"I'm going to help you - because nobody ever helped a hick but a hick hisself!"
A Bourgeois Bumpkin is, generally, someone who enjoys many privileges - or at least enough privileges to be happy - yet suffers from delusions that he (primarily for historical and cultural reasons, this character is invariably Always Male
, although there are some exceptions) is deprived, marginalized, persecuted, or otherwise disadvantaged. In practice this character type will tend to overlap with the Bourgeois Bohemian
, but a key difference is that, typically, while a Bourgeois Bohemian is depicted having a "bleeding heart" for other people, the Bourgeois Bumpkin has a heart that bleeds primarily for himself. And precisely because the Bumpkin is more likely to see himself as a victim than the Bohemian, he'll tend to complain a lot more.
Another important difference is that while the Bohemian will, for the most part, shy away from proletarian trappings (although proclaiming that they're fine and good for other people), the Bumpkin fully embraces them, or at least embraces them as much as is feasible or plausible. The Bourgeois Bumpkin is as proud to be a bumpkin ("hick") as a Bourgeois Bohemian is to be a hip, "cool" dude
. Indeed, much of the irony that proceeds from the Bourgeois Bumpkin is the dissonance between his avowed affinity for all things bumpkinish and his professed sympathy for bumpkins on one hand, and on the other his self-absorbed outrage and indignation at the supposed hardships he faces - hardships that pale in comparison to those of actual bumpkins. To put it another way, while the Bohemian wishes sympathize and possibly identify with so-called social outcasts, the Bumpkin believes that he is himself
an outcast, even though this is obviously not so.
This character type is described in great detail in Thomas Frank's 2003 book What's the Matter With Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
. This book, which traces the rise of the new, rawer and angrier
brand of American political conservatism that fully crystallized in The Nineties
, explains how the radical right appropriated the "class-warfare" worldview of the radical left and retooled it to serve their ends, substituting resentment toward elites' supposed moral depravity (think of the middle-class backlash against royal scandals in Britain beginning in the Victorian era, but much more outré in style) for resentment toward elites' support of the economic status quo. In Kansas and other "red" states, wealthy conservative politicos will take this basic stance in order to appeal to working-class voters. George Wallace and Richard Nixon
are generally considered the first men to employ this tactic
, with Nixon referring to it as his "Southern Strategy."
Many stories set in the South or the Midwest (particularly the more "western" part of the Midwest) will feature characters of this type. They are often Nouveau Riche
- and if the "hick" part of their persona is more apparent than usual, they're bound to have traces of the Corrupt Hick
as well. Despite the name, this character need not be a literal hick, or even rural; an urban character will do if his traits include political conservatism and a disgruntled and/or entitled attitude toward the world. If such a character ever does gain ultimate power, expect a People's Republic of Tyranny
. Related tropes include Real Men Love Jesus
, Lower-Class Lout
(when it's an Insult Backfire
), and Snobs Versus Slobs
- George Hamilton portrayed country music star Hank Williams as a more sympathetic take on this character type. Born poor and taught to play the guitar by a homeless street musician, Williams is shown to be growing uncomfortable once his career rockets him to fame and he and his wife move into a mansion. Hank feels tremendous guilt and thinks himself a Category Traitor - but that doesn't stop him from ordering his butler to bring him a beer.
- Big Boy Caprice has a bit of this trait in Dick Tracy. ("[Dick Tracy is] a servant of the people, like me.")
- The Man Behind the Man who runs a behind-the-scenes political machine that tries to get The Penguin elected mayor in Batman Returns is a scheming department store owner. He worked his way up from poverty (or so he claims) to become the most powerful plutocrat in Gotham City, even more so than Bruce Wayne (whom he mocks for being an Upper-Class Twit). He has never forgotten his roots, and while giving a public speech he remarks: "I'm just a poor schmoe - got lucky. And sue me if I want to give some back." He indeed presents himself as a philanthropist, and engages in a lot of Bread and Circuses publicity to distract the citizens of Gotham from his plot to corner the city's electricity market with a massive, draining "capacitor."
- The page quote comes from All the King's Men, a novel by Robert Penn Warren, which has been adapted by Hollywood twice (films in both 1949 and 2006). Its Anti Villain Protagonist is Willie Stark, a small-town Louisiana mayor who aligns himself with a sleazy political machine in order to run for governor, then rebels against his handlers and runs as a "share-the-wealth" populist candidate in a manner much like 1930s Louisiana governor Huey Long. Once in office, Stark does partially keep his promises: he uses some of the state budget to build schools and hospitals for the poor, but spends the rest on ruining his political enemies and financing a private harem of multiethnic hookers.
- Dolly Parton portrayed another sympathetic (and relatively rare female) example in the 1986 TV movie A Smoky Mountain Christmas, where she was a country musician named Lorna Davis, essentially a fictionalized version of herself. Disenchanted with the glitzy MTV videos she's being forced to shoot in Hollywood, Lorna goes back to her parents' old cabin in eastern Tennessee for the holidays and spends Christmas with (among others) some orphaned children and a "mountain man." This actually proves to be good for career, as the Appalachian setting restores her creativity and inspires her to write a number of new songs.
- John Bradshaw Layfield (formerly the drunken, violent, redneck Texan "Bradshaw" in the APA) had this as part of his gimmick during the early part of his heel run, constantly attempting to ingratiate himself to the fans by playing up his rags-to-riches story (he invested in a Wall Street company that enjoyed surprise success) and his patriotism. It was always clear, however, that what JBL valued most in the world wasn't the fans or even America; it was the WWE Championship. Later the sociopolitical element of the character was dropped, and JBL became just a cowboy-hatted businessman determined to ruin anyone who got in his way.
- The Rock used a similar gimmick during his heel runs, claiming to be "The People's Champion" and referring to anything remotely connected to him as "the People's [X]", even dubbing one of his in-ring moves "the People's Elbow."
- Mary Lillian Ellison was once the only daughter in a large family of sharecroppers of Scots-Irish and Native American descent in a very small town in South Carolina. When she became big on the pro wrestling scene in the 1950s, she renamed herself "The Fabulous Moolah", a Rich Bitch obsessed with money. Although Ellison obviously did not become villainous in real life, she did end up leaving her humble roots far behind by building a mansion in the same South Carolina town where she was born and renaming the street in front of it "Moolah Drive." She did, however, retain her Southern accent and lower-class mannerisms.
- The People's Party (more commonly known as the Populist Party) that thrived in the southern and western parts of the United States in the 1890s had as its spokesmen and backers many wealthy landlords, mine owners and the like; they criticized the railroads, banks, and other urban-based corporations not so much because they threatened "the people" as because they threatened these men's own economic interests.
- The Tea Party movement is largely bankrolled by billionaires, for the same reasons as the Populist Party. It's tempting to think of it as the second coming of the Populists, and it's arguably the most formidable third-party movement in America since the Populist era. The analogy breaks down, however, once you remember that, while the Populists were a genuine third party who spurned both the Republicans and the Democrats, the Tea Party seems more concerned with taking over the Republican party and remaking it in their image.