Photos by Elizabeth DeGideo
How does America show off its national identity, and what the hell does American culture even consist of? One small town an hour outside of Albany, New York, chose “Redneck Summer” as the theme for their annual Fourth of July parade and decided portable hot tubs in the back of pickup trucks and trophies made of Budweiser cans and deer antlers were the most appropriate ways to celebrate the good ol’ USA.
This was the first sign we saw on the road leading into the Village of Salem that told us we were in the right place. There were no green signs letting us know how many miles away we were, just this. “Nu Yu Hair Studio, for When your Mullet Needs a Trim.”
We quickly learned most of Salem’s 2.9 square miles were blocked off for the parade, forcing us to find an alternative route on one of their three roads. Don’t mind the Yankee in front of us; clearly they didn’t understand they were in redneck country.
This was the first thing we saw after parking our car on Main Street. Notice the sweet piece of Americana posing behind him. This guy was from the volunteer fire department, the organization that puts on the parade each year.
A note on rural American culture: Yes, our ancestors raped, burned, and pillaged the Native Americans, gave them 24 bucks for Manhattan... capitalism at its finest. We set up shop and gave birth to what would eventually be one of the most hated nations on the planet.
But the people who set up shop—immigrants from the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, and various parts of Europe—took what they learned from the Native Americans (not their own potato-less countries) and, with the help of a few million slaves, farmed the fuck out of most of America. That's only arguably what's being referenced here:
It's a pickup truck filled with water that holds a young farmer in an inflatable, camouflage seat. More commonly referred to as a “redneck hot tub”.
“The water’s cold, but it’s still great,” he said.
Moving on, the parade became more bizarre.
It is unclear what this is supposed to represent, but the sign reads “Redneck Grocery Getter,” and in the bed of the truck were two women with tattoos and about seven blond children. Note the jug of moonshine glued to the front.
This fine sliver of Americana depicts an old-fashioned truck with what appears to be a deer sanctuary attached to the back of it. It comes complete with a robotic deer, a baby on a four-wheeler waving an American flag, and a sign that says, “Start 'Em Right, Start 'Em Young.” Whatever the fuck that means.
This was another one we couldn’t figure out. This appears to be a tractor with a clothesline, a headless mannequin on the front, and a metal shingle roof (a version of the classic American motor home?). On a closer look, spectators could see the “Hi Mam” sign on the front of the ride and the small boat it’s tugging behind it.
The boat’s name is "The 1972 Plastick Pleasue Craft." The messages sprawled all over it read: “Four sail or not... still thinkin’ on it,” “For Rent: Daytime: $40 Nightime: $50 Ice fishin': $250 Off Season," all “pur hour.” Onboard was a wooden mermaid with an American flag hat behind a glued plastic bald eagle, another headless mannequin in a bikini, a pink plastic unicorn with wings, and a few more scantily clad mannequins. It was damn confusing, but was it "redneck"?
Imagine being hunched over in a field all afternoon, plowing away. The part of your body that will be hit the most is the neck, and because all of your ancestors are German or Irish, a.k.a. white as fuck, your neck is going to burn to a nasty shade of red, and that's where we get the term.
So where do tractors that tow boats and pink plastic unicorns fit into the equation?
This horse is a "Redneck Lawn Mower." So that’s what that is. Must be a slow ass horse. Something tells me these farm people have a more efficient way of cutting the grass.
I asked 17-year-old Jordan Keys (pictured below) what made him a redneck. “We go muddin' every day. I mean we pound our vehicles every day. I mean I milk cows every day, we sow land every day, we cut wood every day. It’s our daily lives.”
Oh, those legs. Note the moonshine barrels their trailer hitch is carrying. We actually ran into these dudes a little later on at the gas station. They had no moonshine for sale but plenty of weed.
In case any Yankees forgot where they were again.
Every small town has a Li'l Sebastian. This sign reads “Mules and Rednecks Made This Country GREAT.” I can think of a few mules that continue to make this country great, but they hail primarily from Mexico and don’t walk on four legs. Not sure what this (or any mules) still do for our country, but hey, not sure what shows like Duck Dynasty do for us either.
This lifeless, spray-painted, vintage Camaro held no back windshield, a toddler with no car seat, and a cooler in the back between two passengers. The machine that pulled it along? A John Deere tracker complete with a dude in suspenders, some more blond babies, and a dog with a red bandanna.
Europeans like Italians and the French seem proud of the parts of their culture we stereotype them for. Meanwhile our equivelants to pizza and pasta are hamburgers and hot dogs, and our canard à l'orange is turducken. The closest thing we have to a café culture are pub crawls, which we didn’t even fucking come up with, so that’s hardly accurate.
Still, in much of Middle America, families have been there for generations, their ancestors tracing back to the original settlers. And who were those original settlers? Poor farmers whose families have blossomed into what people now call rednecks. Outside of all of the parts of our culture that we borrow, shit like souped-up grocery carts and driveable hot tubs are the only things we really have to call our own.
Of course the number of people who actually take this shit seriously is limited (I hope), but it still begs the question: What is American and what parts of our culture make us unique? To Fred Russo, one of the main organizers of the parade, being a redneck is, “simply put, a hardworking individual.” And that sounds pretty fucking American to me.
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