Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Back the fuck off and leave Toby Keith alone...

This morning I've been texting back and forth with Kearney, whose job is apparently more boring than usual today or maybe he is just feeling chatty. Inbetween laughing at jerry falwell's fortune being squandered by him before he left this world to reap his eternal reward and feeling slightly gross for finding ourselves kind of totally loving Paris Hilton, we found time to comment on the election. He comments on the latest polls, saying it is going to be an uphill battle. I say duh, all the boomers are about to face the deep down racism that they like to believe they don't have when they find themselves choosing between a pathetic candidate and a black candidate.

Why in the hell am I sharing my boring text conversation with you? Because it is a funny backdrop for the rant that is about to follow. I think plenty of people are way more racist than they would like to believe. I think there is sub-conscious racism scattered all throughout this campaign and people are uncomfortable having to confront it. Nobody (except perhaps my father who read mccain's book 8 years ago and has refrained from updating his opinion of him since) actually wants to vote for john mccain. In Alabama this last weekend, my crazily conservative uncle confided that he and his internet political buddies all feel like they will have to hold their noses to vote for him. To say that the republican base is the opposite of energized is an understatement. So why will this be an uphill battle? Because the energizing rock star candidate is a black man and this makes an awful lot of Americans seriously uncomfortable. I'll happily argue that in general, America is more progressive about racial issues than almost anywhere on the planet. That said, I'm more saying that most people on the planet are more bigoted than they'd like to admit than that we are all roses and sunshine. We've got our racial issues in spades, and we are being confronted with that in an unignorable way now.

But, as the title suggest, despite having wanting to chew on these issues in text for a while now, it isn't what I've sat down to tangle with today. Or maybe that is exactly what I'm sitting down to talk about. Let's dive right in...

I followed a link to an article on Huffington Post, and in the side bar I saw a link to another Huffpo piece: max blumenthal griping about Toby Keith saying some black people might say that Obama acts white. Seems mr. blumenthal already had his panties in a wad over Toby Keith's song/upcoming movie "Beer For My Horses". Why, after reflecting that this election, despite having the strongest Democratic candidate in many years, is going to be a hard one to win because that candidate happens to be black, am I going to slam someone else for crying "RACISM!!!!"? Because he is being an idiotic dumb ass.

I thought I had written a similar diatribe in the past, but looking back through my archive, I can't find it, so here goes nothing. mr. blumenthal is the unfortunate victim of built up vitriol over people ignorantly stereotyping Toby Keith. So sure, he is the human equivalent of a bright yellow, double-axle, extended cab, monster truck, but he isn't the right wing moron that some people assume he is. Yes, he wrote that 'boot-in-the-ass' song that was played every three minutes for the year following 9/11. He wrote that song originally just for an audience of enlisted men heading off to Afghanistan, but it was catchy and it made it on his album and on the radio and won the hearts of right wing chickenhawk douchetards from sea to shining sea. And it became an anthem for blood thirsty furor that bush and friends rode us off to Iraq on. So I understand getting tired of that song, of the radios playing it all the time, of the assholes it ended up bolstering. Because it went from being a song for the troops to a song for people who wanted the excitement of war without any sacrifice, but it wasn't Mr. Keith who took it there.

He supported the assault in Afghanistan, but not the invasion of Iraq. He's not perfect but when you listen to him discuss things, he doesn't come across as an ignorant idiot. Country and a little crude at time, but then again, so am I, and I still get the feeling that he thinks about things before he comments and isn't just pushing anyone else's talking points or echoing whatever ignorant things some other doofus comes up with.

So having thought this for a long while as I watch lazy blogger after lazy blogger rant about how right wing Toby Keith is over the last few years, today I stumble across max b. screaming bloody murder over him saying that some black people might comment that Barack Obama is able to be in the position he is in because he acts white. Why in the hell is that a controversial statement? Plenty of black people do complain that he acts white. And he is a viable national candidate because he comes across, if not white, at least somewhat racially neutral. Ignoring all this doesn't mean you aren't racist, it means you aren't willing to look clearly in the face of racial issues. That people would rather not have to deal with racial issues doesn't make them go away, doesn't mean they aren't there. Which is exactly the point Toby Keith makes in that radio segment that got blumenthal all itchy:

GLENN: Today, the house hasn't been working on you know like finding energy or oil or anything else. Yesterday they decided and debated and finally passed a resolution to apologize for slavery.

TOBY: You know what? It's if it's never been done before, then I think everybody apologizes for that.

GLENN: I mean, why, but isn't that common sense?

TOBY: Yeah, it is.

GLENN: I don't know a single soul that is, like, oh, slavery. If we just had a few slaves. I don't know anybody that's like that.

TOBY: Yeah.

GLENN: And anybody who would be like that, we can, you know, take care of them by just saying, hey, talk a little louder because you're a freak.

TOBY: Well, we definitely need to move past it, because it's something that I see that never changes. It racial issues just never ever seem to change. We can't get past them. And so I really don't know what the answer is.

