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Fox's 'King of the Hill' Was the Last Bipartisan TV Comedy - The Atlantic
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Does the political party you identify with have an influence on what you find funny? Recent trends in TV viewing habits overwhelmingly suggest that it does. In 2011, a survey conducted by Experian-Simmons for Entertainment Weekly found very little confluence between the TV shows watched by Democrats and Republicans—perhaps a symptom of how the cultural divide has grown deeper over the last eight years. Liberals generally love quirky comedies like Community, Parks and Recreation, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and The Mindy Project; conservatives tend to prefer reality shows and crime dramas including NCIS, Duck Dynasty, The Bachelor, and Top Gear.
But for 13 years there was a show that drew laughs from viewers of all political persuasions. King of the Hill—an animated sitcom about a bumbling Texas everyman and his family—which ran on Fox from 1997 to 2010, still stands alone in the way it portrayed the complexity of red-state America with wit, good humor, and vitality. I was 11 years old, growing up in a rural county in North Carolina, when the show premiered, and for me, it was the first contemporary show that genuinely reflected the world I lived in. Its characters embodied all of the desires, needs, and contradictions that make up the universal human experience, undermining assumptions about “red” and “blue” culture in the process.
The show’s patriarch, Hank Hill, remains one of the great characters in TV comedy, almost Shakespearean in the tangled thoughts and feelings that emerge in glimpses from beneath his good ol’ boy facade. Hank is traditional and fundamentally uneasy in the rapidly globalizing, neoliberal culture of the ’90s and ’00s, watching the world around him transform. But one of the show’s great themes is Hank’s own place in this changing world, and his engagement with it in spite of his own reluctance. He’s stubborn with soft prejudices, but always drawn to do the right thing in the end. Via a variety of comic conflicts between its hero and a shifting culture, King of the Hill dared to suggest a world that might transcend gridlock, suspicion, and nihilism—a world in which cultural and political opposites could actually find ways to get along.
Eighteen years ago, on February 22, 1998, the season-two episode “Traffic Jam” aired, and while it preceded both the Bush and Obama administrations, the issues it considers are timely. Hank gets into a fender-bender with his neighbor, Kahn, and in order to avoid insurance increases they both opt to attend traffic school. Their teacher is a brash amateur stand-up comedian named Booda Sack, voiced by Chris Rock. Booda seems much more interested in trying out material on his class than in their driving skills. While the rest of the class howls with laughter at his jokes, made mostly at the expense of white people, Hank is highly uncomfortable, feeling that his identity and sense of propriety are being undermined.
Later, Hank brings his teenage son Bobby to the class in the hope that seeing Booda in action will discourage Bobby from his desired future in comedy. Instead, Booda brings Bobby on stage and they lampoon Hank together. Bobby confirms that his dad likes to stand around and drink beer, and Booda lampoons Hank as “four eyes, too many pies, super-size,” while Hank’s face reddens in rage and embarrassment.
It’s funny and uncomfortable in equal parts to see Hank emasculated in front of his son, and it speaks to the complexity of the issues at play. In a state still confronting a long legacy of racism, humor offers Booda a weapon that upends the historical power dynamic between white and black males. But Hank, retaining a degree of power himself, goes to Booda’s supervisor and reports his behavior, and Booda is fired. It’s worth noting that the current black unemployment rate in Texas is 9.5 percent, more than double the white unemployment rate. Booda’s situation speaks to a real-life social and political problem rooted in the persistent ghosts of Texas history.
The show could have simply left things at that, with its hero revenged, albeit in a distinctly unheroic way. Instead it imagines the possibility of something more positive. After Booda suggests to Bobby that he tell jokes about his whiteness, Bobby does an online search for white culture and inadvertently finds a string of racist jokes from a neoconfederate site, which he obliviously tries out at an open-mic night in front of a mostly black audience. Booda saves the day by jumping between Bobby and the crowd, robustly defending the First Amendment, and then improvising a series of jokes inspired by Hank’s lack of a butt. Instead of being offended, Hank is touched that Booda came to Bobby’s aid, and to make amends, he helps the comedian find a new job at his company. The episode ends with Hank and Booda exchanging yo’ mama jokes at each other’s expense with good humor rather than malice.
It’s the kind of unifying moment that’s rarely been seen since, whether in TV shows or in politics. But King of the Hill was never afraid to portray such moments, building a diverse audience that could expect to have its cultural assumptions challenged as much as humored. On its surface, the show appealed to both liberals and conservatives thanks to its premise as a comedy about beleaguered Texas suburbanites. Viewers on the left could enjoy laughing at “hicks” who felt increasingly out of touch in the modern world, while those on the right could both appreciate and identify with the “redneck” stereotypes they were proud to embrace (see: Duck Dynasty). King of the Hill drew viewers in with these caricatures, then used them to subvert expectations.
