I can remain silent no longer. We can bear mute witness to injustice for only so long before we become accomplices in that injustice. The cover story of the current issue of The Weekly Standard is an excellent story about the Mayberry family living on Al Gore’s property in Tennessee. The cover art is an homage to the white-trash aesthetic. In the front lawn of a shack we can see: A broken-down 1950s Chevy pickup truck on cinderblocks, a clothesline with an old pair of underwear (tighty-whiteys, according to a certain vernacular), a broken toilet with grass and flowers growing out of it, a “no trespassun” sign complete with a backwards “r” in “trespassun.” And, on the porch of the shack, lying on a couch made from old car seats, is….a basset hound.
That’s right, a basset hound. For some reason the editors of the Standard are content to propagate the long-standing canine libel that hounds — bassets and blood hounds in particular — are of a piece with potted meat, Velveeta, mullets, the Jaclyn Smith collection and K-Mart XXL sweatpants.
The hound as the dog of choice for people with more cousins than teeth has been a myth of the popular culture for decades, starting perhaps with The Beverly Hillbillies. During the nine-year run of that canine hate crime, the Bloodhound was portrayed as a slovenly creature of low breeding fit only for people of low breeding. The truth is that the “blood” in bloodhound does not refer to anything sanguine or gory, it refers to the fact that only aristocrats — nobles of the blood — were permitted to own such dogs. These were “blooded hounds.”
Of course, the program of vilification against the noble hound is often just so much code for the anti-Southern bias of Northern elitists, who prefer their dogs tidy and portable. For decades, in virtually every demeaning portrayal of the South, bassets and bloods have been a visual icon of Southern backwardness. From Beauregard Jr. on Hee Haw to Cynthia on Green Acres to Flash on The Dukes of Hazzard to LadyBird on King of the Hill, you can’t have a Southern hick if he don’t have his “smell hound” (as Cletus the Slack-Jawed yokel calls them on The Simpsons).
From the 1950s through today, many films glorified criminals and ne’er-do-wells while they denounced the law-enforcement officers and correction officials who tried to maintain law and order. In Cool Hand Luke, “Blue,” the loyal police dog, dies in an attempt to catch Paul Newman, who may be able to eat fifty eggs, but cares not a whit for the safety of an innocent dog. Indeed, such prison-escape films pile calumny upon calumny, depicting bloodhounds as vicious beasts determined to kill their prey.
“Release the hounds,” declares the hard-looking man in the Geico insurance commercial currently airing, as if the bloodhounds in question would stay on the trail, when we all know that such dogs would scatter in ten different directions like Frenchmen in the face of mild German resistance. (Yes, Mr. Burns too says, “release the hounds!” in The Simpsons, but his dogs are conspicuously not bloodhounds.) And even so, in real life, if a bloodhound finds his prey his only reaction is to lick him in the face or fall asleep or start sniffing for something else. It requires a level of animal abuse beyond imagination to get a bloodhound to bite — anybody.
As for the basset, if there was ever an even more noble breed than the bloodhound it would be the wellborn basset. These are no white-trash dogs. Among the first bassets to grace our shores came as gifts from Lafayette to George Washington. Ever since, basset-owning has been perhaps one of the best indicators of taste and civility. However, since good taste and civility require restraint, I shall not list all of the renowned and respected basset owners in American history. But if you are looking for a worldwide conspiracy of journalists, statesmen, and business leaders who are maintaining the light of civilization, then search no farther than the ranks of the basset owners.
Suffice it to say that the nobility of the basset is such that he is the only exception to Aldous Huxley’s rule, “To his dog, every man is King; hence the constant popularity of dogs. ”
It is sad that The Weekly Standard would join the forces of the cultural elite they are so famous for denouncing. But the hounds will never stoop to their level — and a basset who stoops is a low beast indeed — for, as we all know, “To err is human: To forgive, canine.”