Where else do you see regular use of the term “flatlanders”?
Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, 8/30/04
Here’s a fact that will give you a sense of how resistant the comics page is to change: Barney Google, one half Barney Google and Snuffy Smith’s titular duo, hasn’t been a regular character in the strip for more than 50 years. The strip was originally called Barney Google, and started in the roaring 1920s as the chronicles of the title character, a henpecked urban racing and boxing afficiando; in the 1930s, though, there was an American vogue for hillbilly humor, so Barney decamped to the North Carolina mountains and fell in with local rural layabout Snuffy Smith, who soon became the strip’s primary focus. Barney himself left sometime in the Eisenhower administration, but his name has remained.
Now, to me, the important aspect of this story is the fact that urban Americans have enjoyed making fun of hillbillies since at least the 1930s. It’s ever so much more comfortable being a culturally snobby elitist when you can claim to be the heir to a long history of culturally snobby elitism. (Anyone who tries to say that I can’t claim to be a culturally snobby elitist and still dedicate this much energy to comic strips can just leave now.)
Anyway, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith is one of those strips that seem to take place during some indeterminate time in the past, which makes it weird when the modern world — in the form of NASCAR, in today’s case — intrudes. (Yes, yes, I know, NASCAR has been around since the 1940s, but its popular omnipresence is a relatively recent phenomena.) It’s all the odder because Snuffy and his hirsute companion are listening on a classic Depression-era radio. Of course, just the idea of listening to auto racing on the radio would itself be inherently funny if there weren’t so many people doing it.
Today’s fun facts about Barney Google and Snuffy Smith all come from Don Markstein’s Toonpedia, which is a great comics resource. Among other things, it reveals that during World War II, Barney and Snuffy appeared in a combination propaganda film/comedy short called (I’m not making this up) Hillbilly Blitzkrieg. Where were the people who protested The Real Beverly Hillbillies when that happened, huh?