Monday, September 29, 2014

The Beverly Hillbillies: An American Icon

           “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” as performed by Flatt and Scruggs reached Number Two on the Country Billboard Chart for the year 1963.  The song was released on September 24, 1962, the same month and year the accompanying television show debuted on CBS.  The successful series ran for nine years and continues today in syndication, proving its timelessness as an American icon.  The Beverly Hillbillies portrayed a stereotypical backwoods family that, by sheer luck, struck it rich finding oil on their otherwise worthless land.  On the surface, the show was silly, albeit comedic genius, poking fun at the American hillbilly and his backwoods ways.  But, looking beyond the surface comedy shtick, the show not only adhered to the “Western myth” that was popular in the post-World War II era, but also demonstrated that the “Western myth” mirrored American values in the eyes of both the show’s creator and its viewers.  In fact,  The Beverly Hillbillies’ creator, Paul Henning, was responsible for both Petticoat Junction and Green Acres, shows with similar themes regarding the value of the American frontier and the de-value of consumerism.  The simple life, not a propensity to gain and flaunt one’s own wealth, was the most important aspect of American life.  The Beverly Hillbillies attested to this, martyring Jed as the intelligent patriarch with his simple yet intuitive perceptions and ridiculing banker Milton Drysdale, who is only concerned with keeping the Clampbett’s money in his bank for his own benefit.  Drysdale, who thinks he is better than the Ozark family he is trying to cajole, is often made the fool.  The television series confirms that regardless of Jed Clampett’s sudden wealth, he remains true to his Ozark mountain upbringing.  As Paul Cullum explains in his article on the Museum of Broadcast Communications site:

Despite his mystification at the newfangled trappings of luxury, and the craven depths to which almost everyone around him sinks, Jed remains a bastion of homespun wisdom--very much the Lincolnesque backroads scholar.

It is no wonder the show, and the show’s theme song, were hits with a public trying to sustain the idea of American values amidst the growing consumerism, especially within the scope of the Cold War and the growing concerns with communism in Southeast Asia.  Television shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies and songs like “The Ballad of Jed Clampbett,” subtly reminded viewers and listeners that the American way needed to be protected from the red scare of communism spreading throughout Asia, including in Vietnam, which, by 1963, was becoming a growing concern in American foreign policy.

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