Posted on April 5, 2024

The Kitsch of ‘Cowboy Carter’

Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, April 5, 2024

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As a millennial, I am reminded of a Simpsons reference when almost any situation develops. The investment elite media and some political figures have in the country music career of black singer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is an example.

In one Simpsons episode, the fictional cartoon show within the series, Itchy & Scratchy, has been bought by a competitor of the Simpson kids’ favorite television host. The new host plays a cartoon from “Eastern Europe’s most famous cat and mouse team, ‘Worker and Parasite.’” What follows is a nonsensical compilation of propaganda images and fervent slogans declared in a foreign language. “What the hell was that?” asks the befuddled host.

The joke is that this was an exaggerated version of the Soviet propaganda films Americans used to laugh at, with overwrought speeches and crude ideological messages delivered with the subtlety of a Stalinist purge. The joke isn’t so funny now, when Americans dutifully sit through DEI training videos at school, at work, and even at home, and when belief in egalitarianism is a legal requirement to hold a job.

While leftists used to complain about militaristic, patriotic displays at football games, the Super Bowl now is a celebration of black “ethnonarcissism.” Remakes of movies and television programs are filled with artificial diversity, where even a historical character might be played by a performer of a different race. The results are sometimes unintentionally funny, such as when a black actress was cast as Juliet in a recent production of Shakespeare’s play, causing thousands to mock the casting.

GamerGate” — a reaction by male gamers a decade ago to leftist themes in video games — was arguably the trigger event of the culture wars of the Trump era. It focused on attempts by professional scolds, journalists, and censors to impose their will on video games. GamerGate was only partly successful, however, as major companies and publishers dutifully made professions of faith to diversity.

The battle continues, however, with “GamerGate 2,” a new campaign directed against “woke” companies trying to put their ideology into games and also against various groups (including at least one funded by the Department of Homeland Security) demanding more censorship.

Underlying all of this is endless talk about “media literacy,” with journalists, professional critics, and artists themselves often fighting with fans about the “correct” way to interpret art. While radicals in the past championed “The Death of the Author” to undermine the Western canon, today some complain that viewers and readers are making “unapproved” interpretations of popular media. It is akin to the way free speech was a core leftist cause in the 1960s, while today it is a major target at universities.

Similarly, when a cultural figure who is not in total alignment with political orthodoxy meets some success, he is suddenly “controversial,” regardless of his popularity. Media coverage in such cases often consists of implied demands for censorship, which often works. (Sam Hyde losing his show on Adult Swim following a BuzzFeed article is a classic example.) Internet censorship has also dramatically lessened the likelihood of original success stories: Since free speech is no longer a cultural norm, tech companies must decide whether to provide a platform for any given figure. It is doubtful that many of the apolitical social media stars of the early internet could find success in today’s climate.

The counterpart to censorship is a kind of “Official Culture” communicated to us through leading media institutions and occasionally directly from government. In these cases, media outlets essentially serve as a product’s marketing department. These cultural products have the blessing of the system, and not liking them is close to a political crime. The late Andrew Breitbart was wrong about politics being downstream from culture. Culture is in fact downstream from power.

I’ve already mentioned the latest example: Beyoncé’s new country music album. Why there needs to be such an album, who asked for it, and why anyone should care are unanswerable questions. It’s a kind of parody of concerns about “cultural appropriation,” with the 42-year-old singer sporting straight blonde locks.

Nonetheless, the reaction from media is something close to rapture.

What is remarkable is that most commentators are talking about it like it is a kind of revenge on white America, a racial victory. The New York Post quotes Beyoncé saying she did “not feel welcome” by the country music industry in 2016 after a performance at the Country Music Awards. According to the Post, that performance resulted in a “backlash on social media that was drenched in racial overtones.”

Beyoncé herself considers her new album a political statement. In an Instagram post, she said: “This album has been over five years in the making. It was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed…and it was very clear that I wasn’t.” She is thankful for being the first black woman to hit number one on the country music charts, though oddly enough, she concludes that “this ain’t a country album,” but a “Beyoncé album.” If so, why should country music fans care?

Such doublethink characterizes most of the media coverage of the album. Stories say that blacks heavily influenced country music (if they didn’t invent it altogether), but also imply that the album is a hostile takeover of the genre and therefore a kind of cultural triumph.

