"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 24 January 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Class Dismissed



For years now, there've been

rumors circulating - mostly

among the liberal,

bleeding-heart rabble - that the

rich are getting richer while

the poor get poorer. To listen

to the doomsayers, America's

being twisted in the middle, on

the receiving end of a cheap

macroeconomic balloon trick.

Sink or swim is the watchword,

while treading water just

attracts the sharks.


Maybe it's the exercise of

running scared that has trimmed

the middle off the middle class;

their beer bellies have hardened

as Joe and Jane Sixpack slim

down to their ideal fighting

weight. For these days,

mainstream Americans appear to

be reclaiming their country and

their culture. Before you know

it, Hank Hill will have that

condescending bastard Homer

Simpson in a full nelson. Take

that, you postmodern class




And not a moment too soon. Is

there a more self-consciously

elitist show on TV today than

The Simpsons? The show has

degenerated into an inscrutable

inning of metamedia charades,

where the characters suffer from

a benign strain of Tourette's

syndrome, manifesting itself in

random gags about the Fox

network itself. Adding another

mirror to the funhouse, Fox is

fighting back in this friendly

pillow fight. And they've hired

a big gun to go after Homer:

Mike Judge, the ignominious

creator of Beavis and Butt-head.



But "King of the Hill" is just

the tip of the iceberg, really.

Roseanne pioneered middle-class

TV for underachievers, and has

been celebrated by pedantic

pundits and overeducated

blowhards ever since for

"realistically depicting the

working-class milieu." As our

dear departed friends at Spiv

used to say, "Yeah, and...?"

It's not as if Roseanne was the

first artist to turn a mirror on

America's chubbiest demographic.

She just took her cues from

Archie Bunker. Still, everyone

suspects it was Meathead's

generation, not Archie's, that

was writing the scripts between

bong hits and macrame class -

those patronizing punks.


But we've come a long way since

"Those were the Days." After

years of test screenings and

focus groups, they know we know

they know we're watching. Now

that the meta-cat is out of the

meta-bag, TV programmers and ad

executives are pulling some

funny stuff. We don't know if

they're laughing at us, or with

us... but they're certainly

laughing. All the way to the



It's striking that our diversions

have veered from the escapist

Club Med fantasies of the '80s

to the working-class realism of

the '90s. From cartoons to

politics (not, as it turns out,

entirely distinct from one

another), we're apparently

itching to see a little more of

ourselves in our entertainment.

Here's Hank Hill, a familiar

look of generic worry braided on

his brow, doing battle with a

limp-wristed social worker over

the insidious tenets of PC

parenting. The middle-class

reclamation of prime time and

politics will be complete the

day we see old Hank taking a

drug test with his Congressional

delegation, peeing in a plastic

cup just the way real Americans

do - God love 'em.


It's not really a question of art

imitating life. As any starving

artist will tell you, the only

real difference between the two

is that art is more expensive.

We're not sure whether the

American middle class gives a

damn, since they're more worried

about making their minimum

monthly payment on that new lawn

tractor. But we know Domino's,

Nyquil, and 1-800-COLLECT care,

and they're shitting gold bricks

after learning some 14 million

Americans tuned in to "King of

the Hill"'s premiere two weeks




Is it the middle class

reasserting itself, or just the

powers and principalities of

marketing in their usual

Nielsen-inspired hotdogging?

Perhaps the middle class doesn't

even exist anymore, and we're

all just longing for a simpler

time when a job - even if it was

as mundane as selling propane

and propane accessories - was

one of the more stable

certainties in modern living. A

time when our folks could make

the mortgage, the car payment,

and sock a little away in

junior's college fund, all

without having to trade those

cool steel-toed creepers for a

pair of lame leather-tasseled



Well, with casual-dress days, the

resurgence of bowling, and the

renaissance of beer and country

music, perhaps we have nothing

to worry about after all. What's

the worst thing that can happen -

another model year for


courtesy of E.L Skinner


E.L. Skinner