The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a take on the American worker and all their American glory. I highlight the concepts and ideals surrounding these workers by citing two well-known animated representations in Hank Hill from “King of the Hill” and Bob Belcher from “Bob’s Burgers.” If you’re fans of these shows and appreciate the struggles of the American worker, I think you’ll appreciate this. Enjoy!
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As kids, we don’t always appreciate the deeper messages of certain TV shows, movies, or songs. I imagine most kids who saw “Jurassic Park” in 1993 didn’t care that much about the larger points Ian Malcom made about tampering with nature. They just loved seeing dinosaurs eat cowardly lawyers off toilets.
That’s why re-watching shows you loved in your youth can be insightful. Sometimes, it can be a little distressing, seeing themes that aren’t quite in line with today’s taboos and social norms. However, I don’t want to focus on those unpleasant instances. Instead, I want to focus on insights that we appreciate more as adults than we do as kids.
This brings me to a show that, even by today’s standards, has uncanny appeal. That show is “King of the Hill,” a show I’ve already singled out as home to Hank Hill, a strong example of noble masculinity. After rediscovering the show, thanks to Hulu, I’ve found myself appreciating the less obvious messages of the show.
One clear message that seems to come up several times over the course of the show’s 13 seasons is the value of a work ethic, especially when contrasted to those who have none. It’s a value few kids and teenagers appreciate. That’s understandable because in the innocence of youth, most go out of their way to avoid hard work or laborious tasks.
What makes “King of the Hill” stand out, more so to adults than to kids, is how it portrays work and the way people go about it. One of Hank Hill’s core traits is his dedication to his job. Among his most memorable and oft-repeated quotes is that he sells propane and propane accessories. That’s not just his job, though. It’s part of his identity.
Hank, unlike many male protagonists in animated sitcoms, actually loves his job. It’s not just something he does to pay the bills and provide for his family. He genuinely loves selling propane and propane accessories. That love is played up in plenty of comedic ways. In one episode, “Hank’s Back,” even doctors had a hard time believing that anyone would avoid a worker’s comp settlement.
What makes that comedy work is the common expectation that few people actually like their jobs. If they do, it’s only because they’re rich and it affords them all sorts of fancy perks. However, Hank is not rich. One episode even goes out of its way to show that, even by middle class standards, he’s not that well off. He’s no Al Bundy, but he’s not Charlie Harper, either.
That doesn’t matter to Hank because his is not entirely about money or even the opportunity to make more money. It’s about doing something he loves and deriving real meaning from it. His job selling propane and propane accessories gives him a unique sense of fulfillment that can’t be quantified with money.
This sort of approach to work isn’t just unique among sitcom dads. It reflects an approach to work that is rarely emphasized, even in a world where work is changing due to automation. Growing up, the nature of work and careers is presented in a certain way. It’s not always through the media or movies like “Office Space,” either.
When kids and teenagers are encouraged to think about future careers, it’s almost always framed as a means to an end. First and foremost, a career provides money and resources with which to build a life, whether it’s a family or just a home in general. It’s part of a much larger process of becoming a productive member of society.
Most counselors and teachers will encourage kids to find a career they actually like. That’s the ideal. However, it’s a poorly-kept secret that few people ever land their “dream job.” Just as few people end up working jobs that are related to their college major. On top of that, many of these people who graduate college are underemployed, which put them in a similar position to Hank.
To some extent, Hank Hill is in an ideal career because he’s doing something he loves and he’s getting paid for it. That alone sets him apart from many career-seekers, both in the real and fictional world. However, the love he has for his work and his career actually runs deeper than that.
To him, his job isn’t just a means to an end. It is the end. The work itself is the reward. The money he makes is only ever secondary. For Hank Hill, the best moment of his job isn’t when he gets his paycheck. It’s when he sees the look on a satisfied customer’s face when he sells them a new grill or helps them refill their propane tank.
That kind of fulfillment isn’t just rare in an animated sitcom that includes a self-professed conspiracy theorist who never realizes that his wife cheated on him for years. It’s a rare and unique state of being, having a job in which the work feels so rewarding. Even in the real world, this sort of mindset is rare, which is part of what helps set Hank Hill apart.
For most of human history, people didn’t have careers. They just had things they had to do to survive another day, whether it involved hunting and gathering or growing crops. In modern times, a new host of jobs gave people a variety of ways to earn a living, but the nature of the work was rarely fulfilling and often laborious.
The idea of having a job that you actually like and feeling fulfilled in the work you do is akin to a modern nirvana, of sorts. It takes the very idea of work and turns it into something other than that stuff people have to do in order to make money. Hank isn’t just lucky in that he has that kind of job. He’s got the perfect attitude for it.
