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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, April 12, 2013

URBAN COUNTRY

"Racism still exists and has continue to effect a large population of the country. White privilege and advantages in society are very real."

It was the theme song to the TV show Justified that got me thinking about something.  Justified is set in rural Kentucky, in Harlan county.  Its a very country show with poor white folks, hill folk, southern blacks, and its as authentic as sweet tea and pulled pork.
The writers at Justified do a good job at showing southerners not as stereotypes or worthless hicks, but as complex, interesting characters in their own right.  Harlan County is a poor place that has lost most of its main industry (coal mining) and is wracked with meth and troubles, but the people there are making their way through life the best way they can.
But the theme song is not some hills music, no country or bluegrass like you'd expect.  No, the producers went with a song by the New York City group Gangstergrass and it tries to combine urban hip hop with bluegrass themes.  Called "Long Hard Times to Come," it has a good feel for the themes of hill music, but it is basically urban, featuring rapper T.O.N.E-z.
Now, from a commercial point of view, I guess I can sort of understand the thinking behind this.  If they put some Stanley brothers or Bill Monroe on the title track, people might get too much of a Hee Haw vibe and think its just too corn pone for them.  The problem is its jarringly out of place for the show in my opinion and feels wrong every time I hear it.
I hadn't really put much thought into why, so the feeling sat in the back of my soul for a while until something else came up. Recently country pop singer Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool-J combined for a song about racism and the south called "Accidental Racist" which is getting a lot of attention lately.  There have for a while been attempts to combine rap and urban hip hop and usually its pretty comical or odd.  This song didn't succeed at any level for me, but I suppose some might like it.  "Accidental Racist" didn't try to make an urban country song, its just standard Brad Paisley pop country stuff, but it brought the concept to the forefront of my mind.
The problem I have is explained very well in the names for the two types of music: urban and country.  Urban is city, the music of the inner city and heavy population centers, the soundtrack for taxis, tall buildings, subways, and city streets.  The songs deal with the topics of the city like theft, poverty, dangers of gangs, trying to make your way through a heartless concrete jungle, and so on.
Country is the wilds, the rural areas.  Country is the music for fields and forests and mountain shacks, the cowboy, the picker, the hunter, and the fisherman.  These songs deal with dirt roads and porch swings, cookouts, beer, and railroads.  They cover broken hearts and patriotism and fears of the future as the world changes while loving the past.
Urban and Country don't mix.  Its not that you can't make some interesting, odd stuff with a crossover, like Classical and Heavy Metal for example. Its just that people feel this compulsion to jam "urban" into every single setting in culture and politics.  The presumption in the United States is that urban is superior and should be everywhere, dominate all culture, and dictate behavior and morality in all parts of the nation.  This isn't a stated or even deliberate effort, in my opinion, rather people simply presume it and live their lives that way in terms of policy, entertainment, and education.
In a way, "Accidental Racist" hit a good tone by trying to establish that southern boys aren't horrid bigots living to lynch another black guy but guys with a past and a history they appreciate even if they don't quite always realize how it comes across to others.
To a small town kid from Arkansas, the confederate flag is just a symbol of southern pride and solidarity with his past.  To a kid from Compton, its a symbol of racism and lynchings.  Paisley's song tries to reach across that divide and make sense of both sides.
The problem is, Paisley's effort is doomed to failure, because the entire culture he's working in is totally against him and his southern persona.  It isn't just assumed, it is absolute certainty to these people that the confederate flag is a racist icon of horrible evil.  Anyone who disagrees isn't mistaken or just another viewpoint (a consideration they would apply to anyone outside America), but an evil force of horrific evil one torch away from a burning cross.
And that's what bothers me with the "urban country" thing.  Its standard in our culture for hip hop and urban themes to be celebrated, from baggy pants to ho's and bitches in the lyrics.  It doesn't matter how awful, racist, violent, and offensive the music is, that's just a voice of the inner city frustration and anger - well deserved, they argue - against white privilege.
But white people who love their whiteness and heritage are condemned as inbred cretinous hicks.  Country music is reviled, it wasn't even counted by record stores for sales until a change to using the UPC scanner forced them to.  Country music is stupid, lame, weird, and wrong.  Whiteness is something to be ashamed of.  White culture needs to change, give up its identity.
That just strikes me as insane.  Mexicans are encouraged to keep their ethnic identity.  Asians are told the same.  Blacks are celebrated for wearing African colors and items even though they haven't been to Africa for 8 generations.  But white people must not celebrate their culture because its so lame, at best, and so evil and horrid to many cultural conductors.
In fact, if someone brings up white pride, they're instantly identified as a white supremacist, a racist monster eager to murder or ship all non-whites off the country.  The image of white pride is associated with survivalist freaks with swastika tattoos and a shrine to Hitler in their garage.  No comment here on how black supremacism is at worst ignored by the press.
But being happy about your heritage, liking things in your life, and not being ashamed at your ethnic background isn't racist.  Its just being who you are without needing to conform to a pattern dictated by pointy headed academics and race hustlers.  Its just as ok for a white guy to be glad and proud he's white as a Vietnamese to be that way about his heritage.  Its as fine for me to like Hillbilly music and cowboys as it is for a Mexican to like bullfights and Mariachi music.  What's wrong is condemning one while embracing the other based not on behavior or logic but a political system.

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