After a bit of a hiatus, I’m back. Temporarily, anyway. It’s been all work and responsibility here in the Turnbull house. I feel a bit like the mounds of ice at the end of my driveway, frozen up and rounded over by icy winds. Certain people might call me hard-bitten, but like the ice, you have to just tap at my exterior a bit and the warmth will flood out.

And on that not-so-subtle note, might I bring the discussion around to sex.

I saw this video the other day on CMT:

Jeez. God. There are too many things going on here. One could write a book on this video. But I’ll just deal with a few of the important issues.

I was tempted to call this post “When Country Became Rap”, because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more obvious attempt to channel rap culture in a country video. The potentially interesting narrative suggestion of mobsters protecting their prohibition-esque stash en route to a party turns out to be, well, asshole dudes with a lot of cash protecting their beer en route to a party. As such, the markers of rap culture are presented to us viewers with the veil of country slapped over in a few key lyric lines (“Rock this quiet little country town/Get up, drop a tailgate on ya truck/Find a keg and fill yer cup up”), but otherwise, we have gyrating women in little-to-no clothing, bling out the wazoo, and full bodyguard protection in addition to some form of (automatic? semiautomatic? I don’t know) rifles. Rap dialect abounds unapologetically (“Pull into the party like y’all wassup ... Pretty little mama lookin’ at ya like that/Make ya wanna slide on in like ‘Girl, what’s up’ ”) in the context of a drunken bash, ending with the weak-chinned sheriff being shot by the protagonist. In case there was any question as to Brantley Gilbert’s adoption of a rap persona, the gunshots are capped off with his menacing trademark.

But I’m not so concerned with the appropriation of rap symbolism in this video. It doesn’t matter. Country has been absorbing pop music influences since time began.

Let’s turn now to a song currently on the pop charts, which I saw just after the Gilbert video:

Jeez. God.

Actually, I like this video way better.

It’s a total piece of crap song. The horn riff is annoying, the content is unimaginative, and the lyrics are so absurd, they border hilarious, but don’t quite make it. (“Dos Cadenas, closed the genius/Sold out arenas, you can suck my penis ... Every picture I take, I pose a threat/Boat or jet, what do you expect?/Her pussy so good I bought her a pet”) However, the video is arguably better: the dancing is awesome, and Derulo makes no bones about what he’s doing. He’s boasting about his conquests and requesting more. He wants to get laid, and he wants that prefaced by girls who scored an A+ in nasty vocabulary class talking to him. This is in contrast to Gilbert’s less obvious advertising for a good time; he offers himself up as the purveyor of illegal substances and rockin’ good tunes, but his ultimate goal is the same.

Here’s the real problem: men are lost.

My friend was over last week and we got drunk on a bunch of beer and talked about why we don’t need men for anything – and why our men are so happy when they seem to have a lot of control over their own lives. I’m not anti-man, believe me. We were just noting that the available roles for men to serve seem to be dwindling. I still can’t change my guitar strings, but I can pretty much do anything else – deal with the furnace, assemble a piece of furniture, check the oil in my nonexistent car. I have a career and I’m financially independent, and I could probably go have a kid on my own if I was nuts enough. Where does a guy fit into all of this?

This ain’t news to anyone, but what this realization is doing to men is forcing them into a display of hyper-masculinity, as revealed in these pop culture gems. The thinking goes that maybe a woman can clean up the cat poop, do the laundry, do everyone’s taxes, and lead a boardroom of executives all in heels and a powersuit while her dopey partner stays at home playing video games and watching porn all day, but that same woman still craves a man who’s going to throw her down and give it to her hard, a la Derulo and Gilbert, rendering her finally somewhat powerless.

Add to that the titillating power of a man with money, who can furnish his conquest with gifts and goodies, perhaps turning her daily struggle to gain career respect and credibility into a sweet hobby wherein she runs a bookstore or publishing house for fun, and the conquest is complete. So basically, in the new world of sex and romance, dirty talk, a big dick, and some cash are all men need to still claim their manliness.