That attitude of seeing work as something inherently fulfilling often puts him at odds with other characters and sub-plots throughout the show. On many occasions, Hank’s approach to work often clashes with other characters who go out of their way to avoid hard work or seek to make as much money as they can for as little effort as possible.
His son, Bobby Hill, often embodies that sentiment and not just because he’s terrible in gym class. In multiple episodes, Bobby’s fondness of laziness is not very subtle. When faced with the prospect of having to work hard, he usually does what he can to avoid it. More often than not, trying to avoid the work backfires or ends up being more laborious than the work itself.
He’s not the only one who harbors this attitude. Hank’s loud-mouthed neighbor, Kahn Souphanousinphone, attempts more than one get-rich-quick-scheme throughout the show. To him, work is always a means to an end. Even though his job affords him more money and better material assets, or so he claims, he rarely comes off as fulfilled as Hank.
Even when money isn’t the endgame, others still approach work with a different end in mind. Hank’s wife, Peggy, approaches her job as a substitute teacher with more passion and purpose than most. For her, though, the work she does is less about the money and more about feeding her inflated ego. In some cases, it borders on outright narcissism.
Regardless of intent or goal, “King of the Hill” often comes back to the same theme with respect to work. Hank, for all his faults and shortcomings, has the right attitude when it comes to work. It’s not just about having your dream job and doing what you love for a living. It’s about seeing work as inherently fulfilling, regardless of money or material aspirations.
At a time when the future of work will likely change what it means to have a career, Hank Hill may very well be ahead of his time. Even in the current work climate, his has major value. It’s a perspective that most kids and teenagers don’t appreciate. For some, it may not even be an idea they’ve ever contemplated, the notion that a job could be so inherently fulfilling.
It may still seem like an impossible ideal for many, but Hank Hill shows that it’s not that impossible. Selling propane and propane accessories isn’t one of those jobs that requires a rare set of skills or talents. It requires only basic people skills, salesmanship, and a working knowledge of propane.
Hank didn’t go to college and he didn’t go through some rigorous training to achieve what he achieved. He simply took a simple job selling propane and propane accessories and made it part of his passion. Even in an animated world where impossible things can happen, Hank makes his approach to his job feel attainable, even in the real world.
Appreciating Hank’s work ethic was not the first thing that appealed to me when I watched “King of the Hill” when it was still on the air. However, as I get older and see people wrestle with their careers, I see more and more merit to Hank’s approach to work.
I don’t deny that hard work can be tedious, at times. I also don’t deny that every job, even so-called dream jobs, have bad days every now and then. Even Hank has a few bad days at Strickland Propane throughout the course of the show. That still never discourages him from doing his job as well as he does it and getting genuine fulfillment from it.
There are plenty of lesson in “King of the Hill” that are as relevant now as they were when the show first aired. It’s possible for people of all ages to appreciate those lessons and the comedy that comes with it. That’s part of what made the show so successful for so many years.
When it comes to work ethic and approaching a career, Hank Hill stands out more than most. He sells propane and propane accessories better than anyone has or probably ever will, but that’s not the point. For him, the work itself is the greatest reward. Whether you appreciate his many other quirks or not, that’s a sentiment worth respecting.
When it comes to paragons of masculinity, the standards tend to skew towards characters who crank the testosterone levels up to the maximum and even go a little bit beyond. From mythical figures like Hercules to modern icons like James Bond, it often seems as though that a truly masculine man has to exceed some lofty standards.
While there’s certainly a place for that kind of masculinity, I don’t think that has to be the only criteria. I believe there’s room for a more subtle, yet equally strong manifestation of manliness. They don’t have to be the kind of men who sweat raw testosterone and shave with shards of broken glass. They can be their own man and still embody respectable masculinity.
I chose Joel from “The Last Of Us” for my first profile in noble masculinity primarily because his example was not very subtle. He embodied the masculine values of strength, survival, fatherhood, and compassion in ways that are easy to highlight within a larger narrative. It didn’t take much work to make my case for Joel’s noble traits.
For my next profile, though, I’ve chosen a character who presents a tougher challenge. He comes from a narrative that’s very different from Joel’s. Instead of a post-apocalyptic world where everything comes back to survival, his is a more contemporary story from the far less dire setting of suburban Texas.
His name is Hank Hill. He sells propane and propane accessories. He’s a proud American, a hard worker, a die-hard football fan, and the star of “King of the Hill.” In the pantheon of modern-era animation, it’s a show that doesn’t usually rank near the top for most people, but the fact it lasted 13 years proves it did something right and Hank his is one of those things.
