What Mike Judge’s “King of the Hill” Teaches Us About America
Contemporary American society isn’t held together by much. There is very little resembling a shared culture that all Americans can actively say they share irregardless of race, creed, or orientation. If something isn’t offensive to one person, it’s likely disproportionately offensive to someone else. Our culture is almost entirely subsumed by pervasive notions of moral relativism and intense individualist materialism. That said, there are some cultural entities that, through levity, emphasize what once would have been widely accepted as important virtues. “King of the Hill” — created by Mike Judge of Beavis and Butt-Head fame — is one such entity.
This animated sitcom emphasizes the importance of being neighborly with people regardless of their immutable characteristics and steadfast dedication to one’s community. In many ways, King of The Hill presents an idealized version of the United States that makes contemporary society feel dystopian.
In the seventh episode of King of The Hill’s first season, we are introduced to Kahn Souphanousinphone and his family when they move next door to the show’s main character Hank Hill. Right from the start, Kahn is established as a character who is adversarial in nature. He is adept at “one-upmanship” and perpetually ridicules his neighbors through open mockery at their occasional fulfillment of southern-American stereotypes. Yet, despite this, Hank and his friends in the neighborhood are routinely cordial with Kahn. They barbecue, take their families to the lake together, and they even support each other financially and professionally when times get tough. They can do this because, albeit fictional, they see each other as individuals. Although they may get on each other’s nerves, they don’t revel in perpetual resentment.
Hank Hill is a pillar of his community. He is dedicated to his job, involved in his church, and actively volunteers his time to help people. Throughout the series, Hank ends up — often through a comedy of errors — mentoring young people in his community. In the fourteenth episode of season 12, Hank mentors his employee’s daughter and helps her come out of her shell prior to her quinceañera. He may have been uncomfortable doing so at first, but once Hank got involved, he helped a young person discover their voice.
Hank and his wife Peggy are very involved in their local school system. In season eight, Hank takes personal offense to the fact that his son’s History class on Texas does not have an in-depth curriculum about The Alamo. Naturally, he takes it upon himself to right this wrong and sets out to collaborate with other community leaders to change the status quo. . Peggy, ever the go-getter, volunteers for nearly every available position. The Hill family clearly finds fulfillment in being stakeholders in their community and pursuing endeavors that ostensibly benefit more than just themselves.
Granted, King of The Hill is just a TV show. It doesn’t wax poetic about American philosophy. When the show does wander into making abstract claims, it is usually because the writers are poking fun at the very people who do so ineffectually on a regular basis. However, the show has a unique way of illustrating a very human aspect of American day-to-day life. It deals with a wide range of topics that are perennial in the human experience.