As some of you may know, I am from the south. I like living in the south. I like my climate warm, my tea sweet, my conversation slow, and my fish with hushpuppies. But time and time again, television makes it difficult to be proud to be from the south. Because it continually finds the strangest, most rednecky southerners and parades them in front of the nation, where they proceed to speak unintelligibly, extol the virtues of shotguns and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, spit tobacco and vote Republican. As Exhibit A, I give you Big Tom from Survivor. As Exhibit B, I give you a year’s worth of guests on Jerry Springer. And as Exhibit C, I give you the cast of this episode of Wife Swap.
Meet the Smoaks family. Glenn and Aletha and their two children live on a 500-acre “plantation” in South Carolina. With 55 – yes, that’s two 5’s – members of their extended family. If pressed, I could probably scrounge up 55 family members. But I’d rather forgo sweet tea forever than live that close to most of them. Not the Smoaks’, who are very close with their family but not so much with each other. Due – at least in part – to Glenn’s snoring, he and Aletha have slept in separate bedrooms for the last 10 years. I’m thinking Glenn could go see a doctor about that – they have remedies for snoring, you know. But I can’t say as I’d blame Aletha for not suggesting that. I wouldn’t want to sleep with Glenn either.
Anyway, she suspects the closeness of all those family members makes up for the gaps in their marriage. Not for Glenn, who wishes Aletha were more loving, and, you know, willing to sleep in the same bed with him.
He channels his energies into hunting and fishing, which appear to take up most of his free time. Glenn tells us hunting, for him, is “like having a climax”. Since that’s evidently the closest he’s going to get to one, I will suppress my shudders and let him enjoy that dream.
Aletha believes children should be seen and not heard. Her seven and ten-year-old do not ever talk back to her, are taught to say “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” and otherwise will hardly figure into this recap at all due to their adherence to their mama’s rule of silence. Aletha also works two full-time jobs with – of course – the family business, and say she’s exhausted and that Glenn takes her for granted. Glenn tells her to “quit bellyachin’.” Ah, what a stud.
Aletha will be going to Arkansas to join the Beaver family. Amy and Jeff Beaver are the kind of people Glenn Smokes spends his life trying to avoid. Amy is an animal-loving pacifist liberal who campaigns on the Internet to abolish the right to bear arms. She’s probably a proponent of the little-known Internet campaign to arm bears, however. I’m not sure what Jeff does for a living, but he does it in style – Rasta style, that is. We see Amy twisting his hair into dredlocks. No offense to anyone, but I’m not a personal fan of the dredlock look on any man through whose hair I will be attempting to run my fingers. Dreds are basically hairballs, and hairballs just aren’t sexy. To me, at least. They apparently are to Amy, who informs us that she and Jeff not only share a bedroom, but the physical side of their 12-year-marriage has only improved with age.
Amy grew up in a southern family, but her beliefs have alienated her from her family, who she says regard her as a crazy “tree-hugger.” As the show progresses, I begin to suspect that her family simply regards her as crazy. More on that later.
Amy doesn’t work, and she also doesn’t clean. She and Jeff have a daughter, Emily, who is treated like a little adult. Amy spends her days “writing poetry”, which we don’t see, and watching TV, which we do.
Obviously, this is going to be a rather big clash of lifestyles.
Guns and Grime
Under the rules of the show, the two wives swap households for two weeks. The first week, they live by the house rules – the second week, they impose their own rules.
We get a hint of what’s to come before Amy even gets out of the car in which she arrives at the Smoaks household. She spots the Confederate flag hanging from the front porch and freaks out. “OH NO!” she screams. “That flag is a symbol of mass murder.” She doesn’t understand how someone would be proud of that. I will remind everyone that Amy lives in Arkansas and should have seen a Confederate flag once or twice in her life, and be capable of spotting one without collapsing in hysterics.
Inside the house, things get worse for Amy. She’s appalled at the lovingly-polished gun case, and even more so by it being situated between the children’s bedrooms. But Glenn’s collection of trophies – i.e. dead, stuffed and mounted animal parts – sends her over the edge. Staring dumbfounded at a pair of stuffed ducks, Amy cries, “Dead animals. In a little girl’s bedroom.” Amy, you ain’t seen nothing. I once went into the office of a woman at work, a woman who rather scared me but who I thought it prudent to befriend. She had an enormous stuffed goose hanging on the wall above her head. I said, trying to be nice, “Oh, that’s an impressive goose.” Without looking up from her work, she intoned, “I killed it.” I skedaddled.
