Hyperreal Hillbillies and Geeks: Exploring Contemporary Cultural Identities (Roundtable) (ID # 16833)
The 49th Annual Northeast MLA (NeMLA) Convention, April 12-15, 2018 Pittsburgh, PA
As we argue in our essay, “Postmodern Geekdom as Simulated Ethnicity,” economically privileged geeks and their slacker foils have risen as protagonists in mainstream entertainment because they have authenticating features which mark them with ennobling melodramatic suffering while eschewing abject qualities that would alienate them from audiences. As this phenomenon has progressed, another type of protagonist, the hillbillly, has arisen alongside the geek and is often featured in media with geek and slacker foils. For example, the novel Ready Player One, the comic and television adaptation of The Walking Dead, and the recent memoir Hillbilly Elegy all feature geeks alongside rural poor characters.
Hillbilly protagonists are more complex to analyze because they have significant actual authentic suffering built into their identities based in real-world economic and cultural marginalization. However, these authenticating features, while they are based in true suffering, also serve to centralize the whiteness of hillbilly protagonists.
Jean Baudrillard defines the hyperreal as a “real” that lacks any relationship to the imaginary, a simulation that replaces and displaces the “real” thing (Simulacra and Simulation 2). For example, The Walking Dead’s Daryl Dixon functions as a “hyperreal hillbilly” whose brutal childhood implicitly enhances his survival skills while negative attributes stereotypically associated with such an upbringing (such as bigotry) are muted. The hillbillies of reality TV are also hyperreal in the sense that they are often simulations. The protagonists of Duck Dynasty were mostly beardless businessmen who wore mainstream clothing before they decided to market themselves as backwoods.
This roundtable welcomes brief, informal presentations on any aspect of media centering on geeks, slackers, and/or hillbillies–and the places and texts where they overlap. We welcome analyses that consider these hyperreal identities and their intersections with gender, sex, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, and disability.