In the last few years the pursuit of irony by young rich kids has led them to guzzle Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and listen to bluegrass. It’s exceptionally annoying for someone like me who actually grew up in the South and understands the culture and where it came from and what it really means. But, for the hipsters, nothing means anything except whatever their group constructs it to mean. So, bluegrass is hip! No, it’s not. It’s music to fuck your sister by. It’s what’s playing when some guy is fucking a goat. It’s the soundtrack to a thousand lynchings, beatings, and burnings. The people who don’t understand that simply weren’t there. They don’t get it because they’ve never been shot at by a redneck, or been in a fight with bottles and baseball bats. They’ve never seen kids showing up for junior high football games with KKK scrawled on their football helmets. It’s emblematic of the myopic cluelessness of a generation who know nothing of our very recent racial and ethnic history. And, it is an interesting exercise in the naivete of constructionist approaches to culture—ignoring the history and weight of culture and simply navel gazing about what some kid thinks things mean.
It all started with the Grateful Dead, a band I always hated, because it was a bluegrass band….a bunch of rich kids from Northern California who liked to pluck around on strings. It took quite a while for a bunch of lazy white kids to figure out that the Dead were actually a bluegrass band, probably because they were tightening their headbands for an extra rush during Jerry’s guitar solo. Three decades later we have hipsters going to festivals worshiping Klan member bluegrass icons–and ignoring their politics and acting like it didn’t matter. Kind of funny that the inauthentic don’t grasp that what makes the old timey types authentic is that they are hard core hillbilly racists. I had a long argument with a hipster ethnomusicologist who has a popular hipster bluegrass band about this. And, it was instructive that he evoked the silly constructionist debunking approach—black people once played similar music (supposedly, he found a recording! It’s in the Smithsonian!) therefore the entire genre is actually just the music of all of the people. No, dumbshit, it’s not. Don’t believe me, take a black friend to a REAL bluegrass bar. Culture is produced to create boundaries across groups, and to evoke and enforce the superiority of one group’s style of life and preferences. And country and bluegrass music were produced to oppose the egalitarian values of the rest of the nation, and to enforce a system of white racial domination. When a black guy walks into a bar or a Rural King and country and bluegrass are playing, he knows where he stands. Shit, even PBR is a symbol of that system of racial oppression! The logo is deliberately evocative of the Confederate flag, and was changed to make it more so!
The 1993 GSS had a module on musical preferences, and you can see quite clearly the link between musical preferences and vehement racism by looking at support for laws against racial intermarriage. Even in 1993, more than one in five bluegrass and country fans thought there should be laws against racial intermarriage—basically double the rate of virulent racism among people who don’t like those genres of music. To ignore the history of a cultural product is to mistake distant cultural meanings (like how Buddhists see the swastika!) with the meaning that is actually intended within the culture. That’s what authenticity is. It’s not ironic. It’s racist.