By Clarence Page
Tribune Content Agency
After watching the fuss Republican presidential wannabe Mike Huckabee made about Beyonce Knowles early this year, it has been amusing to watch him try to wriggle and squirm his way out of the Duggar family's scandal.
In his latest book, the former Arkansas governor and Baptist pastor got all judgy about the president and first lady allowing their teen daughters to be crazy in love with Grammy-award winning Beyonce and her rap star husband, Jay Z.
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He even went so far as to accuse Jay Z of "crossing the line from husband to pimp by exploiting his wife as a sex object." That breathtakingly wrong accusation sounded downright bizarre coming from a man who has palled around and played bass guitar on his former Fox News TV show with heavy-metal rocker Ted Nugent, who is hardly known for gospel tunes.
Now Huck sounds maybe a tad hypocritical, too, with his remarkably forgiving reaction to the news that Josh Duggar, 27, of TLC's 19 Kids and Counting, resigned from the conservative Family Research Council — and TLC suspended the show — following his admission that, as a teen about a dozen years ago, he had committed "inexcusable" acts of molestation of some of his younger sisters.
The show's suspension is the biggest shock to the seemingly shockproof world of reality TV since TLC dropped another show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. The mother of that show's child star, it turned out, was dating a convicted child molester. That was too much reality, even for reality TV.
But the Duggar family's scandal grabs our attention for another reason. Since their show hit the airwaves in 2008, the Duggars have been actively wooed by conservative politicians and activists. Parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their nine girls and ten boys frequently talked about conservative Christian values of purity, modesty and how faith in God, not birth control, should determine the number of children they have.
The Duggars endorsed Rick Santorum for president in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2016. But following the recent allegations, Santorum said he was "sickened" and was praying for the girls. Huckabee took a softer tone:
"Josh's actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, 'inexcusable,' but that doesn't mean 'unforgivable,' " Huckabee wrote in a Facebook post. "He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story."
No purpose? Tell that to the late night comedians.
"You mean to tell me the family that goes around saying gay and trans people are pedophiles preying on America's young people actually has a pedophile that preyed on America's young people?," host Larry Wilmore of The Nightly Show wondered out loud. "I hate pedophiles, but I love irony."
Why do politicians care so much for celebrity endorsements? In a word: connections. Just as talk about sports or soap operas gives strangers something inoffensive to talk about in elevators and hair salons, pop culture offers politicians a way to connect emotionally with us voters even before we find out what they believe.
The country's sociopolitical divides and culture wars are matched perfectly by the variety of worlds depicted in the surprisingly successful genre of unscripted television.
We see this play out in the way conservatives, for example, criticize the Obama White House for including the rapper Common in a cultural event, only to find themselves defending Phil Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" for ridiculing homosexuals, among others, in an interview that not only was unscripted but unedited by the program's producers.
Welcome to the world of "Hicksploitation" television, as The Daily Beast recently called it, or "Red State reality TV" as the Washington Post tagged it. It is a world in which politicians exploit the values of rural Americans for votes in the way that hicksploitation — or "hixploitation," according to Wikipedia — in movies brought us a genre as varied as the classy Walking Tall (1973) or the trashy classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), to name a few of the titles listed under "Hixploitation" on the fan site called Grindhouse Database.
Inevitably in today's media age, this world spilled over into a political culture that has turned running for president into a stepping stone, for many people, on their way to such powerful posts as TV talk show host. We even saw the two worlds of politics and pop culture collide in TLC's short-lived Sarah Palin's Alaska.
But just as it serves the purpose of politicians to seek the backing of pop culture icons, it serves their opponents and critics to exploit those icons' embarrassments.
(E-mail Clarence Page at cpagetribune.com.)