The show regularly tackled the complex gender roles that exist within conservative southern culture. Hank’s wife, Peggy, is a substitute Spanish teacher with a developing grasp of the language, who nevertheless has a keen taste for highbrow art (at one point, she casually declares, “Unless it’s got the name Merchant, Ivory, or Billy Crystal above the title, I am not interested”). Viewers are forced to consider the cost of casual male misogyny and workplace sexual harassment when they witness Hank’s niece Luanne being subjected to such abuse. Bobby, a lovable, sensitive, and eccentric 13-year-old, also defies Hank’s expectations for his teenage son: He prefers comedy and music to outdoor activities like hunting and fishing, but is shown in one episode to be a gifted marksman.
Although King of the Hill enjoyed solid ratings and critical acclaim through its 12th season, it was ultimately canceled by Fox to make room for Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy spinoff, The Cleveland Show. In 2005, the journalist Matt Bai unpicked the series’s influence in a piece for The New York Times Magazine, arguing that it offered “the most subtle and complex portrayal of small-town voters on television.” Rather than parodying red-state America, Bai wrote, the show subtly explored the ways in which conservative Americans were struggling with their nation’s rapid transformation. But more than that, it imbued all of its characters with a rich humanity that made their foibles deeply sympathetic. In this, King of the Hill was far ahead of its time, and the broader TV landscape has yet to catch up.
The president has announced multiple initiatives in the last year to combat the scourge. Now, governors from both parties want to work together to help their communities.
Democratic and Republican governors across the country are moving to quell the nation’s still-growing opioid epidemic. And they’ve got President Obama in their corner.
At a White House meeting Monday with members of the National Governors Association, the president identified two bits of “good news” to be found in the battle against opioid abuse: that the “broader society” thinks a public-health approach—not only one focused on law enforcement—is needed to stanch the bleeding; and that there’s bipartisan support around the effort.
“This is an area when I can get agreement from Bernie Sanders and Mitch McConnell,” Obama said, identifying senators from two states hit hard by the epidemic, Vermont and Kentucky. “That doesn’t happen that often,” but “it indicates the severity of the issue.”
Priming kids to expect rewards for good behavior can harm their social skills in the long term.
After working with thousands of families over my years as a family psychologist, I’ve found that one of the most common predicaments parents face is how to get kids to do what they’re asked. And one of the most common questions parents ask is about tools they can use to help them achieve this goal.
One such tool is the sticker chart, a type of behavior-modification system in which children receive stickers in exchange for desired behaviors like brushing their teeth, cleaning their room, or doing their homework. Kids can later “spend” their accrued stickers on prizes, outings, and treats.
Though data on how widely sticker charts are used (and when and why they became so popular) is difficult to find, anecdotal evidence suggests that these charts have become fairly commonplace in American parenting. Google searches for “sticker chart,” “chore chart,” and “reward chart” collectively return more than 1 million results. Amazon has more than 1,300 combined product results for the same searches. Reddit, too, is teeming with forums for parents asking each other about the merits of the charts and discussing specific strategies.
Does Donald Trump have a solid grasp of the ISIS apocalypse? It’s a question no one had reason to ask until last week, when Pope Francis unleashed his inner takfiri by declaring anyone who preferred building walls rather than bridges “not Christian.” (He did not mention Trump by name, but one thing you lose when you assume the Pontificate is the ability to subtweet in peace.) Trump retorted within minutes, in a speech on Kiawah Island in South Carolina. The Vatican, he said, is “ISIS’s ultimate trophy,” and the pope should beg God for Trump’s protection. “The Vatican [will be] attacked by ISIS,” he prophesied, in a statement whose grammar suggested it was translated by computers into Cantonese and back before publication. “I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened.”
A team of programmers has built a self-generating cosmos, and even they don’t know what’s hiding in its vast reaches.
Every particle in the universe is accounted for. The precise shape and position of every blade of grass on every planet has been calculated. Every snowflake and every raindrop has been numbered. On the screen before us, mountains rise sharply and erode into gently rolling hills, before finally subsiding into desert. Millions of years pass in an instant.
Here, in a dim room half an hour south of London, a tribe of programmers sit bowed at their computers, creating a vast digital cosmos. Or rather, through the science of procedural generation, they are making a program that allows a universe to create itself.
