At almost any gathering of the self-described intellectual elite, it seems that irrationally celebrating hatred of Sarah Palin is practically mandatory. The 2011 Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention was no different. In his lecture entitled “Hicksploitation: or, the Cultural Emergence of Sarah Palin,” Scott Herring of Indiana U-Bloomington had a lot to say about Sarah Palin. Of course, all of it was negative.
Herring began by describing Palin as the “once and future proponent of faux populist conservatism.” He talked about how Palin has repeatedly said that she is not a hillbilly, and how Palin has stated that the media keeps trying to portray her as one. Herring said that he essentially hoped the media were portraying her as a hillbilly in the “context of the sexual and racial” origins of the term “hillbilly.” He spent the rest of his lecture tying “the Right” to the hillbilly lifestyle—as it is portrayed in 1970’s hillbilly pornography. To back up his point, Herring argued that “hicksploitation” (or the exploitation, sexual and otherwise, of hicks) rose in popularity at the same time that “Christian fundamentalism” spiked—and that therefore, the correlation must imply causation .
To be fair, Herring teaches “Gender Studies ” and not logic.
“Social conservatism is linked to conservative politics inherent in hick flicks/exploitation films,” Herring stated. As an example, he read the abstract for the film “Orgy in the Ozarks,” and said that hick flicks exemplify “complex sexuality” that is present in modern-day “queer conservatism” found in the Republican Party. He argued that hick sexploitation films are “a side of working class conservatism.”
He used the movie “Bloody Mama” as another example, stating that “queerness enhances rather than contradicts family values.” The movie shows a woman “maintaining family at all costs,” which he equated to “social conservatism.” He argued that there is a “connection to the New Right” shown in the movie, which ties the KKK to Christian fundamentalism in the same scene, “merging Old Right advocacy with hicksploitation with the New Right.” Herring claimed that contributions of hicksploitation to “Right coalitionality has been obscured” by books like Going Rogue, which apparently intentionally misled people from the alleged truth that conservatives are perverted hillbillies. Herring argued, “She [Palin] and her extended family remain tainted” by the “queer genealogy” of hicksploitation and the “New Right.”
It is truly astonishing that a professor at any university would make such strange generalizations based on such specious evidence. Herring assumes that because hick flicks and “Christian fundamentalism” emerged at around the same time—which is also an assumption that may or may not be correct—that therefore the two are linked. That is the same as assuming that because the iPhone 3GS came out at the same time as the Tea Party, the two must have caused each other.
Furthermore, in his lecture, Herring did not consider the political leanings of the creators of the 70’s hillbilly porn he was so interested in discussing. It turns out that the director of Bloody Mama, Roger Corman, is an “acknowledged liberal ” who “declared that he likes to get a politically liberal point of view into his movies .” In making his conclusions, Herring is using an avowed liberal’s depiction of conservatism in pornographic film to make his assumptions about Sarah Palin’s alleged “queer genealogy.” One would think that in the academic world, flawed methodology like this would not fly.
However, over the years the MLA has become known for its irrational hatred of all things conservative or traditional. While Herring’s illogic is embarrassing for him and sad for the students who pay tuition to take his classes, it is entirely in keeping with the traditions of the MLA Annual Convention.
(We should note that Herring’s ratemyprofessors.com reviews are unanimously laudatory and run  to three web pages. Nevertheless, they reveal almost as much about his students, anonymous though they be, as they do about him.
“Dude,” one reviewer wrote. “I seriously had the biggest crush on him ever.”
“Then, during the last class of the semester, he mentioned how he has a boyfriend.”
“He’s the wittiest, most intelligent, fun, and approachable professor I’ve ever had at IU,” another reviewer claimed. “ (He also has fantastic hair.)”—ed.)
Allie Duzett is the Director of Strategic Operations for Accuracy in Media .
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