Bloggified by Jake on Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Despite my reputation for hating everything, I really am pretty open minded about new experiences. In one of my earlier rants about Wewahitchka, a commenter suggested that if I were a better writer, I would try to understand why people might choose to live in a small town and enjoy that lifestyle. In his suggestion, he missed the point of the entire rant, which was that I do understand and I find their reasons to be rooted in fear and ignorance, a point he supported by describing what he imagined life to be like in "the big city," suggesting that it must be impossible for me to ever sleep with all the police sirens outside my windows and the minorities burglarizing my home every night.

My problem with things that I hate is rarely that I don't understand them. Anyone who has followed my never ending Twitter battle with Red Skelton or "A Prairie Home Companion"--Why are they cheering for the powdered milk jingle? You baffle me, geriatric Midwesterners!--will know that I spare no effort to find hidden meanings or cultural references or whatever secret appeal there might be to something I don't get. Unfortunately, that effort regularly turns up even less than "People in the 50's didn't have a lot of entertainment options," or "Lutherans like to eat a lot."

For many, many years, I have hated country music, but not because I don't understand it. Like living in small towns and watching Fox News and going to church and so many other things that are popular in America, it is about fear and ignorance. In the old days, the likes of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and others highlighted the simplicity of life on a cattle drive and lamented the sad turn of events that led to hard drinking and wife beating and jail time. The generally implicit, sometime explicit, always present theme was "I'm not smart, I'm not special, and I have to desire to be. Those are things city folk aspire to, and whatever I may be, at least I'm not an intellectual."

Today, one of the genre's biggest stars, Toby Keith, is an advocate for lynchings, celebrating the blowing up of brown people in foreign countries, and Ford trucks and the message is still the same: "Intellectualism is bad." Hence, my averse nature.

What I couldn't understand was how people I knew and respected--my mother, my sister, my ex--could listen to the anti-intellectual bile pouring from KNIX or KMLE-Country and sing along as Cowboy Troy tells them they hate America because they helped elect a black man president (For those of you who don't listen to shitty music, the joke here is that Cowboy Troy is black.) or Big & Rich advocate teaching creationism in public schools. I'll grant you that most music lacks an intellectual bent, but only country is completely devoid of it. There is no KRS-One or Chuck D of honky tonk.

While arguing with my ex several months ago, I finally issued the challenge, "Find me a song about how we should embrace learning or that we live in a multinational world and we should accept that fact in a way that doesn't involve bombs and guns or that being a dumbshit redneck isn't a good thing."

It took her a while, but a week ago she told me to listen to "Welcome to the Future" by Brad Paisley. A few nights later, I had to ask again what the title was because I thought it was something by Kenny Chesney, which, in turn, made me sad for knowing that Kenny Chesney was even someone.

First off, credit where it is due. Brad Paisley's "Welcome to the Future" is not a celebration of dumbshit rednecks. But while it certainly gave me hope that maybe some lone individual in the country music industry is willing to deliver a message that can be embraced by radical atheist commies like myself. However, there was one thing that stuck out about the song that bothered me.

The first two verses follow an A-B-C pattern of:
A) Things used to be like this and there's no way we could imagine it being different.
B) Holy shit! Things are different and that is awesome!
C) Chorus

In the first verse, Brad says that when he was kid, he wanted to watch TV on long drives and own his own Pac-Man machine. Now you can watch TV in the car and own Pac-Man on a phone that also does a million other things. Awesome! In the second verse, he talks about his grandfather fighting the Japanese in World War II, then is joined by a country music band from Japan in the video, something his grandparents never could have imagined in 1943. Awesome!

But then comes the third verse, which skips the B. He had a friend who was a victim of racism... but there's no explicit, "But now racism is frowned upon and only dumbshit rednecks would have a problem with the notion of treating minorities as equals, but they're dumbshit rednecks who don't matter in the grand scheme of the world and as they get older and die off there's less and less of them every day, and that's awesome!"

Instead, there is an implied "Things aren't quite that way any more," with only descriptions of "a woman on a bus" and "a man with a dream." The open-endedness allows the listener to draw his own conclusion as to the meaning of this change.

In fact, read these lyrics in the mindset of a racist and they could be seen as saying "Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King made it difficult to put darkies in their place! Back in the good old days, we'd burn a cross on their front lawns, but, oh, well... I guess not everything's better in the future."

I had a friend in school,
Running back on the football team.
They burned a cross in his front yard
For asking out the homecoming queen.
I thought about him today,
And everybody who'd seen what he'd seen,
From a woman on a bus
To a man with a dream.

I don't want to imply any racism on Paisley's part, but I do suspect that while there might have been more to say there, someone--whether it be Paisley, co-writer Chris DuBois, a producer, some guy in A&R at the label, or a crusty old redneck in a parking lot of a Piggly-Wiggly--decided to scale back the anti-racism angle of the song out of fear of offending the base audience.

1 sarcastic replies:

David Anaxagoras said...

Perhaps another interpretation is...racism hasn't been resolved yet, we're still dealing with it, the future still has a ways to go.

Of course, that still doesn't explain why he doesn't state his position explicitly.

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