Anyway, the last straw for Amy is Glenn’s deer head, mounted on the wall. She breaks down, stroking the deer’s neck, sobbing, “Oh, creatures belonging to God! I’m sorry!” Amy. Get. A. Grip.
Meanwhile, the formidable Aletha arrives in Amy’s pigsty of a home, and is less than impressed. She decrees it “nasty” and says people shouldn’t live this way. As that’s most of her reaction from room to room, we’ll move on.
Both women left a write-up explaining their lives and how they go about their day. Aletha is shocked to discover that not only does Amy sleep in till 10 a.m. every day, but she and Jeff have a lot of sex. Creative sex. “Thank you for sharing that with me,” Aletha says, dumbfounded. I’m thinking Amy needs to learn the meaning of the phrase “too much information.”
Amy in her turn is amazed at what-all Aletha actually does all day. She’s also flabbergasted by the enormous number of family members nearby.
You Might Be a Redneck if …Your Name is Glenn
apologies to Jeff Foxworthy
With the wives having settled in, it’s time for them to meet their new families. Amy gets a tour of the separate sleeping arrangements, and she has impressed Glenn on sight. “I was expecting someone big, fat and ugly,” he says. Ha, how ironic, that’s what he expected and that’s what Amy got. Ignorant of Glenn’s appreciation, Amy says sadly that he and Aletha don’t have a marriage at all if they sleep separately.
Back in Arkansas, Aletha has met Jeff and Emily, who offer to fix dinner. Eyeing the filthy kitchen, Aletha clamps her lips into a thin line and refuses, on the pretext that she ate a banana recently. Given Aletha’s well-fed appearance, not even Jeff is likely to believe that a banana will hold her. He tells the camera that she’s uptight and judgmental.
Evidently Glenn and Amy stay up late talking, because the next morning Glenn not only fixes breakfast, but says he wishes he could talk to Aletha the way he talked to Amy. Evidently Aletha heads for bed before conversations get a good foothold.
Amy has less rosy feelings this morning, as she’s up at 6 a.m. – four hours before her usual wake-up call – to take the kids to school. She informs us that she feels bad and she “hates” this.
Meanwhile, Aletha must stay in bed until Amy’s getting-up time of 10 a.m. – whether she’s asleep or not. Of course she’s not. She’s reading a magazine, and fuming that Emily is elsewhere in the house, getting herself ready for school. Aletha informs us that if Amy “really loved Emily” she’d get the child ready herself. Geez, judgmental much? Aletha doesn’t just have a stick up her butt, she’s got a whole tree. Hopefully, it’s one that Amy hasn’t hugged.
Still awake, Amy arrives at a roller-skating rink – did I hear that right? – which, of course, is owned by The Family, to take on one of Aletha’s day jobs. Every woman in there is a relative of Aletha’s. They patiently try to explain some sort of accounting or something to Amy, who gibbers that no, she doesn’t understand how a time clock works. She hates the work, and she’s not fond of being surrounded by someone’s family.
Aletha hates that she can’t work. She has to go through Amy’s routine, such as it is, which has her mindlessly flipping television channels. “This is like a prison to me,” Aletha says. You can see her just itching to go scrub something.
In South Carolina, family time is just beginning. Amy must attend a barbecue with more than 30 members of the family. She comes out in a blue dress that even I’ll admit looks pretty sexy, if you didn’t know what a weeping ball of overwrought emotion lay beneath it. Glenn is quite impressed – I believe that’s his voice I hear saying, “Oops, I dropped my teeth” in awe. “I wish I had her as a wife,” he says. “A real wife.” Gee, and won’t Aletha be overjoyed to hear that when she gets home. Oblivious to the lust she’s inspiring in the menfolk, Amy says she feels like royalty, and as the family members – or at least the men – greet her, she gushes that she felt “a great sense of love.” If you take a step toward Glenn, Amy, I think you’ll feel a great sense of something else.
While Amy’s being ogled in the backwoods, Aletha is trying to impose some discipline on Emily. Emily interrupts a lot, and Aletha thinks she should not talk when adults are talking. I think Aletha could say that a wee bit less bitchily if she were just trying to teach Emily not to talk when other people are talking, not just adults. But hey, what do I know.
