Posts Tagged moonshine

Discovering new depths

OCC Fire BikeThe Discovery Channel recently cancelled its most highbrow show. This show featured a father and son who built custom motorcycles and fought, constantly. You may have heard of it. It was called American Chopper.

The antics of Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr. may not seem like the stuff of intellectualism, but those bike builders looked like Rhodes Scholars compared to Discovery’s current lineup.

Without the Teutuls, we’ve got: Gold Rush, a show about incompetent miners, Bering Sea Gold, a show about downright crazy gold miners who dredge the ocean bottom with jury-rigged contraptions, and Moonshiners, which is exactly what it sounds like. Then there’s Amish Mafia, which features gun toting, tattooed teenagers that somehow still qualify as “Amish.”

While these shows are entertaining (who doesn’t want to hear about how one of the Gold Rush miners designed and built his own teeth?) but they’re about as far from Discovery’s original mission as can be.

The Discovery Channel used to show educational programs about science, nature and, well, discovery. Almost exactly ten years ago, it started moving towards car and motorcycle-based reality shows like American Chopper and Monster Garage. These shows were admittedly more lowbrow than what came before, but things are really getting out of hand now.

Most people may have watched American Chopper to see two grown men act like lunatics, but at least it showed something constructive. Fights may have taken up a lot of screen time, but the show was really about talented people building amazing motorcycles.

Other than moonshine and small quantities of gold, it’s hard to see what the people on these newer shows create. I’m not even convinced the “Amish Mafia” is a real thing; other than the fact that they have a “reality show” nothing about those buggy-driving gangsters makes sense.

Since American Chopper premiered, producers have figured out that what people want isn’t reality, it’s “characters” that are ripe for schadenfreude. That may be more entertaining than educational television, but it’s not making anyone smarter, or less cynical. Also, there are not enough motorcycles.

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Tyranny of the majority

America, to use an oft-quoted phrase, is a melting pot of different cultures. Through a constant stream of immigrants, a unique culture has emerged from bits and pieces of others. Yet America has never had a problem with identity crisis: for most of the country’s existence, people have had a very clear idea of what is “American.” But who gets to decide what is (and isn’t) American?

Apparently, rednecks get most of the casting votes. On a commercial for a new discovery channel show, a stereotypical “good ‘ole boy” declares “if you love your country, you’re gonna have to love moonshine.” In their song “Red, White & Blue,” Lynyrd Skynyrd sing “if they don’t like it they can just get the hell out.”

If a Jewish deli owner went on television and said “if you love your country, you’re gonna have to love pastrami,” how would people react? They might say that one individual should not tell others that his regional subculture is more American than theirs. The same goes for illegal distillers and their white lightning.

Another important group are Christians. Around this time of the year, there are always a few arguments about whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Most people act like rational human beings and see this for what it is: a non-issue. However, others take it very seriously; just look at the comments on this blog post about holiday political correctness. The Christmas warriors argue that, since the majority of Americans are Christian, everyone should have to say “Merry Christmas.”

The Founding Fathers feared a “tyranny of the majority,” the arbitrary use of democracy in ways to were harmful to the nation and the rights of minorities. By writing off certain things as “less American” than others, we bring ourselves dangerously close to a cultural tyranny of the majority. There’s room for everyone, and people who think they can decide what is and is not American need to remember that.

Regardless of who has the majority, everyone’s right to religious freedom and the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed by the Constitution. As far as that document is concerned, Manishevitz is just as American as moonshine.

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