Salon says:

[C]ountry music gatekeepers were deadset on excluding the musician from the genre that traditionally features predominantly white artists — mostly because of an electric performance of her country track, “Daddy Lessons” performed with the Chicks during that year’s CMA Awards.

No matter how strong the performance or the undeniable influence of Black people on country music, Beyoncé was met with a harsh and racist backlash. The response was so toxic that the CMAs scrubbed the performance from all its platforms. Conservatives spewed similar racist sentiments during the singer’s 2016 Superbowl half-time show performance, labeling Beyoncé and the performance as “un-American.”

It concludes that in response, she has made an album that is “expansive and almost eternal,” which is for “her ancestors, her lineage, and all the invisible black Southerners who have shaped the fabric of American culture, society, and institutions.” A Southern white man would never be so honored for writing a song about his own ancestors.

“Superstar Beyonce called out country music. That’s huge” says columnist Andrea Williams in the Austin American-Statesman. “Like other spaces that cultivate cultures of exclusion, country music thrives in silence,” she writes. “Where there is no accountability, the status quo persists.”

Miss Williams quotes country singer Travis Tritt, who had tweeted that country could stand on its own without pop and asked when “BET or Soul Train awards are gonna ask a country artist to perform on their show.” Miss Williams says that “pointed” question, the larger response, and country music’s history show the industry “still has considerable work to do in its efforts to be truly inclusive.”

The Telegraph says the album shows “the black roots of country,” promotes “black pride and confronting systemic racism,” and pushes the genre toward “mind-boggling Afrocentrism.”

The Associated Press says the artist “reinforces her dedication to Black reclamation” and “stands in opposition to stereotypical associations of the genre with whiteness.”

One expects there will be a controversy if country music radio doesn’t play her songs enough. The Washington Post, citing a professor who studies country music and country radio, said: “I want to preface this with: The data really won’t be easy to digest. It’s not a pretty picture, right now, of representation.”

Who, precisely, finds white-dominated country radio “not a pretty picture?” It is no more surprising to find country radio dominated by whites than finding that Spanish-language radio is mostly Hispanics and rap is mostly blacks. However, a predominantly white genre is always a target. Will there be affirmative action quotas for Beyoncé and other blacks in country music?

The silliest thing about all of this is the implication that Beyoncé has overcome some massive obstacle. Rolling Stone says she “defines” country, citing the lyric: “Used to say I spoke ‘Too country’/And the rejection came, said I wasn’t country ‘nough/Said I wouldn’t saddle up/But if that ain’t country, tell me what is?”

One is tempted to reply with David Allan Coe’s “If That Ain’t Country,” which chronicles struggles considerably more severe than people being mean on Twitter. In contrast, Beyoncé can enjoy the support of Vice President Kamala Harris for her marketing efforts:

Michelle Obama even ties this to the election:

Does anyone else find this pitiable? Beyoncé is one of the most famous singers in the world. This delicate treatment from media and political leaders to prop up her country album seems like adults praising a small child’s drawing and promising to hang it on the refrigerator to make him feel special. The implication that country music is a problem that must be solved with more blacks (who supposedly invented everything anyway) is also typical of political discussion about culture. “Blackness” is apparently so powerful that it is the driving force behind all American culture, but it is also so delicate that academics and journalists must make sure it gets enough “representation” in everything, and media outlets and political leaders must market it and carefully protect it. The entire thing seems artificial and weak.

If country, especially outlaw country, is about defying the system, Beyoncé’s album is the system. It is just another by-the-numbers diversity set piece, with themes that anyone could have predicted in advance and an almost bureaucratic and programmed political response. It is part of America’s Official Culture, pushing the political orthodoxy of diversity and the usual doublethink regarding black pride and contempt toward implicit white identity. With her fake hair and playing pretend with cowboy hats, Beyoncé’s efforts aren’t just “cultural appropriation”; they are pure kitsch, an unironic parody more laughable than white people dressing up like Indians for Halloween.

Like her attempt to turn the heartbreaking song “Jolene” into another girlboss anthem, even as fans discuss her husband’s alleged real-life betrayals of her, the whole thing seems sad and desperate. Just give Beyoncé some awards and be done with it. Media outlets and the vice president may applaud such a minstrel show, but let us not kid ourselves that this is real country music or real art. Many once viewed blacks as a kind of “underground” of American culture, a source of authenticity in contrast to the allegedly corporate and stale popular white American culture. Today, blacks are just the system’s mascots, and they seem quite content to serve as such.