Aletha also decides to ask Jeff if there’s anything Amy actually does during the day. He volunteers that Amy feeds the dogs. Aletha manages to get him to admit that Amy does do spring cleaning once a year – i.e. she cleans the house once a year – and Aletha leaps on this as an activity she is allowed to do. Jeff fumes that Aletha talks to him like he’s a two-year old. And Emily’s not thrilled at being dragged into Aletha’s spring cleaning. “This is not us, man,” Emily says, sounding more like Janis Joplin than an 11-or-whatever-year-old. “This is not us.”
As it’s a day of the week ending in “-day,” Glenn’s going hunting. Amy is not comfortable with him taking a gun and going off to “kill these beautiful animals.” Um, Amy? He’s going turkey hunting. Ever seen a turkey up close? I thought not. “Beautiful” isn’t really the word to describe them.
Aesthetics aside, Amy is still in her “act like Aletha” week, so she doesn’t have a say in Glenn’s choice of recreation. Instead, she has to clean. She scrubs a door. She washes dishes. Inevitably, she breaks down. “This feels like slavery. I feel like a slave,” she says, then busts out crying that there will never be a Saturday like this in her house. “I don’t like that somebody is living my really fun life!” she sobs.
Clicking over to her fun life, we see Jeff and Aletha sitting out back of the house, staring off into space. Ooh, that IS fun! Compared to impaling yourself on a hot poker.
Aletha tells us she would have expected an American flag to be flying at the Beaver household, as it is in America. First of all, has she talked to Jeff at ALL? Not a flag-waving sort, I don’t think. Second, while I saw the Confederate flag at Aletha’s house, I didn’t see an American one there.
It’s switcheroo time, and naturally both ladies have big plans to reform the utter hell in which they’ve found themselves.
Amy starts with the guns, which are removed from the house by a uniformed police officer. Aletha, meanwhile, has the house fumigated, and kicks the dogs out to live in the yard.
Informed that his firesticks are gone, Glenn attempts a protest, but Amy shuts him down. Amy also announces that she is an animal-rights activist, and you can see Glenn’s face visibly fall as his fantasies of Amy as an ideal wife go up in a flash of PETA-friendly smoke. As he reels in horror, Amy says that they will spend time as a family, which means four people, not 55. And Glenn is to move back into the master bedroom – the only one of her suggestions that he approves of.
Aletha wants a flag, and Jeff says it’s tacky. She also instructs Emily not to interrupt – an instruction which Emily interrupts with a protest. Looking like Nurse Ratchet, Aletha stops her in a high, crazy voice. She also insists that Emily call her ma’am.
Grant Would Have Surrendered to These Freaks
Glenn starts the new regime by trying to write Aletha a poem. Given that it begins, “Roses are red…” I’m going to save us all the horror and just move on.
Aletha keeps thundering that Jeff needs to “stay on task.” Emily is not happy with her new chores.
Aletha’s children, duly terrified into submission, are calling Amy ma’am. She rolls her eyes. Glenn cancels a hunting trip and Amy and the Smoaks enjoy a family night in. This is about the last moment in this show that anyone is happy.
Because back in Arkansas, Jeff and Emily are chafing under Aletha’s despotic rule. Jeff says Aletha is treating Emily like her slave. The slave hides behind the couch, then vents to the camera. “It’s getting really hard to be nice to that woman,” Emily says. “The devil woman.”
In South Carolina, all hell is about to break loose. Amy insists that the Confederate flag must come down. Glenn argues that it’s “just a battle flag,” but Amy isn’t giving in. So Glenn reverently carries the flag to the next-door neighbor – a relative, of course – where it is hung back up, within sight of the house. He says Amy’s rules suck. Amy is furious that he found a way around her rule, and says that Glenn thinks everything revolves around him. “I am so tempted to strangle the hell out of this man,” she growls.
As flags come down in South Carolina, they go up in Arkansas. Aletha makes Jeff install an American flag, to much disgust and eye-rolling from him. He says her holier-than-thou attitude sucks. Aletha doesn’t understand his beef, but says maybe it will win over the neighbors and he’ll make new friends. Aletha obviously has no concept of Jeff’s beliefs, personality or way of life if she thinks he’s one to befriend someone attracted by a flag.
The slaughter isn’t over in South Carolina, though. Amy now wants Glenn’s dead animals removed from the house. “That’s ART,” Glenn huffs, pointing to the stuffed ducks. Stepping around the questionability of Glenn’s artistic sensibilities, Glenn reminds me that I have an acquaintance who decorated her expensive townhouse largely in dead animal parts. These were not your run-of-the-mill deer heads, either. She had an elephant hoof as an ashtray, a boar head stuck to a mirror on the wall, and various small paws at the end of knickknacks like bottle openers, letter openers, and the like. Let’s just say it was not a house in which you would want to drop acid.
