Tuesday, November 8, 2011
From the heartland, the new macho
I’m going to out myself: I’m an avid country music fan. I shamelessly toggle between 105.1 KNCI (New County) and 101.9 (The Wolf) – the two local country stations – and when both are on commercial breaks, I play mix tapes. For those of you who aren’t aware, the Country Music Awards air tomorrow (Wednesday, November 9th), on ABC, at 8/7 central.
And even though it sometimes seems -- here in Davis -- that being a country music fan is “quirky,” it’s actually rather mainstream. According to a study by Market Research Insight (MRI), approximately 42% of the United States population, or 95 million people, also sing Taylor Swift in the shower. For the most part, country music fans represent Main Street; 34 percent are high school grads, 30 percent have attended some college, and 24 percent have college degrees. Post-graduates such as us JDs total only eight percent of country listeners.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, education proves to be the single best predictor of political knowledge. The MRI and Pew statistics, taken together, suggest that most country music listeners are less aware of laws and lawmaking than most JDs. (I'd say that this is consistent with stereotypes.)
This is relevant to feminist JDs because, in trying to promote feminist laws, Main Street is a constituency with which feminist JDs will need to communicate.
At first glance, country music might strike feminist JDs as more of an antagonist than an ally. Country music has a reputation for being conservative and for promoting “family values.” All too often, “family values” means “patriarchal values.” (See, e.g., George Lakoff’s book Don’t Think of an Elephant.)
Somewhat surprisingly, however, consideration of top country hits shows a surprising lack of “patriarchal” songs – songs that demean women or seek to keep them "barefoot and pregnant." On the contrary, country radio creates a significant social space for what an article in Newsweek terms “the new macho” – the concept that “men should do whatever it takes to contribute their fair share at home and at work,” even if that means doing laundry and changing diapers.
The new macho is manifest in many top country hits. For example, in Craig Campbell’s song “Family Man,” he sings “There's dirty shirts to wash / Dishes in the sink to do / And there's how many times / Does 17 go into 52 ... What keeps me keeping the faith / What makes me believe I can? / Family man.” Phil Vassar’s song, “Just Another Day in Paradise” begins, “Kids screaming / Phone ringing / Dog barking at the mailman bringing / That stack of bills / Overdue / Good morning, Baby, how are you?” In Kenny Chesney’s “The Good Stuff,” the protagonist, after a fight with his wife, goes to a bar. The bartender sends him home, telling him, “When she says I’m sorry, say ‘so am I.’” I could go on and on, but believe I’ve made my point – in stark contrast to other genres*, country stresses that it’s okay, even admirable, to be a “Mr. Mom.” (Coincidentally, the title of another song by Lonestar.)
The stereotypical “country music listener” aspires to hegemonic masculinity. (See Hugh Campell, Michael Bell, and Margaret Finney’s article “Country Men: Masculinity and Rural Life.”) However, close consideration of country music itself and of the culture with which it is affiliated proves this stereotype untrue. On the contrary, country music suggests that the men of Main Street may be more open to a feminist agenda then one might think. Country radio is an important, but overlooked, forum in which feminist JDs and working-class men might communicate.
* Contrast, for example, these lyrics with those of the Rihanna song that we discussed today.