Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Wonder of CMT

You never know what you're going to get when you send out a CC'd email to friends. For example, a friend of mine recently sent out a little email to friends of his, announcing this year's Bloomsday celebrations in Dublin. A week later, he sent me one of the responses he received.

Thanks for including me in your sendout, even though I am more than a little remiss in my electronic communication. Bloomsday. Great. Whatever. While you're across the puddle contemplating the finer points of modernist fiction {it's not hip to capitalize "modernist" anymore} I'm stuck at Fresh Air Barbecue watchin' CMT [Country Music Television, for all you who either did not know or (intentionally or unintentionally) forgot]. You know, I must admit, lately I've been trying to take it easy on people, tryin' to realize that some folks just got a different thing goin' on, you know, respecting the vibe and whatnot. But in the past few days the old edge is back. Hence, I MUST RESIST!!!! I WILL RESIST!!! CULTURE IS NOT A SHITHOLE FOR THOSE BASTARDS AT TIME WARNER AND VIACOM AND THOSE OTHER BASTARDS AND YES I MAY BE ELITIST BUT WHATS EVEN MORE SNOBBY IS REALEASING A BUNCH OF POPULAR HORSESHIT TO AN AUDIENCE THAT YOU HAVE NOTHING BUT CONTEMPT FOR!!!! So . . .

I'm sittin there at the barbecue joint, CMT on. First Shania Twain. Does anybody but Shania enjoy watchin' this? Does she go home at night and think about how great she looks, and how much she loves herself? Its just her flirting with the camera the entire time. Are the men in the target audience that entranced with her? It was utter indulgence in the most boring format imaginable, and the song was so trite, I will give thanks tonight that I will not be able to remember a word of it. OK . . . now on to the kicker. "Big and Rich" is the group. Have you heard about these clowns? Tell me that you're not insulated that much (I am, until today) because its like driving by a cultural train wreck and not being able to take your eyes away, and being embarassed that you too are aware that this type of thing exists. Anyway, the whole video is them riding in a convertible in a parade followed by a band of nasty dancin' rockette-like-automatons, some other general hardbodies (all women), and a midget. (Now at this point any good cultural observers recalls the numerous references to "American culture as carnival.") Now these two guys (I couldn't rightly discern who was "Big" and who was "Rich") were cruisin' along in this caddy in gangsta attire, I'm talking fur coats and sunglasses, and they are rappin'. I repeat, THEY ARE RAPPIN'. (Now at this point any good cultural observer pulls out the voice activated recorder and, so as not to be overheard by the pork eating clientelle, whispers, "Note to self, check into studies regarding schizophrenia and CMT viewership). I'm serious here. I know the collision was bound to happen, what with thousands of rednecks with nothing but country and rap stations programmed into their audio dial. It makes me recall a guy I framed houses with named Rodney and how Rodney (real name by the way, or else the story would lack something at its core) who hated black people, once asked me, "Say Joe, how come you don't like nigger music?" Only now do I realize what my answer should have been. "Well Rodney, that is your name, right? Rodney? What with a varitable panacea of slapped bitches and asses with caps popped in them, what's not to like?" Which brings us back to the video. At the end of the song, the guy in the back seat has a woman sitting by him. Only its not a woman, its a mannequin (or perhaps a woman made up to look like a mannequin, which would highten the sickness that much more) and he's slamming her head into the back of the seat repeatedly while talking (or rebelrappin' as it were) about what a stud he is. Now folks, I've been down the road and back a couple times, and as you know, it's pretty hard for me to find something to get offended at, but this cut me to the bone. I was almost sick when I got up. I mean, how did we reach this point? Has the violence and loneliness of the fatherless innercity now crept to the country as well? Does country music lack the fitting metaphors that used to carry it down the road with the good hearted outlaws of yesteryear? Think about Ice T versus Johhny Cash for a moment, or Snoop Dogg versus Doc Watson. Not their music per se but the guiding symbolism of their worldview. On one hand, "Damn it feels good to be a gangsta," or "I have to say it was a good day, I didn't even have to use my AK." Compare to "Jailer, oh jailer, jailer I can't sleep, All around my cell, I hear the patter of Delia's feet" or "You can take down my ole violin and play it all you please, cause this time tommorow, I'll be hanging on a white oak tree" Perhaps I'm implying a heirarchy of distinction, but that's not my point. I just wonder what happened to the idea of consequences in country music, to all the "I've lived hard and now I'm payin' for it" songs? Now we seem to hear, "The first thirty years were crazy, but now I've settled down and the next thirty are gonna be fine because now I have a second mortgage, a couple kids, and a borrowed sense of morality that involves thankin' the good lord from time to time for the good things he give us, like an F350 quad cab." Maybe the seeming schizophrenia of "young country" culture seems so complete and frightening because it has happened to a people who once seemed the paragon of quiet depth or what was commonly referred to as "having roots." Perhaps I'm falling prey to a culturally received notion of what I want to conceive of as a simpler place and time, where moral judgements and traditional values were themselves received from somewhere else and played out for better or worse in a community against which many individuals felt compelled to define themselves. At least, though, some searching and defining and discovery occured. Tell me that those things happened once, somewhere. Now America seems a mass cycle of reproduction without design, culture without precedent, and like women with big boobs and blank stares, it insulates but never recognizes.

I say this without a hint of irony . . . I am looking forward to returning home.

UPDATE: Just got an email from this email's writer. I was a little leery of opening it at first, in anticipation of getting in trouble for quoting it (longtime readers will know I've received hate mail for lesser offenses). But, thankfully, he was pretty cool. All he asked was that I mention his name (Joe Gunby), that I say that you should feel free to email him w/ comments you have about it (joegunby@yahoo.com). Have at it.