What this is doing is fucking us all up. Check out the dude in the last Dan Savage entry this week, who just can’t reconcile his desire for kinky sex with the obligation he feels to date a nice girl (who will inevitably only offer vanilla sex). Bam. We’re back to the same problem of women serving only one of two possible roles for men, who are now reduced to cash-carrying sex objects, and where the hell did interesting relationships go?? As far as I’m concerned, the man who really gets me going is the one who is genuinely excited to see me every time we run into each other. He’s the one who has real conversations with me, actually takes an interest in me instead of only sucking up all the attention I have for him. And after all the real talk of common interests and shared commiseration and celebration of each other’s successes, he’s the guy I go home and fantasize about. That’s a real relationship. There’s nothing easy or straightforward about it. And there certainly is no proscribed male or female behaviour dictating its progression.

I don’t know, man. I just don’t get it. But I find Gilbert’s tattoos and earrings, truly, a thing of wonder.

 

Views: 922

Comment by Jack on February 27, 2014 at 9:23pm

Well, this sure puts a new spin on your previous piece, Everything I Know (About Music), I Learned From Old Men.  Ed?  Will?

It's not just  (young) men that are purveying this crap. Does Miley Cyrus really think she's hot, bad haircut, coated tongue and all, and that her stage antics are truly appealing?  What was Beyonce thinking with her latest video?  Focus groups, marketing and dollars, same as the two guys who made the videos you discussed.  Somebody spent a fair amount of money on both videos.  Brantley Gilbert can't sing, Jason Derulo kinda can.  Listen to either song without the video and there's absolutely nothing to tug you in.  Gilbert's video without the music is a cliche ridden B shorty (with product placement for Beats headphones) and Derulo's has been done a thousand times, you could set a thousand songs to it and it wouldn't matter. I don't know that I'd draw wider conclusions than that from these two forgettable songs/videos, they use the usual images to spice up songs that can't stand on their own, nothing new there.

Comment by RP N10 on February 28, 2014 at 3:18am

Maybe it's an age thing or maybe not but many of the characteristics you attribute to "rap" attitudes were found in pop music, rock music, various degrees of metal (all predominantly white) before rap emerged from the Jamaican dance halls into urban US.  While you have your bucket of tar in one hand and your sack of feathers in the other, one particularly deserving candidate for recognition in  the promotion of the objectification of women is the right wing tabloid print media (take a bow Rupert Murdoch) whose insidious normalisation of these attitudes has had a far more pernicious impact on the world than a box set of music videos.  Plus however many stupid Hollywood films aimed at the thicker teens.

And then there's the old once a woman can do all the things a man can do including running a human stud for breeding purposes what is the point in men's existence chestnut.   Or as the idea of men helping around the home was once described to me by an older female relative: "if the men do the women's things, what will the women do?" - Answer to both - "whatever the people involved in any given relationship choose to - to the extent that their real choices aren't constricted by the necessity to survive".  For sure there are pressures on men but so there are pressures on women to be this - to be that but in increasingly judgmental societies where everyone feels empowered to comment whether it's their business or not, that's a fact of modern life.  Men aren't lost any more than women are in charge.  Meanwhile from what I've come across in life, there is almost no limit to the differing types of relationships that people want or choose; most of them baffling.

The great thing about music (and writing and performance) is it can recognise and celebrate the diversity; without getting caught up in imposing norms whose principal purpose is about power and control.

 

Comment by Gillian Turnbull on February 28, 2014 at 7:02am

Wow, all good things to think about. Thanks.

Yes, that's exactly my point - why are these norms being imposed on us now, when gender roles, especially in the context of intimate relationships, are totally up in the air? When nobody knows what they're doing? Granted, these two are the products of the mainstream culture industry, but 133 million views doesn't mean nothing. Relationships are indeed messy, like I was saying, all you can do is try to find a friend who understands you and that you're attracted to. So is the assumption by creators of this kind of material that we want to revert to a much more simplistic view of men and women? It's just one manifestation of the current confusion, but it's one that draws a lot of attention (and presumably sales).

I don't know that I'd be tempted to racialize the qualities I attribute to rap here. I just thought the combination of them here is most obviously recognized as rap culture.

Indeed, they are both terrible songs, and the videos likely not produced with a whole lot of input from the performers themselves.

 

Comment by Jack on February 28, 2014 at 8:30am

Gillian, I'm not sure these norms are being imposed on us now, I'm not sure they are even norms (perhaps in some circles), but they are nothing new. Go back to the 70's and look at the album covers of Roxy Music or The Ohio Players, they are essentially simpler versions of images in those two videos.  What do you mean when you say "when gender roles...are totally up in the air"?  Economics more than music has been influencing those for decades, it's been a long while since the days of single income families and traditional roles, but totally up in the air?  I know several stay at home dads whose wives make a lot of money.  My wife has out earned me at times.  Our roles aren't up in the air.  Our finances sure are!

