King of the Hill’s “Traffic Jam” took notice of White Nationalism online more than a decade before it was wildly discussed.
While King of the Hill often parodied the light-hearted aspects of American suburbia, the show wasn’t afraid to shy away from serious topics. During the Season 2 episode “Traffic Jam,” King of the Hill took notice of White Nationalism online, pointing out how widespread the problem was years before it became a source of popular discussion.
“Traffic Jam” sees Hank Hill attend a driving school headed by an African-American stand-up comedian, Roger “Booda” Sack, who Hank’s son Bobby looks up to. After listening to Bobby’s attempt at stand-up comedy, Booda tells the 13-year-old to stop imitating Black humor and “get in touch with (his) White roots” before inviting him to a stand-up night. This eventually leads Bobby and Joseph to look up jokes online, while using the keywords “white, roots and funny,” which leads Bobby to a White Nationalist website. Out of ignorance, Bobby uses this material for a stand-up routine, infuriating the mostly Black crowd until Booda steps in to defend him.
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As a former employee in a Silicon Valley startup company, King of the Hill creator Mike Judge was well aware of the issues facing the tech world at the time, such as search engine keywords suggesting hate sites. This specific problem persisted for nearly two decades after “Traffic Jam” aired, as Google didn’t start filtering out Holocaust denial from its searches until 2016. The episode also depicts how susceptible children are to online hate speech, which continues to be a major problem online.
Although the episode’s criticism of online hate speech appears to be ahead of its time, it’s really documenting the beginning of this issue. While the White nationalist website present in the show is fictional, its imagery is filled with confederate flags and lightning bolts, parodying several real life White nationalist sites that gained prominence in the mid-1990s. Upon the episode’s airing in 1998, there were approximately 163 hate sites according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which was a massive increase from the only recorded hate site present in 1995, when the first prominent White supremacist website launched. That number jumped up by 60 percent by the end of 1998.
The problem of online hate sites dates back even further than the 1990s, with a New York Times report identifying three extremist bulletin boards present by at least 1984. In 1985, the Anti Defamation League (ADL) began to take notice of the proliferation of online hate, writing,”there is little to suggest that this represents a great leap forward in the spread of anti-Semitic and racist propaganda.” Many White supremacists realized that the internet was a powerful recruitment tool early on, with Derek Black, the son of Don Black who founded the aforementioned White Nationalist website in 1995, explaining that his father sought to use the web to spread his hateful message globally.
“It’s important to understand the context that in my family pioneering white nationalism on the web was my dad’s goal,” Derek Black, who has publicly renounced his father’s beliefs, explained. “That was what drove him from early ’90s from beginning of the web, and so growing up, we had the latest computers, first people in the neighborhood to have broadband because we had to keep ********* running, and so technology and connecting people on the website, long before social media.”
Although the internet landscape has changed drastically from the hateful online message boards present in 1984, the web’s widespread proliferation of extremist content and its accessibility to children remain persistent problems. While “Traffic Jam” references a moment in time, the episode is unfortunately more relevant today than ever.
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