GLENN: Wait a minute. Hang on a second. Haven't we gotten past it. Isn't Barack Obama possibly the next president of the United States and you don't see people, you know, saying, oh, he's black. I don't know any of those people. I'm sure they exist, but I don't know those people. Don't you think that shows that, I mean, look at the great distance we've come in just the last 20 years.

TOBY: Okay, but, also, I think that the black people would say, he don't talk, act, or care railway himself as a black person.

GLENN: What does that even mean?

TOBY: I don't know what that means, I'm saying that's what I think that they would say. Even though the the black society would pull for him, I still think that they think in the back of their mind that the only reason that he is in is because he talks, acts and carries himself as a Caucasian, but I think he's got a I think him and McCain are the two best choices, in my opinion, that we've had in years.

Saying that we need to move past racial issues is not the same thing as trying to ignore them or pretend that they are all solved. They aren't and kudos to Mr. Keith for refusing to play along with beck's attempt to brush them under the rug.

"Nobody likes slavery and a black man can run for high public office. See? We aren't racist anymore." This is the kind of dumbassed rose colored shit that gets useful public debate about race stuck in the muck. It is the silencing of discussion of it that helps keep it alive and kicking more than people who aren't delicate about how they talk about it. This goes hand in hand with what max blumenthal is doing here: reducing racism to a list of verboten subjects that make you racist if you don't approach them in the approved way so if you avoid those, then you aren't racist. "You sing about lynching, so it is obviously about lynching black people, you racist!" Is lynching a loaded subject in America? Hell fucking yes! Last year when a friend who works for a music label was talking to me about them considering trying to bring a song across the pond from England that was basically a fuck-em-all drinking song referencing all manner of omnipresent pop cultural/political crap then suggesting to "string 'em up", I pointed out that the song might not translate so well over here because of the unavoidable racial connotations.

I don't mind people saying that "Beer For My Horses" should raise some eyebrows or trying to discuss what nerves it hits. Discuss it, argue about it, but don't try and use it as an excuse to whack a singer over the head with a blunt object for having a song about it. Our country has long celebrated vigilante justice and half of our movies are about those who slip between the fingers of the law getting their just desserts in the end from someone who steps outside the restrictions that the law puts on our police and judicial system. Right now the biggest blockbuster of all times is selling out across the country with exactly that story, so don't get all high and mighty about someone singing the same damn thing in a song.

It is funny and in ways thereputic for me to be writing this now. When I first heard the song(it has been out for a long time now), I cringed. Exactly because lynching has racial connotations in American, particularly in the South. And a little bit because I didn't think it is really one of his best songs and I'd rather hear Willie Nelson duet with him on a better song. I don't like mythologizing the good-old-days and have no illusions about how people's bigotries find ways to seep out between the words that they say. God knows I've written about it before. But also listening to the song, I found that the racial baggage that I found there was what I brought with me, and came away feeling that if we wanted to place his song about stringing people up in its appropriate context that it comes from our treasured American Wild West cowboy mythology. How ever much it may conjure up our wounds from racially driven lynchings I don't think that is the intent behind it, so it is irritating to see the suggestion that Toby Keith is a racist for singing this song beaten into the ground. I'll argue that such revenge fantasies have been particularly appealing to certain breed of whiney-ass-titty-baby types whose perpetual fear of discomfort keep rush limbaugh and sean hannity and bill o'reilly in business and that stoking these flames was useful for bush et al, but don't try to act like this one is particularly potent or dangerous.

max's whining was particularly irritating because of his dumb swipes at Toby's musical prowess and real country cred. I'll be the first to gripe that much of 'Today's Hottest Country' is vapid as shit and worthless, but Toby Keith? He is easily one of the best song writers in Nashville and has one of the most powerful and beautiful voices of any male country artist alive. Sure, he most often pumps out fun honkey tonk anthems with catchy hooks, but even these songs are usually beautifully written. The argument that he isn't country is just stupid and gratutitous. And the "At his best, Keith is Merle Haggard with a lobotomy," comment... do a detect a little side swipe at Mr. Haggard? You better step back! Swing around your country music realness with with your hyperlinks for some country icons and alt-country darlings and have a shout out for your friend if it makes you feel more legit, but don't try to slam the man who penned and sang "I Should Have Been a Cowboy" and "A Little Less Talk and Alot More Action" as not country and think you don't come across as a country music tourist at best. Some of his songs are dumb and annoying, but the man's plenty fucking talented and 'country'.

Anyway, can we discuss touchy subjects like race openly with eyes wide open and not either try to declare it all fixed and hunky-dory or squeal like a stuck pig anytime anyone does anything which reminds us that we've got racial baggage in this country? Please?


Anonymous said...

fkzhdclbA couple of things:

1. Spelling "a lot" "Alot" is definitely country.

2. Elizabeth Hasselback blows.

3. What the hell is that song about anyways?

d.e.g. said...

what does elizabeth hasselback have to do with anything?