Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Monday, June 07, 2004

The downward spiral continues

This is what I get for watching basic cable--seeing ads for things like this.
It's a well-known fact that few things are more annoying than people who say they like all kinds of music, "except country". In fact, it's almost as common lately to hear somebody denounce that phrase as say it. Nonetheless, I still get surprised looks from people when I say that I do like country music. But I don't mean shit like this stupid disc.
This is why people say that they don't like country music. There has been a big push to wed country music to reactionary politics, jingoism, and racism. There's always been tension between the jingoists and the genuine populists in country music, even though some artists have managed to avoid the issue almost entirely, like Dolly Parton. In a way, the pile-on of braindead nationalism in country music is a retread of what happened in the 1960's, particularly with the issue of musicians who refuse to fall into line and speak out only to be met with stony resistance, the Dixie Chicks being the victims this time. This time, I think it surprised people more that anyone in country spoke out against the war and the President. After all, the Dixie Chicks got temporary bans on all sorts of radio stations, but when Johnny Cash openly aligned himself with anti-war musicians in the 60's, he got prime time to do so.
But we shouldn't be so surprised. In my experience, it's a bit of a myth that country fans are automatically stupid, racist reactionaries. Plenty of people I know are what a good friend of mine terms "left of Marx" and love country, though yes, they do tend to be fans of more traditional and/or folksy stuff. But I know lots of mainstream country fans who resist racism, sexism, homophobia, and feel like Bush is a warmonger who needs to be sent back to Crawford.
There's a push to make country music synonymous with monolithic reactionary conservatism amongst working class Southern whites, and as this ad shows, the push is much less from liberals who are stereotyping than it is from the industry who wants to pigeonhole their audiences as much as possible. But I do see most liberals roll over and just accept that they've lost those people and the belief that the music reflects that. Well, I think the music is driving that to a large degree, and that's there's no reason to just roll over and take it.
It's easy to reach out to people if you're part of their music or culture, I've found. Southern women, for instance, are more open to feminism than you might think. Consider how refusing to take anyone's shit with humor and grace is a well-regarded female trait in the South. Hell, the selling point in the anti-feminist lyrics to "Stand By Your Man" is that men and their shit must be tolerated because men are sort of inferior and can't help it. If Tammy Wynette had taken the Southern Baptist stance that women should defer to men due to natural female inferiority, radios would have been snapped off throughout the country. Loretta Lynn is pretty much a goddess in this part of the country to women--she articulates the struggle of women who want to be themselves but really do love their families with the subtlety that you can only really get from art and not from political writings.
But stuff like this patriotic country c.d. should be regarded as warring shots from the conservative side. They are using country music to cement the relationship between Southern whites and conservative politics. And I do sense a tendency amongst liberals to write off country fans because they think that relationship was cemented long ago. But as the Dixie Chicks flare-up demonstrated, country doesn't mean conservative nearly as much as one would think.
The Democrats have made moves to reach out to different populations through music. Of course, there's skittishness about it because the constant Republican noise machine dumps criticism over every musical alliance, particularly if it's made with black musicians. And there's no doubt that if alliances were made with country musicians, those first few would get cold-shouldered by Clear Channel-types. But if enough alliances are made, then the noise would be spread too thinly and would die out. And the Democrats would have an in with the Southern white population that could swing an election easily.
The other plank would be to reach out to women. Southern white men are by and large currently solidified in their thinking, but the women aren't. A few female country musicians making open alliances with the Democrats would sway a number of Southern female voters, who know to always say that they vote with their husbands but also know that they don't have to actually do so in order to say it. There are very few groups that get less attention than white women married to or fixing to marry conservative men, which is a shame, because they are surprisingly open to changing their voting patterns. Most women I know who are married to conservative men will privately express strong disagreement with their men on the subjects of abortion, gay rights and many feminist issues, and even more so if they have daughters. They are basically waiting for someone they respect to tell them to go ahead and vote how they wish and if they have to lie about it to their husbands, well, after all, he's just a man. And country music is a great medium for that message.


Blogger Jeff said...

True words about "Country Music®". My perspective in a nutshell:

Having worked in radio for 7 years (in the 1980s!), I know it's all about the money. Artistry has nothing to do with anything -- unless enough people start buying the CD.

Example: one station owner went ballistic when I played a new Ronnie Milsap song (needed 4 minutes to reach network news), telling me about "strong turnoff factors." She adored Lee Greenwood. Despised Dwight Yoakam. Which one did I play every chance I got? "Little sister, don't you..."


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