Jackie (left, Travis Harmon) and Dunlap (Jonathan Shockley) hold forth three times weekly as Red State Update
Photo: Travis and Jonathan.com
As the presidential campaigns rumble toward November, there has been no let-up from the lampooning by Red State Update, the YouTube and MySpace sensation whose four-star ratings have propelled them onto CNN, USA Today and a new CD.
For the uninitiated, Red State Update is a little difficult to define. It’s something like Hee Haw meets The Daily Show. Or a white rural version of Sanford and Son. Or Larry the Cable Guy talking with an older friend about politics.
Red State Update stars “Jackie Broyles” and “Dunlap” sitting behind a week’s worth of empty Budweiser cans, a few fifths of Jack Daniels and, in the background, other talisman of the South: The Tennessee State Flag, hanging right next to Old Glory. They say they’re broadcasting from Jackie’s barbecue/general store in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In reality, the show comes from California, and the performers are Travis Harmon and Jonathan Shockley. Harmon grew up in Murfreesboro and Shockley attended college there at Middle Tennessee State University.
The scenario isn’t new. A couple of guys dress up like rednecks and talk with grossly exaggerated Southern accents, making fun of politics. What is new is that these guys have taken a three-time-a-week, usually three-minute web posting and turned it into a national media craze. During last summer’s Democratic primary debates, Jackie and Dunlap were selected to pose a question to the candidates during the CNN YouTube Democratic debate. Their question: Does all the media clamoring for Al Gore to get into the race hurt “y’all’s feelings?”
Since then Jackie and Dunlap have become regulars Salon.com and DirecTV’s “The Fizz.” The twosome have made regular appearances on CNN, most recently in a story about the release of the trailer for “W.” Their reaction: “You know it’s going to be a hatchet job if Oliver Stone did it,” said Dunlop. “Oh,” said Jackie. “You reckon?”
Last month, they released a CD “How Freedom Sounds.” The CD was born when, according to Dunlap, fans wrote in to say “I’d enjoy it so much more if I didn’t have to look at you.” Songs include “I Don’t Want To Go To Iraq” and “Get The Hell Outta My Store Hippie.” And between songs there are new comic sketches, such as “Talladega,” described as “If Hank Williams, Jr. directed a remake of Caligula.” When asked to do an impression of his daddy, Dunlap wonders, should he should Daddy’s drunk week or church week?
The Red State boys vogue
Photo: via Mufreesboro Post
Jackie and Dunlap don’t just talk politics. They spoofed the photo shoot Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus did for Vanity Fair, the Red State boys’ own photo featuring Dunlap’s prodigious and hairy beer belly exposed and Jackie, in overalls, gazing skyward. There is an audition tape for John Adams, the television movie, with Dunlap in white tights, white ruffled blouse, white wig and a Lynyrd Skynyrd cap.
Red State Update has appeared at least twice in the Murfreesboro, Tennessee newspaper, and reader comments are generally positive, although some object to reinforcing negative stereotypes.
“The sad thing is that we all know people here in Rutherford County who vote for president based (more) on who they’d most like to have a beer with than actual issues,” said one blogger.
Others just don’t think Update is very funny.
Don Wright, a media consultant in Murfreesboro, thinks that Red State Update perpetuates an image of rural Southerners as dumb hicks, and that the rest of the country believes that image is true.
“Last week my wife and I were watching some crime show and the detectives had to go to Nashville – all complaining they did not want to go,” Wright said.
“The detectives who came met Charlene, the secretary for the Nashville police, who looked and acted like Scarlet O’Hara. The police chief was Big Daddy ““ might as well have been ‘Boss Hogg’ from ‘Dukes of Hazzard.’ On top of that the police chief wore a string tie. Never seen that on the police chief in Nashville,” said Wright, “and I have lived in the area since 1982.”
Roger Stanley, an English professor at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, who studies popular culture, said that Red State Update offered a valid satire on the notion that Tennessee will, once again, go red come November.
“The larger issue of whether Red State Update is ultimately a critique of Tennesseans who pull the Republican lever in a knee-jerk manner or conversely a critique of media and demographic portrayal of the same populace — that,” Stanley said, “is left tantalizingly ambiguous.”
Red State Update can be found at www.redstateupdate.com/