Merle Haggard has penned an anti-war tune with a bit of media criticism thrown in that’s recently been released on the radio (I haven’t yet heard it). I’m a lot more impressed with that than I am with Willie Nelson’s duet on Toby Keith’s recent paean to mob justice. I’m not saying you have to write anti-war songs to meet my approval, but I’m in favor of just about anything (especially in the popular media) that goes beyond pandering to the least common denominator.
On a semi-related note, I have a theory about America’s changing attitudes toward crime and criminals over the past 30 years or so that coincides with the disappearance of outlaw country and the popularity of gangster rap. Back in the good old days, many popular country singers had done time in prison, and wrote and performed popular songs that spoke to the fact that many criminals are just regular people who’d made poor choices. Outlaw country faded from popularity in the eighties (to be replaced with the country pop dreck that dominates country radio still today), and these days hip hop is where you find most songs about, well, criminals, and people who’ve had a run of bad luck. During that same period we’ve seen a general hardening of attitudes toward crime and criminals and I kind of wonder whether there’s something worth exploring here that has a lot to do with race.
In a nutshell, my question is whether white people stopped thinking about criminals as people you might know and interact with in your day to day life (to put it bluntly, other white people), and more as a problem with minorities that can be safely stereotyped and marginalized. And, to get back to my point, whether the fact that you no longer hear songs like “Mama Tried” or “Folsom Prison Blues” on country radio has anything to do with that shift in attitude. I may be totally full of crap here, it’s the sort of thing I wish someone would investigate and write a New Yorker article about.