Let's get a few things straight. I don't want the South to rise again. I've never been to a Civil War reenactment. I don't even know the words to "Dixie." But I did grow up in rural Colorado surrounded by all things redneck, and there's a special place in my heart for The Dukes of Hazzard (especially Bo).
So when my buddy Roy Valve told me he could get a sticker kit to turn any car into the General Lee, I had an idea.
The timing was perfect: The new Dukes movie was due out soon, CMT was rebroadcasting the original episodes, and the irony market in Portland had never been better. We took my leaky '91 Toyota Camry to Maaco, had it blasted pure hemi orange and slapped on the famous "01" and Confederate battle flag that graced the Duke boys' invincible stunt car. (We had to make some minor adjustments to the flag on account of the Camry's moonroof.)
The obvious question is, what possessed us?
The obvious answer is beer. A Camry General Lee is just blatantly, stupidly funny. But I'd like to think it's more complicated than that. The Dukes of Hazzard movie, starring Johnny Knoxville and Jessica Simpson, may be the most hyped film of the summer. Endless mobs spent hours in line for an advance screening. Somehow, The Dukes of Hazzard has become cool.
This is an outrage. The show was terrible! Yeah, I loved it, but I was a little kid in hicksville; I had no choice. Everyone in my school had a mullet; all the boys had rings worn into the back pockets of their Wranglers from cans of chew. Moonshine, yeehaws and car chases on dirt roads were not exotic to us; The Dukes was a reality show.
And now all that stuff-mullets, trucker hats, Waylon, Willie and the Duke boys-has been co-opted by hipsters and city kids unconcerned about how appalling it really is. So maybe the Camry Lee is a miniature protest, a satire on wheels. Sure, it's making fun of yahoos like the Dukes and the redneck culture that produced them: The Confederate flag, hallowed symbol of the American rebel, is now glued to a cheap piece of Japanese plastic (some are calling it "the General Ree"). But it's also mocking Portland's irony-poisoned culturehounds who can't even tell if they like something for real or just think it's funny to pretend.
The Dukes of Hazzard movie epitomizes the whole repackaging of redneck culture, and as much of a travesty as my car may be, the movie is 10 times worse. It's not like there was a lot to live up to. The original series was dumb and corny, the plots were absurd, and the stunts-well, OK, the stunts were cool. But far from being an entertaining parody, this is one of the worst movies ever made. Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (of Club Dread) and clearly written by sheep, it has maybe two funny parts, and one of them involves an armadillo (which is cheating; armadillos are automatically funny). The film waffles between taking itself seriously (!) and playing up the lamest redneck clichés; people say "dadgummit," pitchforks are thrown, teeth are scarce. The Duke boys are moronic drooling pussyhounds astounded by the concept of college.
And then there's the acting. Jessica Simpson's bikini displays more range than any of the humans involved. Seann William Scott as Bo is a PSA for fetal-alcohol syndrome. Burt Reynolds looks tired as a classed-up, trimmed-down Boss Hogg, and Rosco P. Coltrane (M.C. Gainey), the comic highlight of the TV series, is reduced to a humorless uniform. Willie Nelson, who should be banned from film, is cringe-inducing as the moonshinin', dope-smokin', bad-joke-tellin' Uncle Jesse. The outtakes trounce anything in the actual film. I recommend arriving late, ideally just in time for the end credits.
On the plus side, Knoxville (as Luke) is always fun to watch, and he at least seems to realize how ridiculous the whole thing is. But, perhaps fittingly, the only piece of the film that really holds its own is the trusty car. The General Lee looks and sounds HOT, and the car-chase scenes are definitely the highlight. Next time, MORE DRIVING. I know a Camry that's available.
From the beginning, people have reacted strongly to the Camry General Lee. Immediately, guys wanted to race. (Sorry, fellas, it's still a Camry.) The flag raises some PC hackles (see related story); I got evil glares from one lady in a car plastered with earth-rapers-must-die bumper stickers. But generally, people cracked up; Portland loves its irony. Below is a sampling of observed reactions.
Site of the Unveiling (Southeast 26th Avenue & Clinton Street): Two twentysomething girls leave Dots and spot the car; one girl rubs her chest against the window and licks the roof. A crowd forms. I catch a waifish goth-punk guy about to pee on one of the tires.
Outside the Sandy Hut: "If this doesn't get you laid...." -Paul Gaudio, motorcycle guy
"Oh my god...what have you done? Did you actually weld the doors shut? Or, even worse, did you actually clean out the interior, change the oil and the wiper blades?" -my brother, via email (and no, I didn't)
Northeast 28th Avenue: "Actually, most U.S. Toyotas are manufactured in Alabama, so maybe she's got a legitimate paint scheme there. It actually does look sorta right." -my friend Tom's dad
"It's pure Whiskey Tango gold, and the eyes of Gresham are upon it." -WW contributor John Graham, warning me of the car's imminent theft
Around 2 pm: Cop drives by in a cruiser, windows down. He sees the Camry Lee and busts out in a PERFECT Rosco P. Coltrane giggle.
"Everything retro's cool now, I guess."-guy walking along Northeast 28th Avenue
"It must be ironic." -girl in my apartment building
"That's so not the Dukes of Hazzard car, though. It's like a Toyota Camry or something. So ugly...." -guy in a hipster couple
3 am: Bunch of Ritalin rats on stunt bikes see the car and can't resist. One tries to jump it on his bicycle, ends up riding across the hood! Whoo! (Small dent.)
Excitement builds. Car is being photographed daily. Everyone who gives me the thumbs up is either a fratboy type or a guy without teeth. Car is not a chick magnet.
"It's a concept, that's for sure."-guy in Walgreens parking lot, shaking his head
"That's fucking hilarious." -guy on Northeast 28th Avenue
"Now THAT is a redneck car! That is really funny!" -guy spanging at I-84 Rose Quarter exit
Finally, someone blogs my car: http://walkingportland.blogspot.com/2005/06/general-camry-lee.html!
Two cute short-haired girls walking by stop and take a video with their camera phone. One narrates while panning across the vehicle: "Mmm-kay, this is a Camry, Toyota Camry, dressed as the General Lee." Pause. "It's got a trailer hitch." "Of course."
Group of 28th Avenue hipsters: "It's a General Lee! A Camry General Lee! That is so hot!" "It has a COOLER in it!!!" (True.) "And a ball hitch!" "It has a ball hitch." (Giggling all around.)
FINALLY! A kid walks past my two vehicles, parked next to each other on the street, and says NOTHING about the Camry Lee. Instead: "Hey, Dad! That's a cool motorcycle!" Smart kid. -Becky Ohlsen
The Dukes of Hazzard