Gender Roles Exemplified by Luann Platter in “King of the Hill”
One of the most popular animated sitcoms on American television in recent years was “King of the Hill,” featuring the Hill family, consisting of Hank, the father, Peggy, the big-footed (size 16) mother, Bobby, the young and chubby son who is fond of fruit pies and a love-stricken and pretty niece, Luann Platter (Thompson, 2009). Although many of the characters on “King of the Hill” depict stereotypical gender roles, nowhere is this more pronounced that with Luann Platter. The daughter of Peggy’s brother and a substance-abusing, swinger mother who was imprisoned for stabbing Luann’s father with a fork, compelling Luann to come live with the Hills “until she sorts things out” in the series’ first episode.
Although Luann demonstrates a natural talent for automobile mechanics when she tells her Uncle Hank that she fixed his car while casually wiping the grease off her hands, but her male-oriented mechanical talents are quickly dismissed by the redneck friends of Hank as well as Hank’s father, Cotton Hill, who suggests that trying to teach women to fix cars is “like trying to teach monkeys to read.” Enrolled at a local beauty school, Luann’s assumes the more stereotypical role for women in Texas but it is apparent her talents are not in hair dressing. Her efforts at beauty school are not only subpar, but downright terrible until she joins forces with Bill, the Army barber, in a subsequent episode where she finally excels.
Unfortunately, Luann’s troubles only continue to worsen after she moves in with the Hills, beginning with a breakup with her seemingly worthless boyfriend, Buckley, only to actually lose him outright permanently in an explosion at the “you-get-a-lot-of-batteries-for-” Mega Lo Mart caused by Buckley’s mishandling of valves on the propane tanks in his department. Following a series of encounters with Buckley’s angel, Luann receives a message from none other than Jesus himself that her destiny is not in hair dressing, but he refuses to say precisely what it is, leaving it to Luann to figure it out on her own. Luann experiences an epiphany that her lot in life is not tied to these gender roles, and she becomes convinced that she is the equal of anyone in Arlen by enrolling in the local community college where she intends to become “a liberal artist.” In response to this change in Luann’s career plans, her Aunt Peggy suggests that she is “no playing with the big boys” and encourages her to continue to studies at the local community college.
Luann also makes it clear that she will brook no male chauvinism from the likes of Cotton Hill in spite of everyone else’s accepting his behaviors. For instance, when Cotton slaps Luann on the bottom and tells her that only a man can tell her when she looks good, Luanna grabs his hand and advises Cotton that if he ever does that again, he will “draw back a nub instead of a hand.” Indeed, according to Dalton and Linder (2009), “Casual viewers (and some critics) underestimate creators Greg Daniels and Mike Judge,” but long-time viewers will readily recognize the gender roles being portrayed in “King of the Hill” (p. 4). In fact, Dalton and Linder suggest that “the [King of the Hill] series has balanced twin imperatives of being funny and being relevant” (p. 4). Certainly, the issue of gender roles in the United States today is highly relevant, and to its credit, the creators of King of the Hill have not shied away from these contemporary issues throughout their series. In the final analysis, historians in the 22nd century, if there are any left, will likely be examining King of the Hill and other animated sitcoms to see what life in the early 21st century was really like, and many will likely point to Luann Platter as an example of a young woman who broke the gender barriers in a small town to realize her true potential in her own unique way.
Dalton, M.M. & Linderr, L.R. (2009, Summer). Introduction. Journal of Film and Video, 61(2),
Thompson, E. (2009, Summer). ‘I am not down with that’: King of the Hill and sitcom satire.
Journal of Film and Video, 61(2), 38-41.