I am an avid fan of talk radio. Therefore, I am a fan of conservative talk radio. When one speaks of talk radio, it's pretty much understood that one is speaking of conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz, etc. Despite their best efforts, liberals have never been able to establish much of a foothold on the radio, although Alan Colmes does have a show that airs pretty late at night on 560 AM in Columbia. Air America, the one serious attempt at a talk radio network with a stable of liberal hosts, has filed for bankruptcy at least once, if not more, and I have honestly never heard an original Air America broadcast.
Of course, I could go off on a whole discussion of the ridiculous Fairness Doctrine and the recent attempts to get it reinstated (for the unfamiliar, the Fairness Doctrine, which the FCC abolished in 1987, stated that those holding broadcast licenses were required to give contrasting views of controversial issues), but I won't. It's painfully obvious that liberals want the Fairness Doctrine back because they aren't being heard anymore because, for whatever reason, most listeners don't want to hear what they have to say. In fact, since the Fairness Doctrine was abolished the spirit of the doctrine--to engender open debate--has been fulfilled in a way it never was while the doctrine was in effect. Whether we want to admit it or not, the mainstream news media is basically left-leaning and pro-Obama, and talk radio is basically right-leaning and pro-limited government. The left-leaning news media reports on events with its bias built-in, and right-leaning talk radio hosts ferret out the liberal bullcrap.
I'm not interested in any of this debate, however, at least not for this discussion. Suffice it to say, I know talk radio, and there's something that has struck me as rather odd: conservative hosts love country music. They absolutely adore it, and I don't know why.
Well, that's a lie. I have some theories and, naturally, I'm going to offer them up for your consumption. But first let's take a look at some talk radio hosts. Sean Hannity is probably the most obvious example. While taking a class in Columbia this past semester, I listened to Sean on 970 AM in Florence on my weekly drive down, and at the top of every hour his show would lead in with Martina McBride's "Independence Day," a soaring, super-patriotic ode to the American way of life. Okay, one song, no big deal. Then, about a week ago, Sean started promoting a series of pro-American, pro-limited government concerts that he has helped to organize, featuring, among others, Billy Ray Cyrus and Charlie Daniels. Add to that the occasional visit by a country music artist, and The Sean Hannity Show is a veritable hee-haw of country music royalty.
One show doesn't say much, though. Maybe Sean Hannity, a New Yorker, just loves country music. I'll even admit that I'm biased in thinking that Northerners aren't country music lovers, and that Sean has proven me wrong.
Then something happened that made me rethink this whole issue. This week the students at the school where I teach are taking their final exams, and so teachers are permitted to leave school early if they have nothing to do. I finished up my various tasks and hit the road around 11 this morning, and so I tuned in to 970 AM as always. At this time Laura Ingraham broadcasts her show, which I had never heard before because I'm usually knee-deep in lesson plans at 11 in the morning. So I'm listening to Laura when, all of a sudden, she starts talking about how much she loves country music. Can't get enough of it.
Sean Hannity was a hardworking construction worker in a former life. I can completely buy Hannity standing over his sledgehammer, wiping the sweat from off his brow, and listening to Garth Brooks. But Laura Ingraham? Besides the fact that she's a woman--and chicks love country music, for whatever reason--it makes no sense. The name "Ingraham" is probably the least countrified name in the world.
Now, I'll admit that I don't know much about Laura Ingraham and that I'm probably being a little sexist when I write things like "chicks love country music," but there is an undeniable trend on the right toward country music. In fact, there's a corresponding trend on the left toward rock music. How else can you explain this sudden glut of conservatives espousing their love of country music? At the same time, observe all of the activist, left-wing rockers out there: U2, The Clash, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, etc.
This is not an original revelation. South Park did an entire episode on pro-war country music lovers and anti-war rock 'n' roll protesters. I mention it because I find it all a bit disturbing--and, in a way, potentially dangerous. First of all, I really don't like country music. There are always the obvious exceptions, and I should probably qualify that by saying that I don't like new country music, but generally speaking I can't stand it (the odd thing is, most of it is just classic rock with banjos and twangy vocals).
Secondly, why should conservatives give up rock music? Chuck Klosterman, author of Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey of Rural North Dakota,argues that glam metal in the 1980s "latently adopted the Republican persona of the 1980s," which was "an incredibly popular way of thinking, especially (and surprisingly) among young males" who made up the bulk of heavy metal's listeners. Heavy metal in its biggest, glammiest, most capitalistic form has fallen by the wayside, but for its time it was a musical movement that, according to Klosterman, was completely in-tune with the prevailing conservative sentiments of the Reagan era. Sure, heavy metal was an exaggeration of the already-exaggerated excesses of the 1980s, but it was the popular music of the time and reflected the mood of the nation and the political establishment, something that is pretty rare as far as pop music goes. Just look at the pop music of the 1960s and 1970s, which cast itself in a light that was decidedly anti-establishment.
So, why is this dangerous? Because I get the impression that most conservative talk show hosts are being a tad disingenuous when they talk about their love of country music. They're playing to their audience--or so they think--which they assume is made up largely of pro-war, pro-limited government, anti-Obama listeners, which is true. However, they're making the assumption that most of those listeners love country music because those are the things they believe, and I don't think that's the case. I believe in all of those things and I much prefer rock--even crappy modern rock--to country music.
The danger also comes in the increasing fragmentation of American political life geographically and culturally. I think it's safe to assume that most fans of country music are, well, those who live in the country (although every good ol' boy I've ever known has been a fan of country and rap simultaneously). But when country music becomes synonymous with one political ideology and rock music with the other, it serves to intensify political fragmentation. Suddenly, McBride's "Independence Day" becomes a post-9/11 rallying cry for anti-Obama revolutionaries instead of a genuine appreciation for the United States and its freedoms.
Instead of looking at genres of music as inherently politicized, we should be using music as a way to bridge the ever-widening gap between different ideologies. I love my talk show hosts, but if I'm right, I have to fault them on their constant peddling of country as some kind of conservative alternative to mainstream music. At the same time, liberals deserve much more of my ire, as they've effectively hijacked rock music and have been using music politically for much, much longer than conservative radio personalities. Woodstock, anyone?