In an article published in The Economist on April 10, 2008 titled “Help Not Wanted: Congress Doing its Best to Lose the Global Talent War” the author singled out Hank Hill for special mention as one the wisest creatures on television. (Creature: his word, not mine.) The article actually has more to say about Mike Judge’s movie “Idiocracy” than it does about his creation who stands front and center of his long-running animated series “King of the Hill.” In fact, nothing more is mentioned of Hank Hill and so it is up to the reader to infer from what is written there just exactly what would make Hank Hill such a wise creature. I would not presume to speak for the writer who penned that column for The Economist, but if inference is the name of the game of economics Arlen, Texas-style, then we can at least begin to make an educated guess about the wisdom of Hank Hill based on his own stated secrets to succeeding in the world of business.
“There’s more to a career than money, son; there’s respect.”
This pearl of economic wisdom according to Hank Hill seems almost quaint in today’s business atmosphere. Owners don’t respect their employees and employees don’t respect the customers and it’s a never-ending cycle of one-upmanship. The episode in question has Hank Hill doling out his usual brand of conservative old-school anti-union blue collar career advice to his son who has latched onto a school-sponsored partnership with an entrepreneur whose has found one of the last remaining business niches unclaimed: using green high technology to clean up the city’s dog poop. The weird thing is that Hank Hill seems to be so personally affronted by the prospect of his son turning this limited opportunity into a career path that he violates one of his own stated principles of economic success.
“Find what your niche is…that leads to riches.”
In other words, the economic wisdom according to Hank Hill is as simple as discovering an untapped need and meeting it. As long as meeting that need is done professionally and provides quality work. And yet, as we later see, there are limits to Hank Hill’s philosophy which is constructed upon a solid basis of Adam Smith-style free enterprise within a capitalist system. For Hank Hill, a niche that involves cleaning up after frat boys who partied too much and vomited all over their room does not provide enough respect to make it viable. For you, that line in the sand in the line between earning respect and earnings riches might be pornography or Reality TV.
“Find the job nobody wants and then do it better.”
Here we have a key component of Hank Hill’s secrets to business success. Figure out what nobody else wants to do and then do it better than anybody else forced to do it. Again, this business tip from Hank Hill runs smack dab into the issue of respect. Just how far are you willing to go to succeed in business world? What is the limit to the jobs out there nobody sets out to do and only falls into because of fate that you are actively willing to explore and improve? If the answer is that you have no limits and you can find respect on your own terms outside societal constraints, then not only will be likely be a success, you will also be happy.
“Don’t smile, son, you’re a working man.”
Just don’t exhibit that happiness. Hank Hill loves his job. He is even, on occasion, enthusiastic in the performance of that job. So this secret to success in business world that he gives his on Bobby is a little disconcerting. But then again, Hank Hill views his position as Assistant Manager of Strickland Propane as the top of the ladder. So maybe Hank Hill’s real secret to success in business is realizing that you can’t be happy until you have reached the heights of management. What Hank Hill may actually be saying here, in an unspoken subtextual sort of way, is really disconcerting in an entirely different way. Hank Hill is a shining example of what seems to be a breed very near extinction: the compassionate conservative. Anyone who argues that Hank Hill is not a conservative has never really watched the show. And yet, the instruction to his son that a working man has no reason to smile could almost have come from the writings of Karl Marx. Perhaps deep down inside, Hank Hill has learned something about the true nature of free enterprise and capitalism that he isn’t yet qualified to express. That the only people who have a reason to smile in such a system are those in the upper echelons of management.
“A good salesman always says yes to the boss. He approaches ever task with a can-do attitude. When things get tough he shrugs it off and sings a happy tune.”
And then, just when you think Hank Hill’s secret to business success might be based at least upon an unrecognized inkling of class consciousness, he hands out this pearl of economic wisdom to his son. What is important to recognize here is that according to Hank Hill, success in the business world is utterly dependent upon indenturing yourself like a slave to the corporate masters. It’s the worldview that takes as the foundation of success the truism that the boss is always right that led American embracing as a hero a man named Thomas Edison who made a career by stealing the ideas of Tesla, Dickson and so many other men whose ratio of inspiration to perspiration was more balanced than Edison’s own 10/90 percentage. When things get tough at work because the boss wants you to sell more risky mortgages to those he knows can’t afford it, you just turn away and whistle a happy tune.
“You don’t call your boss names. That’s acting like a baby. Babies want everything handed to them. But you’re there to work and not play. That’s why it’s called work and not play. If you don’t understand that, well son, maybe you’re the moron.”
Yeah, you see, this is where Hank Hill’s secret to succeeding in business gets downright disturbing. In the case of his son Bobby, the name-calling began and ended with moron. And, in fact, it turns out that his boss Bobby Wichard is a moron and Bobby’s intuition will be confirmed repeatedly throughout the run of “King of the Hill.” But Hank Hill’s career guidance counseling against calling your boss names could equally well apply to placing a restriction upon Tesla and Dickson filing suit for theft of intellectual property against Thomas Edison or alerting the SEC that your boss is a twisted deviant devil who steals more in one day in his job on Wall Street than all the armed robbers of convenience stores combined since the invention of convenience of stores. Come to think of it, Hank Hill has a lot in common with Secretary of State John Kerry. After all, what are Kerry’s personal attacks on Edward Snowden but the equivalent of calling him a big baby for daring to call his bosses at the NSA names in the form of releasing documents proving they are nothing more or less than criminals? In the world according to Hank Hill, Edward Snowden is the real moron…not his bosses at Google…er, I mean…that is to say…the NSA.
And, finally, what would any philosophy that purports to contain the secret location of the keys to the kingdom that is success in the business world be without a catchy motto? A slogan that succinctly encapsulates every tenet of the economic philosophy at hand. A motto perfectly suited for emblazoning on every bit of marketing product your business puts out. With that in mind, I leave you with the motto of Strickland Propane that Hank Hill proudly proclaims in his effort to land the Arlen Renaissance Faire as a hot new client.
“If you have a problem, tell us what it is and we will try to take care of it as soon as we can.”