Subscribe to Bitch—an award-winning, 80 page feminist magazine. Image Map

Pop Pedestal: Bobby Hill

bobby-hill-1

Welcome back to Pop Pedestal, where we take time to pay tribute to our favorite characters in pop culture. This week I'm choosing to celebrate the rose-growing, unicorn-loving, sharpshooting only child of the titular clan in King of the Hill, Bobby Hill.

Pedestal Profile: King of the Hill relies on the sometimes tense, always loving relationship between the decidely noncomformist Bobby and his straight-laced propane salesman father, Hank. Bobby isn't a misfit like King of the Hill creator Mike Judge's most famous two characters, Beavis and Butthead, but neither does he quite fit into Judge's vision of contemporary Americana, Arlen, Texas. And since he ages slower than a tortoise in the animated universe, King of the Hill gives us plenty of chances to plumb the bottomless depths of Bobby's weird, conflicted youth.

Admirable qualities: You can't say Bobby doesn't have passions. Most Bobby-centric episodes revolve around some new pursuit or hobby he's taken up, and Hank's resultant stress at seeing his child do something not emblematic of an archetypal American man. One memorable episode finds Bobby ditching football responsibilities so he can grow roses, only to have his love for horticulture cut short by an ashamed Hank. When Bobby refuses to give up rose growing, he erects an elaborate hydroponic growing system in his closet  

Not only does Bobby refuse to let gender dictate his interests, he displays a preternatural talent in most tasks. Rifle contests, (women's) self defense, and puppetry—among other things—pose no threat to Bobby's indominatible skill. Bobby's refusal to recognize gender boundaries often draws the ire of his father, but Hank's innate desire to see Bobby win often trumps any reservations he might have. Also, Bobby's never afraid to admit when he think's a man is handsome.

Body acceptance activists can find a hero in Bobby. After Peggy Hill grew uncomfortable with her feet following a run-in with a foot-fetish pornographer (just another day in Arlen, right?) Bobby offered these kind words:

bobby hill fat acceptance"Mom, I'm fat. But big deal. I don't feel bad about it, and you never made me feel bad about it. And just because there are people out there who want me to feel bad about it doesn't mean I have to. So Bobby Hill's fat. He's also funny, he's nice, he's got a lot of friends, a girlfriend. And if you don't mind, I think I'll go outside right now and squirt her with water. What are you going to do?"

Part of King of the Hill's allure comes from its exploration of the conflict of traditional "American values" and the values of wide-eyed Bobby, who chooses to reject the norms he doesn't appreciate. Maybe now that King of the Hill is off the air we'll see a spinoff that follows Bobby as he leaves cloistered Arlen for more accepting parts of the world. Wouldn't it be great see Bobby hit the road and explore all the world has to offer him?

His influence:For all of King of the Hill's problems (read: the racist depiction of Kahn Souphanousinphone), Bobby's character has generated some positive writing about his contribution to feminism in primetime. Check out this post that uses the Bobby Hill quote from above to illustrate the concept of fat acceptance, and then read this post debating the clash of feminism and conservative values in King of the Hill

That's not all: Pamela Adlon, whose face you might recognize from Louie, won an Emmy for her voice work on the episode "Bobby Goes Nuts." I love Bobby's expressive voice, veering from matter-of-fact musings on the nature of life to exasperation when things don't go his way. Just judging by the tone of voice though, I can't say I expected the voice actor to be a woman. But, come to think of it, I know of another well-loved rambunctious boy voiced by a woman.

Think of him when: You you feel put down by someone. Don't let bullies tell you how to feel, and always remember that you're loved. If you're interested in something, follow that passion, even if your dad doesn't think it's manly enough. And when you hear your dad shout "Bobbeh!" at the top of his lungs, you're probably doing something right.

Previously: Two Fat Ladies, Paula Small from Home Movies

Enjoy reading this article? Good news! Our quarterly magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is packed with 80+ pages of feminist analysis, reviews, illustrations, and more. Subscribe today!

Subscribe to Bitch

Comments

3 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Bobby Hill/Kahn

Excellent post and tribute to Bobby Hill.

I never thought the treatment of Kahn was racist. Can you provide examples? Maybe I'm not thinking critically enough. I actually thought they satired the racism of the other characters, such as when he explains everything about his home country of Laos, and Hank, Dale, and Bill all still wonder if he's Chinese or Japanese. They also commented about how things are hard for him being Asian and living in Texas, being called a "banana," and so forth.

I was hoping the same thing,

I was hoping the same thing, that the show critiqued the characters' racism rather than actually portrayed Kahn in a racist light, but flipping through episodes I found one where Kahn forces his daughter and her friends to sign contracts when they come over for a slumber party, typifying the "strict but loving patriarch" myth of Asian families. There were a few more incidents that seemed to really cross the line from having racism be the butt of the joke to using racism to make a joke. 

awesome

I've always adored Bobby Hill. He's well deserving of this pedestal. It seems that Bobby is emblematic of all of our struggles to fit in and be viewed as "normal" when normal doesn't exist. One of my favorite episodes is where Bobby eats a ton of sugar, goes to school and then is diagnosed with the school counselor as having ADHD. He is then put on medication and it completely changes his personality. The idea of him not fitting in as "normal" shines in that episode.

Perhaps another awesome showing of Bobby is when he creates a traveling comedy troupe for Strickland Propane. The Propaniacs is everything that is right with King of the Hill.

I love King of the Hill even with its faults. (Name one show that doesn't have them.) Bobby is a primary reason why that love continues.