27 April 2015
Come and listen to my story about nonverbal communication. Yes, even our favorite television show characters can be analyzed for nonverbal communication. Although they are actors portraying another person and not indicative of who the actor is in real life perhaps, they still bring their characters to life in front of us, drawing us in as if they were the person we see on the small screen. From September 26, 1962 until March 23, 1971, CBS brought the antics of everyone’s favorite hillbillies into living rooms across the United States. If there was ever a series ripe for a discussion on nonverbal communication, it would have to Jed and all his kin! The menagerie of the characters that paraded in and out of the Clampett’s lives, and the Clampetts themselves, proves to be a hotbed of discussion for the topic at hand.
First, we can take a look at the Clampett’s clothing. What a contrast! One would expect them to be a bit “rough around the edges” when first moving to California from their native Ozark home. The clothing of the Clampetts led to a huge misunderstanding right from the get-go. Due to a huge colossal mix-up, the Clampetts are arrested and put in jail in the very first episode, “The Clampetts Strike Oil.” Milburn Drysdale, the penultimate snob only eclipsed by his wife, Margaret, for snobbery, goes to the jail looking for the Clampetts, intent on bailing them out. Jed and Jethro are dressed for practicality as our textbook describes in Chapter Four while Mr. Drysdale is always dressed to impress in his business suit. Expecting a millionaire to be dressed better, he mistakes Jed and Jethro as “cutthroats” and asks them what they’ve done with J.D. Clampett! According to creducation.org, we see Mr. Drysdale displaying aggressive anger; he makes the assumption these “cutthroats” have harmed his new client in some shape, form or fashion and he is “taking charge” of the situation. The site further points out his aggressiveness; they list “use of illustrative gestures” as an example of being assertive. I don’t think one can get more assertive than Mr. Drysdale did when he grabbed Jed by the shirt demanding answers!
One would legitimately believe that would have been the end of the Clampett’s problems and they could settle down to a new life in “Californy.” Enter Jane Hathaway, Mr. Drysdale’s homely secretary in the second episode “Getting Settled.” Mr. Drysdale has entrusted her with the task of changing the family from backwoods bumpkins to cream of the crop Beverly Hills elites. She has little idea of what she is about to encounter. Bodylanguageexpert.co.uk says that we have all judged someone based on their appearance whether we know it or not. They point out that “[o]ften, we expect certain people to dress a certain way before we learn anything about their credentials” and further down “[c]ertain types of clothing carry certain assumptions.” We simply do not expect someone in shabby clothing to be an oil millionaire that should be living in a mansion. Miss Jane as the Clampetts come to know her was guilty of the very thing we all have done! She assumed by their style of dress that they were servants hired to work at the mansion. Though it was a comedy show and not real life, there is a life lesson in that episode that we never should judge a book by its cover.
Today, we think of commercials as something entirely separate from the show. Such wasn’t the case in the 1960’s when a huge majority of commercials were performed by the cast. Fernando Poyatos, author of Advances in Nonverbal Communication, calls television commercials a “historical development” in his book. He takes a negative view of television commercials it would seem, calling them hedonistic and perverted. While that is certainly an extreme view, it could well be applied to our beloved Clampett clan. One of the sponsors of The Beverly Hillbillies was Winston cigarettes. For the first few seasons, every other week had a jingle added at the end of the theme song for Winston and the end of the show that week featured Jed, Granny, Mr. Drysdale or Ms. Hathaway in character plugging the joys of smoking Winston, telling viewers that “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” It was known even then the dangers of smoking, yet they went every other week plugging this very much harmful product. I wonder how many children were inclined to start smoking in part due to seeing Uncle Jed puffing away? Again, I think Mr. Poyatos might be a bit extreme with his views but in this regard, he does have a very valid point.
Vocalics as defined by Stephen Edlund at prezi.com is “accent, emphasis, vocal quality, pitch rate and pulse…” The backwoods idioms of the Clampett clan are certainly an interesting area to be explored. Jed and his catchphrase “well doggies” is a standout. Those words by themselves could mean a variety of things to someone just reading them in print. When combined with Jed’s vocal inflections, they became a term of excitement. When you heard those words uttered, you could tell he was in awe of something. Mrs. Drysdale’s disdain for the Clampetts came through in her vocal articulations, oozing disgust at every turn. In the episode “The Big Chicken,” she calls them “sordid sharecroppers.” The words standing alone would point out her disgust but she added a certain vocal tone to them with the way in which she said it, adding emphasis to her disgust of having to live next door to these rubes and hayseeds.
