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The Dukes of Hazzard, Kmart and My Dad

posted Apr 27, 2012, 5:11 PM by Jeff Wagner   [ updated May 5, 2012, 6:04 AM ]

When I was my son’s age (6 or 7), my world was The Dukes of Hazzard. I had Dukes toys, bed sheets, a birthday party and more. There was just something about that orange car, the General Lee, flying through the air. I can hear it now. “Yee Haw!”

General Lee by Johnny Cash

Every time we visited a store, I enjoyed looking through the toy section (still do). I can recall so clearly to this day one trip to Kmart with the family. While my mom and brother were in another aisle, I was admiring a Hot Wheels sized General Lee. I had plenty of Hot Wheels and loved playing with them all the time, but I had no General Lee in my collection. I immediately wanted it and showed it to my dad.

If you have read some of my other posts, you may recall that my dad was pretty good with money. He may have had some flaws, but finance was not one of them. His sound saving and investing has helped take care of my family to this day, nearly 25 years after his passing.
Insurance for Your Children from GerberLife

Well, my dad thought this car I was enamored with was the silliest thing in the store. Because it was a General Lee, it was priced much higher than other cars, and he did not see the difference. “You want this little thing?” he questioned. “It’s just a little car. Why would you want to spend so much for this?”

Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe it was the way he was asking, but I did want that little car. I thought it would be a perfect fit in my collection. I had visions of soaring over my other cars and zooming around dirt tracks in our backyard. “Yes. Yes I do want it. Please?”

He got a little frustrated at that point and proceeded to rip open the package. Then he held the car up to me to show me that once it was open, it wasn’t so special. It was just another toy car. I slowly understood what he was saying, but my little heart was broken. Didn’t he understand how I felt about the Duke boys?

What he showed me was that in the grand scheme of life, we have to look past all the packaging and merchandising to see what we were really spending our money on. If we bought that car and never opened it, it may have been a good investment. I was going to play with it until broken or lost. That made it a liability. My dad thought like Robert Kiyosaki’s "Rich" Dad.

The Dukes of Hazzard was a masterfully crafted piece of marketing. The entire program was designed to keep viewers tuned in and buying merchandise. Why do you think the car was orange? Look how memorable it was and is. Even as an adult, I was excited to see one at the Johnny Cash Festival a couple years ago:
I also had a thing for Daisy Duke’s Jeep and have had my own Jeep for nearly 20 years now. I guess their master plan worked.

A few years ago, I watched Season One of the Dukes of Hazzard on DVD. It was fun and nostalgic to revisit the old show. Looking back now though, I can see what my dad saw. It really was pretty cheesy.

Has the world gotten increasingly commercialized since this early 80s hit? In short, yes. We are surrounded not only by advertising messages from companies looking for our dollars, but also by entertainment options that focus on well to do characters, fictional and non, who seem to have an endless supply of money. Not just reality TV, which as we all know, glorifies the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but also casual radio, TV viewing or websites. Characters and hosts casually mention the restaurants they ate at the night before or the latest products they can’t wait to get ahold of.

What are we supposed to do? I try to see it all the way my dad did. I try to look past the marketing, the fancy wrapper, the jealousy and the hype. I try, but sometimes I just want an iPad (for example). I don’t even like Apple that much. I can hardly tolerate iTunes for more than a few minutes. I can’t explain it. Lucky for me, I can still think back to that day in Kmart and tell myself that my life is fine without one.

UPDATE: As of two days after this post, I now have an iPad. Go figure.


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