hill at the time and needed a bigger place. Thankfully, the Lord led us to this double-wide."