In Chapter 9 on vocalics, Mr. Edlund goes on to talk about accents and dialects. He points out that everyone has an accent and that people are stereotyped according to their particular grouping. As if their clothing wasn’t enough to dissuade one from believing them to be a family of Beverly Hills millionaires, the icing on the cake would have to be the accent Jethro and the rest of the Clampetts spoke with. On the Season 8 episode “Jed Buys Central Park,” the Clampetts have went for a visit to the Ozarks where the Silver Dollar City Fair is going on. Looking for a quick buck, Honest John Shafer, portrayed by legendary actor Phil Silvers doing his best impersonation of his hit character Ernie Bilko, comes to town. He runs into Jethro who is anxious to know this “city feller.” Miscommunication arises as Honest John believes he is dealing with a rube and attempts to brush him off until Jethro says his uncle has $80 million in the bank. Even after Jethro telling him this, he obviously still has trouble believing it to be the truth. He turns to hotel manager Shorty Kellems and asks if Jethro is being truthful or if the hotel was the “Silver Dollar City Funny Farm.” After being assured that Jed had “more millions than he could shake a stick at,” Silvers reprises his conman style that he made popular on The Phil Silvers Show in the 1950’s, attempting to take Jed for all he could.
In Chapter 15 of our textbook, there is an entire chapter devoted to deceit and lies. The book says that “[o]n the receiving end, people also rely heavily on nonverbal channels to size up another’s credibility and honesty.” This once again can be integrated into the plot of the show. In the first season episode “Jed Buys the Freeway,” a conman by the name of H.H.H. Jones attempts to sell Jed a variety of landmarks including the freeway and the Hollywood Bowl. The audience is clued in to the fact he is a con man but he seems to be fooling the Clampetts. His exaggerated speech and mannerisms completely give him away to the audience, leaving one wondering how Jed or Granny can’t see it. He became even bolder claiming to be a “mountain man” from the Ozarks. In the end, however, Jed sees right through him relying upon a hilarious nonverbal clue-he can’t hold his liquor! This same scenario was used again in the last two seasons when Phil Silvers guest starred in which he attempted to sell Jed various New York City and Washington, D.C. landmarks.
Chapter 12 of our textbook addresses the topic of reciprocity. The book defines this as occurring when “a person responds to another person’s behavior by engaging in similar behavior.” While I do not recall too many instances of this occurring in the show, there are a few instances that stand out. In “The Clampett Look,” a wealthy socialite and her daughter are convinced that the hillbilly style is in vogue. Hilarity followed as they believed Ellie Mae to be a trend-setter and in an effort to fit in with the “new fashion,” they raid the gardener’s shack at their mansion for clothing! Going back to the second episode, “Getting Settled,” Miss Jane found herself being fired for the mistake of thinking the Clampetts the hired help. Jed jumps to her defense saying she had been a big help and had really “pitched in.” Instead of acting like the Vassar College graduate she was, she grabbed a hat, pulled it down like Jed’s and started imitating his mannerisms and speech even telling Jethro to take that “pank chicken (a flamingo) back to the cee-ment pond!” From that point on, she was accepted almost as if she was one of the Clampett clan.
Chapter 10 of our textbook might as well have been written with Jethro “International Playboy” Bodine in mind! “Your image reflects not necessarily how you see yourself, but rather, how you want others to see you,” opines the textbook author. While the other members of the family were “what you see is what you get,” Jethro was constantly wanting to shed the country boy image. He fancied himself to be another James Bond for a while. In “The Private Eye” he goes to great lengths to portray himself as a “double naught spy” with predictably hilarious results. When one thing failed, he was always ready to move on to the next thing whether it was a sheik, a talent agent, magician or soldier. I think it would be sufficient to say Jethro suffered from one huge identity crisis, even going so far as expressing to Jed in “The Hot Rod Truck” that “I’ve got identity problems. I freaked out as a Hollywood producer, I freaked out as a protestor, I even freaked out as a freakout and now I don’t know my own thing!” Jed gently reminded him that his “thing” was eating and with it being Granny’s birthday and a subsequent birthday party, “you can do your own thing until you’re full as a tick.”
Television shows are quite obviously meant to entertain us and to sell us a product via the sponsor’s commercials. We can sit and watch these shows for fun, grab a few laughs at the over the top antics of the characters portrayed and deem ourselves to be pretty normal in comparison to them. However we can also look at said characters and see a slice of life in them and see that even they do not use just words to communicate, but they use nonverbal cues just like we all do.
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