"Surrender is Death, and Death is for P*ssies"
What is a yokel? What qualifies someone as being a famous yokel? Famous, an American yokel unlike Borat, AND a part of contemporary popular culture?! Any full embodiment of these three things will seemingly transform someone into a yokel of 'Americana' (all things American) which is exactly what the series of Eastbound and Down expresses through Kenny Powers. Though yokel roughly refers to someone from a rural area who is sex-driven, homophobic, and basking inappropriately in a slime of popular culture (don’t even try to crack a redneck joke), KP is inherently more than his place of origin, Shelby, North Carolina, might suggest. In each episode, Power’s is portrayed and cast as the quintessential American yokel, working to rebuild his dream of being on top and famous, after burning out of his previous negligent stint as a major league relief pitcher.
His larger than life, delusional, homophobic ego combined with an obsession towards commodification and over consumption serve as critiques of Americana and celebrity culture, but also reinforce and uphold it. At the beginning of the first season we are blessed with a tumultuous montage illustrating what happens when a rising up-and-comer lets fame and fortune get in the way of actually bettering oneself. After “quitting baseball for good” he is forced to return to his hometown, armed with only a mullet, his autobiographical-book-on-tape, perverted mind, and an ego three times the size of David Letterman. Kenny is so estranged in the sense that his self-delusional sense of fame omitted all of his interpersonal skills, rendering him an empty shell of luxurious commodities. It is evident that he chose items over relationships during a family dinner where he asks his brother and sister-in-law, “Ya’ll get that tanning bed I sent ya’ll last year?”
They respond, “you mean the one you sent three years ago?”
“Wow. Three years...Well, it IS a tanning bed.”
As a yokel self-obsessed and absorbed into a culture of good and services, he spends the remainder of the first season coping with the loss of fame, and realization that he must sell off his MLB merchandise and restore past relationships, in order to get back to the top. And that is essentially what Eastbound and Down represents, a balanced critique of whether or not commodities and an overindulgence of the Americana outweighs the happiness of relationships and self-pride. Throughout the series Kenny Powers struggles to equate his larger-than-life persona in the scheme of reality, evident in situations where he demands thousands of dollars just to make an appearance at a car dealership run by Will Ferrell.
Eastbound and Down whores mise-en-scène, attaching styles and references of popular culture to Kenny Powers, in a way that forecasts and breaks down the ridiculousness of our Americana. Taking on the temporary role as a substitute gym teacher, KP is able to let go of his most prized and extravagant possessions like a purple, cheetah print jet ski, and a variety of other crap like Kenny Powers’ toilet lids, and the baseball bat that he hit his only home run with (which he tries and fails to sell for ~$1 million). Even as the show appears thinly veiled on the surface, providing the viewer with numerous phases and aspects of popular culture to gawk at, KP exposes his inner-psyche via warming interior dialogue and narration throughout. He reminds the viewer that he also possesses insecurities and guilt about his past and treatment of friends and family, even mentioning, “But sometimes when you bring the thunder, you get lost in the storm” at the beginning of the series.
He is the heart-felt yokel coping with the loss of fame and fortune, who constantly wonders if it’s really worth it to be back at the top. At the end of each season he is given the opportunity to jump back into the once-familiar world of overindulgence amongst items and faces without names or values. Though each season finale forces him to either sacrifice his identity gained during the season to be on top of popular culture, or settle down and accept a sort of middle-class equilibrium.This often leads him to ditch his later-to-be-wife, April, right before he has another shot at major league baseball.
Throughout the remainder of the series’ four seasons he continues the endless cycle of consumption and loss, moving from Mexico to Myrtle Beach, until finally settling down with his family and accepting the inevitable in North Carolina. The idea of overconsumption is most prevalent during the series’ final season; Kenny has chosen to run away from another shot at the majors in favor of settling down and accepting a job as an employee at a rental car company. Through montage we see him strip down cars and outfits acquired throughout the beginning of the series, transforming from yokel to middle-class American, and it’s boring. We want the foul mouthed, sex crazed, homophobic, drug abusing yokel who is above and detached from the general population. This final season provides the viewer with a lack of all of these commodities and pop-cultural denseness, to give the audience a rounded idea of their effects on a seemingly typical human being.
Or so we think...
Though a series of twists, KP is given a promising job as a sports analyst on a Sports Center-esque program, which ultimately throws him back into the framework of the over-consuming yokel. He breaks the cycle as someone relatable and docile, furnishing his life with lavish commodities like a pet wolf, a green Dodge Viper, numerous platinum American Express cards, a salt water pool, and other nonsensical ventures like a middle-of-the-mall stand, Tatters N Tits. Through this vicious, ongoing cycle these items remain static throughout his average, middle-class suburban home, as if providing the viewer some comfortability towards his extravagance. Here he tries to take on part of the yokel from the past, but while sharing the new-found wealth with those around him, a heartfelt attempt to buy back those friends and family that he’s alienated throughout the series. And it’s ridiculous. He’s an ignoramus with a heart of gold, rolling in filth and riches, all in the same pile. The viewer is given the satisfaction of watching him climb back to the top, this time armed with friends and family, showering everyone with commodities as if compensating for a lack of personal warmth and love.
After those around him reject his gifts, after he takes a leave to screw hookers and blow coke in a Shelby hotel penthouse, after KP tries to emulate his Yokel social status (making his kids wear veils, catering Nobu for himself, after coming to the realization that his “new-found” wealth pleases no one, he finally completes the cycle.
We are taught to indulge in an endless cycle of consumerism, modeled through relevant figures and ideas present in popular culture. Eastbound and Down uses Kenny Powers to let us fantasize having disposable and polarized luxuries, letting us take the role of the ‘normal’ characters that surround him. KP is a malfunctioning vacuum of popular culture that embraces consumerism at the same time as he points out the ridiculousness of our way of life, our Americana. Ultimately his status as a “celebrity” draws us to the conclusion that consumption of commodified popular culture can cast someone as a yokel, alienated from what is most important; the indisposable; friends and family that don’t have a price.
Episodes referenced: Chapters 1, 6, 22, 26, 27, and 29.
Kemp, M. (2008). Danny McBride, Southern Fried. Rolling Stone, (1067), 76.
HULL, R. (2012). Kenny Powers Is the Smartest Advertiser on the Face of Planet Earth. Econtent, 35(7), 12.
Jurgensen, J. (2013, Nov 14). Danny McBride, master of self-delusion; the "eastbound & down" co-creator and star on giving america a character they're not used to rooting for. Wall Street Journal (Online). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1458383053?accountid=14663
Edwards, G. (2012). NUMBER ONE WITH A MULLET. Rolling Stone, (1151), 42-45.
Alston, J. (2010). In a Racist League of His Own. Newsweek, 156(17), 68.
Borenstein, E. (2008). Our Borats, Our Selves: Yokels and Cosmopolitans on the Global Stage. Slavic Review, 67(1), 1-7.
McBride, D, & Hill, J. (2009-13). Chapter(s)1, 6, 22, 26, 27, 29. Hill, McBride, Ferrell, Eastbound and Down. North, South Carolina: HBO