One afternoon in August, Kayla Carolus walked into what she thought was an audition for a lifestyle show on CMT. Auditioning is not out of the ordinary for the 20-year-old former Huntingdon resident, who moved to the Nashville area in 2010 to enroll in a commercial entertainment program at Columbia State Community College in Franklin, Tenn.
What was out of the ordinary for Kayla was finding her entire family, comedian/ actor Tom Arnold and a camera crew waiting for her upon her arrival. Kayla was soon told that she had walked into a “redneck intervention,” part of an episode of the new reality TV show Redneck Rehab on Country Music Television.
The one-hour, eight-episode series follows former rednecks as they are confronted by friends and family who fear their loved one has forgotten their country roots. The friends and family members have 48 hours to take their loved one back home for a redneck reunion to remind them of all the fun that they have left behind. The show is hosted by Arnold, who also hosts the CMT show “My Big Redneck Wedding.” Kayla’s episode of Redneck Rehab will air at 10 p.m. Saturday on CMT.
I found out about this via an e-mail from reader SamM, who writes:
To me, this is interesting on so many levels.
1. People from Altoona are not really rednecks. They are hillbillies. But somehow, it appears that Altoona and Nashville have come to occupy the same cultural space.
2. Or have they? This girl from Altoona moved to Nashville. Not LA. And her family decided that this move indicated that she was moving up too far and fast in the world. So Nashville now equals LA in some sense?
3. All of which is pointed out by CMT, which has a vested interest in selling Nashville as an aw shucks place for wholesome girls. What I mean is, it wasn’t so long ago that you’d take someone TO nashville for a Redneck Intervention. (Hee Haw was filmed there.) Now people are getting rescued FROM Nashville? Is that the kind of thing CMT ought to be advertising?
4. Or… huh? The original country music channel was known as… The Nashville Network. It went defunct in 2000. Or, actually, it became Spike TV, which isn’t very Nashville at all, depending on whether you think Nashville is really still Nashville or not. Someone must think not, because the Nashville Network is relaunching on November 1. Seriously.
5. All of these questions of authenticity and such would be perfect fodder for a country music song. But now, these are questions better handled in a reality television show hosted by Tom Arnold.
I think I need to put in a chew of Copenhagen, crack a Bud Light and think all this over. Or maybe I need a Marlboro and a Miller. Or… a Nat Sherman and a Heineken? Snus and Chimay? Oxy and another Oxy?
I don’t even know how to signal anymore.
Excellent commentary. What a fantastic find, Sam. This pushes both of our buttons, though different ones. I’ve not seen the show, but what’s interesting to me is how this sounds like in some sense a sanitized white cultural populist version of a makeover show, or “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy,” in which a person deemed to be Tragically Flawed is taken in hand by those who can Improve Her in some way. Except in this case, there’s real pathos there, as the Flawed Person is someone whose error was leaving the group behind, therefore Thinking She’s Better Than Us.
Not having seen the show, it’s certainly possible that this Kayla woman moved to Nashville and became a snob. But it’s also possible that she’s a perfectly nice person who left to follow a dream of working in the entertainment industry, or to develop a talent she had that couldn’t flourish in Altoona. And her family decided to humiliate her by telling a national TV audience that she’s gotten above herself.
Presumably she was fine with it all; if she hadn’t cooperated, there wouldn’t have been a TV show. Still, every time I hear a story like this, I am reminded of that time back in the 1980s, I found myself talking at a university with as astrophysics PhD student, the daughter of a coal miner. She was very near tears, telling me how hard it is to go back home, because her family all despise her for having gotten above herself. This woman, this incredibly accomplished, kind-hearted woman, reduced to tears because her family rejected her for going off to college to learn astrophysics and thereby not knowing her place.
So that’s my bias. Sam’s points about cultural signaling are fascinating. I think shows like this are a form of class pornography. I watched an episode of a reality show earlier this year about some wealthy rednecks from north Louisiana sent by the producers to vacation in The Hamptons. The humor was fish-out-of-water stuff, but the show was pitched not towards the rednecks being humiliated by the well-to-do on Long Island, but rather the rednecks, through their supposed authenticity, humiliating them. My father, a country Southern white man who is supposed to be the target audience for this kind of thing, found the whole thing to be so degrading he couldn’t watch it. This “Redneck Rehab” sounds like one of the genre.
That said, in a very general way, the story line here is not unlike the narrative in my own upcoming book: country kid moves to big city, and thrives, but later in life remembers the good he left behind, and moves back to embrace it. The difference is the premise of the reality show is that the woman who moved to the city is presented as sick, and in need of “rehab.”
In any case, if I walked into an ambush like this and found Tom Arnold standing there telling me he was going to oversee my cultural rehabilitation, I would run away as fast as I could, only stopping to vomit. Any person told by Tom Arnold that she is a moral and cultural charity case is probably not someone who has a damn thing to be ashamed of.