The ambitious project will be released as a video game this June under the title No Man’s Sky. In the game, randomly-placed astronauts isolated from one another by millions of lightyears must find their own existential purpose as they traverse a galaxy of 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 unique planets.
Those who speak Toki Pona say linguistic simplicity can enable a more profound form of communication.
In Chinese, the word computer translates directly as electric brain.
In Icelandic, a compassis a direction-shower, and a microscope a small-watcher.
In Lakota, horse is literally dog of wonder.
These neologisms demonstrate the cumulative quality of language, in which we use the known to describe the unknown.
“It is by metaphor that language grows,” writes the psychologist Julian Jaynes. “The common reply to the question ‘What is it?’ is, when the reply is difficult or the experience unique, ‘Well, it is like —.’”
That metaphorical process is at the heart of Toki Pona, the world’s smallest language. While the Oxford English Dictionary contains a quarter of a million entries, and even Koko the gorilla communicates with over 1,000 gestures in American Sign Language, the total vocabulary of Toki Pona is a mere 123 words. Yet, as the creator Sonja Lang and many other Toki Pona speakers insist, it is enough to express almost any idea. This economy of form is accomplished by reducing symbolic thought to its most basic elements, merging related concepts, and having single words perform multiple functions of speech.
For half a century, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been the linchpin of U.S. Mideast policy. A guaranteed supply of oil has bought a guaranteed supply of security. Ignoring autocratic practices and the export of Wahhabi extremism, Washington stubbornly dubs its ally “moderate.” So tight is the trust that U.S. special operators dip into Saudi petrodollars as a counterterrorism slush fund without a second thought. In a sea of chaos, goes the refrain, the kingdom is one state that’s stable.
But is it?
In fact, Saudi Arabia is no state at all. There are two ways to describe it: as a political enterprise with a clever but ultimately unsustainable business model, or as an entity so corrupt as to resemble a vertically and horizontally integrated criminal organization. Either way, it can’t last. It’s past time U.S. decision-makers began planning for the collapse of the Saudi kingdom.
The pressure to achieve academically is a crime against learning.
I’ve known the mother sitting in front of me at this parent-teacher conference for years, and we have been through a lot together. I have taught three of her children, and I like to think we’ve even become friends during our time together. She’s a conscientious mother who obviously loves her children with all of her heart. I’ve always been honest with her about their strengths and weaknesses, and I think she trusts me to tell her the truth. But when she hits me with the concern that’s been bothering her for a while, all I can do is nod, and stall for time.
“Marianna’s grades are fine; I’m not worried about that, but she just doesn’t seem to love learning anymore.”
The Florida senator bounces back to finish second in South Carolina. Meanwhile, Cruz is in trouble, Bush is out—and Trump is still on top.
COLUMBIA, S.C.—Donald Trump had just easily won the South Carolina primary, and it wasn’t yet clear who would come in second. But the mood at Marco Rubio’s post-primary celebration in a converted warehouse here was jubilant nonetheless.
It was, said Senator Tim Scott, “an amazing finish.” The state’s governor, Nikki Haley, said, “We just woke the country up. We changed this race. It is on the move.” Rubio proclaimed, “This has become a three-person race, and we will win the nomination.”
All that for a second-place finish, with just 22.5 percent of the vote—less than a quarter. Rubio may not win many, or even any, convention delegates for his showing here, and critics—such as the other candidates—will continue to point out that he still hasn’t won a single state. But Rubio has clearly recovered from his New Hampshire setback and begun to acquire some momentum among the majority of the Republican party that isn’t voting for Trump.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
How the real-estate mogul's attacks against Jeb Bush fueled his rise
If Jeb Bush hadn’t run for president, Donald Trump would have had to invent him. The former Florida governor was Trump’s perfect foil. First, because Jeb was prim, proper, and incapable of expressing the rage—especially towards Muslims and Mexicans—that many Republicans currently feel. Second, because Jeb’s candidacy represented the reductio ad absurdum of the campaign finance corruption that Trump, alone among GOP candidates, calls out.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, because Jeb’s candidacy gave Trump an excuse to attack George W. Bush. When Trump began disparaging the former president last October, and then resumed his derision last week, many politicos warned that he was making a mistake. “I can’t believe the Republican nominee is going to be [someone] who said George W. Bush lied to the American people about the Iraq war. That comes from kook-land, folks,” exclaimed Lindsey Graham. “I can’t believe that we’re going to nominate someone to represent our party who said George W. Bush was responsible for 9/11. That cannot happen.” Curt Anderson, who ran Bobby Jindal’s campaign, declared that, “Everything we know about political strategy suggests that Trump’s decision to attack George W. Bush will backfire.”