Amy pays no more attention to Glenn’s art protests than I have, and insists that anything that was once alive must leave the house. As Glenn loads his trophies in the back of his truck, she reads a prayer. He rolls his eyes and belches. Then Glenn and the kids drive off, presumably to unload the animals somewhere else. Petulantly, they stay gone for about two hours. Glenn informs us that this is the South, and they do things differently here. Once again, I want to remind everyone that Amy is from Arkansas, which may not be Deep South but sure ain’t Vermont. Also, please, please don’t anyone think Glenn speaks for the South. Anyway, two hours later, he and the kids return. Amy has made dinner, which is now cold, and she and Glenn get into an argument over who should put the food away. It reminds me of my little sister and I arguing. When I was 12.
Finally Amy squats down in front of Glenn and pleads with him. “I love you in spite of your beliefs. I need for you to love me in spite of mine,” she says. Glenn responds to this bit of New-Age drivel as one might expect from him: “Your beliefs suck.” What a profound rebuttal.
In Arkansas, Jeff is trying to make peace by bringing home a fistful of flowers for Aletha. He searches out a vase, which still has dead flowers in it. Aletha is appalled, and insists on washing it out thoroughly, which naturally ruins the gesture. Jeff is in tears. “The stuff that I’m getting back is complete negative,” he says to her. He tells us he’d never want to come home if he had to come home to Aletha.
As the last day of the swap rolls around, Glenn tries to patch things up with Amy. I think he apologized, but I’m ignoring that in favor of quoting Amy’s response, which is much more fun, by virtue of being much more shrill. She says he has sucked her dry – I’m trying my best not to take that literally – and can’t imagine what he’s done to his wife if he did that to her in 10 days.
Finally, it’s time for these women to return to their own nuthouses. Amy says she has learned she doesn’t have to let other people dictate how she lives. I was not under the impression that Amy was chafing under the strictures of mainstream society, but whatever. Aletha, almost out the door, asks Emily if she’ll keep in touch. With admirable honesty, Emily says she doesn’t know. Well, not so much honesty as tact. Because I’d say no way in hell will any of the Beaver family keep in touch with the Smoaks.
Reuniting in a parking lot, Amy leaps on Jeff and they canoodle for a very long time before Jeff carries her inside. Aletha and Glenn are more restrained in their hug.
Both couples are forced to sit down across a table from each other for judgment time. I didn’t expect this to be pretty, but it’s more hilariously awful than even I had imagined.
Amy leaps in right away, informing Aletha that her husband “sucked me dry in 10 days.” The more Amy talks, the more Aletha feels happy with her own life, and sanity. Amy changes tack and says that now she’s met Aletha, she actually thinks they’re a perfect couple.
Glenn pipes up at some point to inform Amy and Jeff that they are both “dadgum treehuggers.” He has a specific point to make regarding Jeff’s hair. “The way you’ve got your hair looks like you should go across and live with the dadgum aborigines,” Glenn says. Yes, folks, this is the kind of accepting and tolerant mindset we have here in the South.
Jeff is mightily offended, and after sputtering a bit about being called a tree-hugger – which he says has nothing to do with homemaking – he pronounces Aletha to be manipulative and says he hopes he never sees her again. The feeling is mutual.
Then Jeff note that Aletha treated Emily like a slave, prompting Amy to bug her eyes out and scream about hurting her child. Strangely, that’s nothing compared to the head-spinning fit she throws upon hearing that her dogs have been forced to live outside. She’s screaming and sobbing and I’m looking around for the guys in the white jackets.
We check back in with both couples a few weeks later. Amy has realized that her love of animals should probably preclude her eating them, so she’s turned the family into vegetarians. She also has gained far more respect for her own mothering skills – more than they probably deserve. Meanwhile, Jeff and Emily have grown closer together as a result of bonding against Aletha.
At the Smoaks house, Aletha and Glenn tried to sleep in the same bed the first night, but Glenn’s snoring – sure, that’s what it was – sent Aletha packing before the night was over. But Glenn has cut back on his hunting and fishing, and is spending more time with the kids.
And that’s it, folks. Come back in two weeks – I think – to see an episode involving more grossly mismatched people, along with some cows.
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