LITTLE ROCK — If you throw toilet seats instead of horseshoes, you might be a redneck.
And this weekend in Arkansas, you might not be alone.
Hundreds of people are expected to attend the second annual Redneck Games of Arkansas on Saturday and Sunday, when competitors will vie for glory in such non-Olympic events as lawnmower racing and a slog through an obstacle course called, “Get Daddy/Momma a Cold One!”
The games showcase the rise of the redneck in popular culture as people are increasingly tuning into reality TV shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and “Hillbilly Handfishin’.” However, some question whether the games actually help redefine the term for poor, white rural Southerners in a positive way or whether they just perpetuate negative stereotypes.
Arkansas has strived to shed its image as a land of toothless, barefoot hillbillies by highlighting the accomplishments of some of its native sons and daughters, including former President Bill Clinton and legendary musician Johnny Cash.
Of course, Arkansas’ hillbilly image never really disappeared, even before Jim “Trashman” Miller launched the state’s version of the redneck games last year.
People still joke that Clinton’s presidential library looks like a giant trailer. Others quip that the newly renamed Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport sounds too much like “hillbilly.” Former Gov. Mike Huckabee didn’t do the state’s image any favors, either, when he lived in a triple-wide trailer while the governor’s mansion was undergoing renovations.
Those images don’t seem too far off from this weekend’s redneck games in Clinton, a community about 70 miles north of Little Rock.
People will spit watermelon or pumpkin seeds in one contest. In another, they’ll dodge furniture instead of hurdles as they race to get not gold, but silver -- cans, that is, in “Get Daddy/Momma a Cold One!”
“My dad always sent me out to get him a beer,” said Miller, 44. “And it wasn’t like I just walked to the refrigerator. ... I had to go outside my trailer and I had to go out to the cold, dark night to the little pump house where mama had a dryer and daddy had his beer fridge. It was an obstacle course in itself.”
The event doesn’t actually use beer. To keep the teetotalers in the dry county happy, they use cans of an off-brand soda instead.
“They look a lot like alcoholic beverage cans,” Miller said. “They’re blue and they got wavy white letters on them.”
While the event’s organizers say it’s all in good fun, the notion of repeating a stereotype can be offensive.
“There’s a fine line between celebrating the culture and internalizing negative stereotypes,” said J. Dennis Murray, a psychology professor at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pa., and a former president of the National Association for Rural Mental Health.
The games aren’t unique to Arkansas. Georgia’s redneck games made an appearance in TLC’s “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” a reality television show about a young beauty pageant competitor and her family’s redneck lifestyle. The show adds subtitles as many people speak, underscoring the idea that the people on screen are so different from viewers that they speak a different language.
“A lot of those shows, I do think that they perpetuate the ignorance and I really don’t like them,” Miller said.
Some self-declared rednecks celebrate what to others is a pejorative term that conjures up the sunburned necks of farm workers who spent their days in the field.
Mark “Bubba” Marucci, who helps organize a similar redneck competition in Oakland, Md., said redneck isn’t such a dirty word anymore.
“Redneck’s just a state of mind,” said Marucci, a self-professed redneck. “I love camo. You shoot it, I’ll cook it. I drive a pickup truck and I’ve got a John Deere.”
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