Monday, May 21, 2007

Rosenbaum Gets Twangy, LA Times Gets Testy

The simultaneous end of the tax season and the spring semester leaves me with a lot of free time on my hands. And a 21st-century office drone with free time and internet access finds himself reading a lot. I came across an especially interesting crop of articles today that I want to talk about:

  • First up, two of my favorite love-hate objects: Ron Rosenbaum and country music. Rosenbaum outs himself as a fellow mainstream country fan and ponders the recent spate of songs about cancer. He ponders whether or not these songs are honest expressions of emotion or manipulative sentimentality. This is an interesting question for country music which, at its best, can be the most honest and direct form of popular music and, at its worst, can be the most glossy and superficial. This does not come down to some juvenile issue of "authenticity" as defined by music critics and indie record store workers. Country music, more than other pop genres, excells at fictional storytelling, so defining the difference between the emotionally powerful and manipulative can be blurry. The best part of this article, though, is country music being written about seriously in Slate. In the Mobius strip cultural existence that we now inhabit, mainstream country is so uncool among hipster intellectuals that it has almost become cool to declare your allegiance (Stanley Fish came out a few months ago in "Guilty Pleasures of Famous Intellectuals" article in the Sunday Times).

  • Which leads us to our next article, on "white trash" and its history and current reappropriations. As someone whose past few Sunday dinners with the family have been devoted to discussing the fallout of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s departure from DEI, I feel qualified to discuss this. Is "white trash" an offensive term? Wray has a typical academic's lack of a sense of humor is his implication that using the term "white trash" in a joking way somehow implicitly endorses early-20th century eugenic practices. The term, when used among poor whites, is used to demarcate between those poor whites that have respect for themselves and those that do not. A poor white may not have much class or taste, but they maintain a certain level of dignity that those marked "white trash" do not. Is is similar to Chris Rock's famous routine. I won't pull a Michael Scott on you here, but you know which one I am referring to. The troubling thing is how "white trash" is so widely accepted and used by all groups but that other word is strictly off-limits to all but a certain group.

  • Finally a pair of hilariously stuffy and off-base articles from yesterday's LA Times: 1 2. Nothing much to say, they are just pretty damn funny in their grumpy old man-ness. Shickel's article takes one classic approach to the grumpy old man op-ed, taking the worst examples of a new a confusing media form and arguing that it will destroy all that has come before it. Never mind that 100 years of technology rapildy changing our culture have taught us that the emergence of new forms of communication do not destroy old ones but merely take their place alongside them. The pefectly named Darlymple takes an even more idiotic and offensive tack, assuming that consumers of mass culture are mindless automotons that lack the ability process any of the information or entertainment they take in. They believe everyone has the same aversion to irony they do.

Programming note: I have not abandoned the Shakespeare film series and it will return sometime this week just as soon as the copy of Welles' Macbeth I ordered comes in. The combination of the end of school and Welles' Shakespeare films being harder to find than Keyser Soze have put us a little behind the schedule.

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