I grew up watching Hee Haw and I know folks have written shit-tons of material about Hee Haw and I’m not going to say anything that other folks haven’t already said. But I liked it. I thought it was subversive. It took the truth and stereotypes and artistry and comedy and mixed them all up until the lines between them were all blurred.
And there was for sure an element of “we’re going to make fun our ourselves before you can make fun of us” to it.
And, sure, yes, in the early days of the Opry, folks who had come to town wearing their Sunday best were encouraged to dress like “hillbillies” and so the line between when are we showing you something everyone knows to be an act? and when are we showing you a stylized version of how things are? has indeed always already been blurred.
But CMT making a reality show where “stars” run an inn in east Tennessee and the conceit of the show is city slicker is out of water among all these hicks?
I don’t know. Yes, Green Acres. Yes, Newhart. I know. Shoot, even Northern Exposure.
But I don’t like it on CMT.
The thing I don’t like about it most is exactly what R. Neal gets at in his post. The inn they’re “running” is a world-class bed and breakfast well-known for being GLBT friendly that is only an hour outside of Knoxville. So, it is exactly not the kind of spot where you are trapped back in the woods with “scary” hillbillies who don’t know any better than to keep their farm animals out of nice places (if such places and people even exist).
So, here’s what I want to know? Is CMT a television station–even if it doesn’t play a whole lot of country music any more–where fans of country music go to watch other stuff that reflects our lives and things that might interest us? Or is something else going on here?
Now, we all know that country radio is geared towards women–that’s the audience stations are trying to deliver to advertisers and, as such, the audience mainstream artists are mostly trying to appeal to–and that these women mostly live in town or at least the suburbs and have all their lives. Country music radio’s main audience is no longer people who live in the country, at least, that’s not the audience they give a shit about. They want the ears and the dollars of suburban women.
My question is “Is that what’s going on at CMT as well?”
I think the evidence points to “Yes.” Look at the popular videos, the shows (like the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader one and the Coyote Ugly one or the repeats of ABC shows about nannies and wife-swapping, even the redneck wedding show), the ditching of the Opry, everything.
So, if we can agree that CMT’s goal is to attract more suburban women, even at the expense of its traditional audience, how then do we understand “Pigeon Inn”?
And this, to me, gets at the heart of why this bothers me. It seems to me that we’re supposed to find amusement, not in our own silliness (which was, to me, one of the basic premises of Hee Haw) but in the silliness of those folks who are not like us, both the stars and the folks from Appalachia.
This, to me, then, says that the “us” of country music is not expanding to also appeal to more urban people but is shifting in ways that could exclude the very people whose music it was in the first place.
I don’t like it.