Comment by Gillian Turnbull on February 28, 2014 at 8:41am

I don't know what I mean. I'm not thinking coherently lately, which is partly why I haven't been posting. I probably should have waited longer.

Don't you think it's weird that there was forward momentum for so long in collapsing conventional notions of masculinity and femininity in pop culture, and last year it seemed to go backwards? All that talk of "what happened to women in country music", etc. I think that's what I mean.

Comment by Sue Rarick on February 28, 2014 at 9:08am

In the end both songs are about selling the song. Both performers have a target market and will write songs that pander to that audience. Even singer/songwriters know they have to write songs that match the agenda of their audience. When push comes to shove they are selling a product (themselves) and have to present a product people are willing to pay for.

Comment by Jack on February 28, 2014 at 9:14am

For sure, you sure hit the nail on the head dissecting both of those videos.  As for backsliding in the last year, I hadn't noticed that.  These videos are essentially caricatures, and those have been done for decades, so these don't strike me as anything new.  My two cents...

Comment by Jack on March 3, 2014 at 8:04am

Driving my ten year old son and some of his teammates home from soccer on Friday night, Talk Dirty was on the radio (they like the Top 40 stations), the boys were humming the horn solo in unison each time during the song.  My son said to me later that he liked the background music, not the singing (the lyrics mostly went over his head and I think the song was edited a bit for radio).  Four ten year old's agreed, "that's a cool song". And they liked Eminem and Rihanna's "The Monster".  Surprised to have enjoyed hearing it myself...

Comment by Rick Schoff on March 4, 2014 at 9:09am

I'm a 61-year-old American male and I'm a little sensitive about the "end of men" idea. Over the years, I've been more irked by the portrayal of the American male on TV, the helpless dufus of thousands of commercials and sitcoms. I have to think there will be consequences of the feedback loops created by this portrayal and  the sexualized trash (with violent overtones) that is used to seduce youth to part with their cash. I see it as a broader pattern in society. Movies, videos, games, and other industries are all going to converge in a market for virtual reality products. And some of it is going to get really ugly. The same themes of sex and violence have been in our cultural products for a long time, but they used to be sublimated, an old-fashioned term that's not used much anymore. The shortest routes to the money are the one pandering to the irrational impulses buried in pre-history. Marketers have it down to a science. It's funny how, the more they study and learn about the human brain, the more people realize how active the primitive instincts still are - and this is in the sections of the population where each day isn't still just a struggle to survive and feed your offspring. Kids used to walk to school, college kids used to hitchhike all over the place. Those things are unthinkable now. True progress isn't measured by technological advancement. Mental health, as we might call it, isn't a birthright. The things we learned years ago that were considered 'radical' ring more true as the decades click by. Growing competition for dwindling resources by an ever-increasing number of people only leads in one direction, more violence, not less. The term "resources" can include different things, depending on the cultural context; things such as pride of self, compassion, sense of justice. Are men, generally speaking, fighting for their survival now? Broaden the lens to include other cultures, to see how perilous the position of women is. It is a huge issue.

Comment by Gillian Turnbull on March 4, 2014 at 3:33pm

Thanks for your comments, everyone. Jack, I'm glad the lyrics sailed past your son for now; the riff is catchy (it came up in my religion class last week as a comparison to a Cheb Mami song I played). Also, your original 'old man' comment is funny. I hadn't noticed it first time around.

I'm reluctant to say that if something is made for profit, it doesn't matter and doesn't need further thought on our part, because if 133 million people are listening to/watching something, it does matter. It's shaping how we think, and is starting, as Rick so rightly puts it, a dangerous feedback loop. I see it already in my own generation - and this is the one I refer to as 'lost' (though I recognize that as generalizing, because there are many people, women AND men, my age, who are very thoughtful about these issues and shaping their interactions with each other in response to how our gender roles change). I don't personally believe in the 'end of men', I should clarify that our culture is shaping us to think that traditional male roles are disappearing and the knee-jerk response is to present us with a frightening hyper-masculinity.

Anyway, all great things to think about; thanks.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.