- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Ben Jones is a busy man. In the past week, he’s appeared onthe”Today” show, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. By his own estimation, he’s “done about 100 radio shows just in the last couple weeks — 10 or 12 of them already today.”

All because of a “little press release” in which Mr. Jones — who portrayed the amiable mechanic Cooter on the original “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show — slammed the movie remake that opens nationwide tomorrow as a “sleazy insult.”

“I’ve been pretty amazed at the response,” said Mr. Jones, a former Democratic congressman from Georgia who now lives near Sperryville, Va.

“They’re putting $30 million just into promoting this [movie] to the kids of America, and I’m one guy doing caveat emptor — saying, ‘Don’t take your kids to see this. It does not reflect the values of our show.’

“I must have gotten their attention, because Jessica Simpson … took a potshot at me on Jay Leno the other night. And Lynda Carter took a shot at me on ‘Good Morning America.’” Both actresses are featured in the new film.

Having won their attention, Mr. Jones hopes Hollywood will take notice of the issues raised by turning a wholesome, family TV favorite into a profanity-laced movie full of references to sex and illegal drugs.

“It gets down to this for me: I’m sure there’s entertainment value in this movie … but our audience is families in the heartland of America, not slacker-stoners in suburbia, who is who they made this movie for,” Mr. Jones said.

“The people who made this movie have missed the debate of the past five years about the cultural gap in this country, between the red states and the blue states,” he said in a telephone interview. “The movie reflects the value not of the heartland, but of La La Land.”

Though still proud to proclaim himself “a progressive Southern Democrat,” Mr. Jones sounds themes familiar to cultural conservatives as he compares the new “Dukes” movie to the original TV show, which appeared on CBS from 1979 to 1985.

“This film is Exhibit A in the debate in this country, because the culture of La La Land has been relentlessly thrust upon the heartland, and many of us believe it has had a corrosive effect on what are usually called traditional values,” he said.

The original “Dukes” now appears in reruns twice nightly (7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern) on the CMT cable network, and DVDs of the old programs have found an audience among youngsters who weren’t even born when the adventures of Bo and Luke Duke, Cousin Daisy and the General Lee were a prime-time network hit.

The filmmakers obviously hoped to tap into the show’s enduring popularity, Mr. Jones said.

“The Duke boys, role models whom those kids look up to, are being portrayed as profane slackers,” he said, before turning his attention to Miss Simpson.

The teen-pop starlet, who plays Daisy Duke in the new movie, has released a video of her singing “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” which is featured on the soundtrack.

“Catherine Bach, our Daisy Duke, had the best legs in the history of legs, but that’s all we needed to make that point. … This Jessica girl, on the other hand, does a third-rate hoochie-coochie. … I saw better stuff at the Gaiety Theatre, a burlesque house on East Main Street in Norfolk, in 1958.”

And the revisionism extends even to the Duke family patriarch, played by the avuncular Denver Pyle in the original TV show. “In this movie, Willie Nelson plays Uncle Jesse not as Uncle Jesse, but as Willie Nelson — cussing, dope-smoking, woman-chasing,” Mr. Jones said.

Still, he said, he doesn’t think the filmmakers “set out with bad intentions.”

“I think it’s just a reflection of their lives, rather than life in the country,” he said.

The “Dukes” movie is directed by Jay Chandrasekhar, a Chicago native originally known for his work with the New York comedy troupe Broken Lizard. “Naturally, he’s the guy they get to do a movie about the South,” Mr. Jones deadpans.

Some — including Miss Carter — have accused Mr. Jones of being motivated by “sour grapes” that he wasn’t asked to participate in the movie remake.

For his part, Mr. Chandrasekhar seems hurt by Mr. Jones’ criticism.

“It’s sad when somebody you admire trashes you,” the director told the New York Daily News, and in an interview with Canada’s National Post, Mr. Chandrasekhar said: “We were all big fans of Cooter’s, so it’s sort of hard to have somebody you’re a fan of be unhappy.”

The original Cooter has built a second career on his connection to the beloved TV series. Mr. Jones is the proprietor of Cooter’s Place, a popular gift shop and museum in the Smoky Mountain resort town of Gatlinburg, Tenn. A second Cooter’s Place recently opened in Nashville, Tenn. And in June, 40,000 fans turned out for “DukeFest 2005” at Virginia’s Bristol Motor Speedway.

Have “Dukes” reruns on CMT and sales of DVDs meant residual earnings for Mr. Jones?

“Theoretically,” he said, laughing. “I keep looking down the road for the mail.”

Mr. Jones notes that the new movie “did use one member of our original cast — and the General Lee steals the show.” Still, the film producers felt the need to include scenes reflecting the “political incorrectness” of the Confederate battle flag that adorns the famous car’s roof.

“Bunch of damn Yankees,” said Mr. Jones, “bringing our flag into controversy. … I know thousands and thousands of black people who love ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.’”

The Dukes are “just country boys, they’re Southern [and the flag on the car is] representing the spirit of the South and all its people. No offense should be taken, because none is intended,” he said.

The fate of the “Dukes” film, Mr. Jones said, in many ways parallels the fate of the Democratic Party.

“I’m a Democrat in a red state here. … Lots of people are saying that the Dem Party has moved away from the values of the heartland, from which it came. … Now, it’s captive to left-wing social issues and certain special interests.

“The question the Dem Party should be asking itself is: Why are we losing in the heartland?”

Given the recent slump in movie-ticket sales, the “correlations” should be obvious, he said.

“Hollywood keeps making movies that are offensive to the heartland, and they keep losing money. The Democrats keep nominating candidates that can’t get elected in the heartland, and we keep losing elections,” Mr. Jones said. “It sounds like to me these folks ought to start listening to what we’re saying.”

He adds: “They think they’re smarter than us.”

Since denouncing the film version of “Dukes,” Mr. Jones said, he’s received “hundreds and hundreds of letters, e-mails and phone calls saying, ‘Thank you.’”

He speaks with the confidence of a man who knows he speaks for millions.

“I think it might have been one of those tipping-point things, where people are just fed up, and were glad that somebody said what they’re thinking.”

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