If there was one unavoidable pop culture phenomenon this past autumn it was TLC mega-hit reality show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I’ve only watched a couple episodes–and several snippets–but there did seem to be collective snobbery and (faux?) outrage around the fact Alana’s mother gave her Mountain Dew and Red Bull to ramp her up before pageants. What is it about Mountain Dew, exactly, that makes it perennially associated with hillbillies? Here is a commercial for the soda from the early 1960s:
Redneck connotations for Mountain Dew obviously pre-date Honey Boo Boo. In the past there were definitely more regional beverages out there. This one from the 1920s, Topsy, made the uncomfortable decision to name itself after the slave girl in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. People forget today how much Topsy, Eva, Simon LeGree, et. al. were once a part of the American lexicon even for those who’d never read the book itself. The term “white trash” has it’s roots in slavery. So, the racial aspect is always an underlying element in redneck mockery, I feel, and the now-extinct Topsy chocolate beverage definitely reflects that.
Soda–whether Mountain Dew or others–DOES seem to represent some sort of American cultural short-hand for class and/or poverty. Mountain Dew served in a tippy cup being the ultimate in pearl-clutching shock over redneck parenting. More serious debates of the US Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP, better known as “food stamps”) inevitably ask the question “should soda be allowed?”. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’s infamous “go-go juice” is just the latest in a long and rich American tradition of hillbillies and soda pop. Author Jefferson Cowie in his 2010 book Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class argues that in those times of economic hardship Americans developed an interesting nostalgia/fascination with “redneck culture”. Witness the popularity of television shows like the The Dukes of Hazzard during the economic tough times of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Or the play and film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: there WAS a period of redneck-chic during the Carter years. Further back, during the Great Depression, Americans flocked to the escapism of watching the saccharine films of Shirley Temple. Honey Boo Boo seems like an amalgamation of those two past impulses.