I consider him another example of noble masculinity. He’s one that differs considerably from Joel in “The Last Of Us,” but I consider him an example none-the-less. Over the course of 258 episodes and 13 seasons, Hank establishes himself as one of those rare characters who manages to be compelling and respectable without being too flawed.
He’s not a bumbling dad, nor is he self-absorbed narcissist always looking to get ahead. Hank Hill, at is core, is blue collar family man who loves his job, loves his wife, and tries to make the most of his situation. He’s not a whiner. When he sees a problem, he tries to fix it. When he makes a mistake, he owns up to it, even if he stumbles along the way.
He tries to do all of this while surrounded by characters who have a wide range of issues, flaws, and eccentricities. One of his neighbors is a self-loathing loser obsessed with his wife. Another is a chain-smoking paranoid idiot who doesn’t know his wife cheats on him. The other is Boomhaur. Actually, Boomhaur is awesome.
Beyond his idiot friends, Hank also deals with a know-it-all wife with an inflated ego, a lazy son who goes out of his way to under-achieve, a bimbo niece who attracts all the wrong people, and an eccentric, misogynistic father who hates his guts. The fact that Hank manages to maintain such a calm, collected demeanor most of the time is a testament to his strength.
That strength, however, isn’t exactly obvious if you just look at his persona on paper. In fact, if you just skim the basics, Hank doesn’t come off as a very interesting character, let alone one who fits the criteria for noble masculinity. He’s conservative, he’s frugal, he doesn’t exude charisma, and he’s a staunch defender of law, order, and the status quo.
Hank isn’t the kind of man who willingly goes on adventures, acts on an impulse, or seeks to radically change the world around him. He actually likes his world, for the most part, and actively defends it from those who try to upset it. This has led to more than a few conflicts throughout the show, but Hank’s ability to resolve those conflicts reveals that there’s much more to his character.
It’s in those efforts where Hank’s nobility, as both a man and a character, really shows. While he is a staunch traditionalist who goes to church, votes Republican, and is extremely uncomfortable with sex, he’s also remarkably tolerant of those who don’t share his views.
Throughout the show, he encounters people who are overtly promiscuous, exceedingly liberal, and don’t care much for football. At no point, though, does he try to change those people or convince them that they’re flawed. Sure, he’ll threaten to kick an ass every now and then, but he usually reserves that recourse for those who most deserve it.
When he’s not kicking asses that deserve to be kicked, Hank is also demonstrates an ability to reserve judgment and not make anything too personal. Throughout the show, he’s encountered crazy right-wing religious types, flamboyant homosexuals, and unapologetic womanizers. By nearly every measure, he deals with them in a way that’s respectable and fair for the most part.
Hank doesn’t condone or condemn their behavior. He’s more concerned with the consequences they have on others. In his view as a freedom-loving American, what people choose to do is their business, provided they understand and accept responsibility for the consequences.
Throughout the course of the show, he’ll point out or remind others of those consequences. He’ll even help some confront it. However, he doesn’t make it personal. He doesn’t whine about it. He doesn’t try to get everyone to embrace his way of doing things. Hank basically lets other people be free and live their lives.
It’s not the same as slaying giant monsters or rescuing princesses from towers, but it’s noble in its own right. In the context of masculinity, Hank Hill’s ability to remain strong, stern, and confident in the face of so much chaos from so many characters, each with plenty of quirks and eccentricities, is a testament to the kind of man he is.
He’s a man who takes pride in his work, leads by example, and tries to be the voice of reason in a world full of unreasonable people. He’s willing to be brave and bold when he has to be. He’s also willing to take responsibility when others won’t or refuse to. As a man, he’s someone who earns the respect of others and does plenty to maintain it.
That’s not to say that Hank is without his flaws. Sometimes, he is traditional to the point of being petty. In one episode, the entire plot was driven by his dismay at another family sitting in his non-assigned seat at church. He can also be controlling, especially with how he raises his son, Bobby.
On more than one occasion, he’s been an obstacle for Bobby’s endeavors. His famous refrain, “That boy ain’t right,” is often said in the context of him wanting to guide Bobby down a certain path. Most of the time, though, he does so in a way that’s appropriate for a caring father. Other times, though, he gives the impression that he wants Bobby to be just like him.
Even with these flaws, Hank Hill still commands and earns respect. As a man, a father, and an American, he checks most of the boxes in terms of noble masculinity. He’s strong, responsible, hard-working, and accepting of other peoples’ strengths and flaws. He’s a man worthy of admiration and the fact he knows propane is a nice bonus.