Saturday, December 30, 2017

Musical Narratives

"Well, we can talk about whiteness as two different things. There are white people, and then we can talk about whiteness as this structural idea." 

"But when, in mainstream country they're talking about class, it is about, “yeah, but we're making it.” It's a nostalgic feeling about being working class. I'm going to flip my boss off today and ride off to the coast. But there's always a sense of, “tomorrow we'll be back in the grind.” Country music is how we deal with and make peace with the fact of class."

    - The Racial Dynamics of Hip Hop, The Atlantic July 2014

Well, for a while I'd forgotten my cultural country whiteness. I grew up on 90's country that was filled with many more themes than class. Hard work was certainly a central theme. The importance of sucking it up, putting food on the table, and not getting caught up in flashiness and frivolity. Call it the puritanical work ethic with a little more liquor (and liberties) on the weekend. There was a strong sense of stoicism engrained in our values as well. 

The article overlooks several big themes though which I think are all part of this narrative of rural "cultural whiteness"

  • Loyalty - to family, wife, God, your football team, and country
  • A pure love - some notion that in the midst of all of our flaws and imperfections there is the capacity for a deep, lasting meaningful transcendent connection. Country features mostly male singers so it's a little more sheepish (and clumsy) version of Cinderella. It's the song of the awkward/hurt/broken prince charming. This endearment also extends to children, family, one's local community and in a wistful sense those who share a common vision for America. 
  • Determination -  the ability to suck it up and push through to do what needs to be done. This could be overcoming poverty to build a nice home. It could be struggling through school but still making it. It could be a solider in the military "leaving no one behind." It doesn't really matter 
  • Hard Work - Work for it's own sake is important. It's probably a throwback to simpler times when an agrarian life required this tenacity to survive and a legacy a deep connection to our grandparents (and parents) who lived through and grew up in the depression. This connection to older generations is pretty important and might explain the difference to other demographics which lack this crucial connection. 
  • Working Class - while country singers (whether they did or not) all -identify with a working class family they take pride in these humble origins. This also comes up in how people dress (T-shirt and Jeans), what they drive (inexpensive American cars), and how they spend their money (frugally [this extends to politics too]). This embrace of humble origins is probably rooted in religion - in the same way Jesus came into the world in a manger. This (along with the negative theme of misogynism) is the only one the author of the article above hits on given her stereotypical academic interest in race/class/gender. 
  • Respect - Don't talk back, honor your father and mother, if you are disrespectful to a friend or partner, go back an apologize
  • Care for your Fellow Man - It's just the golden rule. Theft and cheating are not tolerated. People are not to be abused. No cheap shots in a fight and never touch a women. Additionally, while there are plenty of songs about cutting loose and running from the law, having sex down by the river or generally being mischievous, there is still a deep underlying respect for the people involved in this situations. Police are not something to be shot at as they are just doing their job to maintain order. Women while often still seen in some songs as objects of desire are still treated as human beings with feelings. Courtship is through meeting the needs of the woman, not through flashiness or drugs/alcohol. 
  • Love at first sight - there are countless songs about meeting someone, and at first glance 

What I am realizing is that I am growing up in a world where a lot of these values are not acknowledged but I still have these narratives burned into my consciousness. 

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