You know how there’s the stereotype of the condescending “left-coast” vegan scholar who is going to enlighten the world with his mix of asshole cluelessness? I know a lot of scholars and so I didn’t think that person actually existed, just that it was a boogeyman to trot out in order to have something to complain about when complaining about higher ed.
I stand corrected.
Today I listened to an L.A. vegan give a presentation about animal cruelty in country music. He actually referred to a barn as an animal prison. And he put on a Bob Nolan song and exhorted us to listen to it from the perspective of the cow. Let me just say that, if you can hear the name “Bob Nolan” and know who he is and not think very naughty, Captain Morganish thoughts, you are a better person than I am. If a cow can hear a Bob Nolan song and think about anything other than how to get Bob Nolan to let it nuzzle his neck, that cow is a better person than me. In a perfect world, Bob Nolan and Idris Elba make a movie where Nolan sings and Elba looks over the top of his glasses.
Oh, oh, oh. I just read on Idris Elba’s Wikipedia page that he’s a hip-hop soul recording artist. Imagine a movie in which Bob Nolan, Idris Elba, and Dean Martin are firemen by day and tuxedo-clad singers by night. On weekends they work at a dude ranch, swapping charming bon mots and disparaging Jerry Lewis. Also singing.
While oppressing horses and cows.
I guess it will be an unhappy movie for the Critical Animal Studies folks.
It was disappointing because I thought someone could have given a really interesting talk about actual instances of animal cruelty in country music songs as a way of talking about how ruralness and masculinity and authenticity are encoded. Though, honestly, other than the poor gators in “The Battle of New Orleans,” (speaking of which, apparently Johnny Driftwood’s original was four minutes long, contained more cussing, and ended with fucking Andrew Jackson buying his men French hookers. Why hasn’t someone remade that?!) I can’t really think of any… well, I guess traditional songs like “The Wild Hog in the Woods.” But still, if you moved beyond just “But they all wear rodeo-inspired clothing, which celebrates animal cruelty and exploitation and is upsetting to animals,” there’d be some interesting stuff to say.
But here’s the thing. I think there are very good reasons to be a vegan. I even think that not wanting to harm animals or benefit from their exploitation is a fine reason to be a vegan. I’ve eaten vegan foods and found them yummy. I know vegans. But I honestly thought that guys like this–who believe it’s wrong to own pets, for instance–were fake.
Maybe it’s the fact that he doesn’t own a pet that is the problem. Y’all know I love Mrs. Wigglebottom and I think she can understand basic words and maybe even some kinds of sentences. She understands some tone things. I think I can tell when she’s happy and in pain and feeling puny. Though, not always, and that distresses me. And that’s the thing. I’ve lived with this dog every day for over a decade. I’ve slept with her nestled in the curve of my legs, butt to butt. I’ve put things in her ear. I’ve pulled things off her butt. I’ve cleaned up her poop. There’s simply not a person who knows that dog better than me.
And, at the end of the day, she is a mystery to me. She moves through the world in ways that are foreign to me. Most of the time, I have no idea what she’s thinking. I just hope that she is as happy to hang out with me as I am to get to hang out with her.
But I don’t know.
So, when this guy is all “Imagine this song from the cow’s perspective,” I had to laugh. I barely know how to imagine what my dog might think of something–I think she likes jazz; I’m pretty sure she’d prefer the window in the car be down; she’s probably game for a walk. I would never assume that I knew what a cow’s perspective was. And I certainly wouldn’t assume I could judge whether they were feeling oppressed by someone wearing leather shoes, you know?
But I also think that there’s a way in which this level of animal rights advocacy is actually about the preservation of hegemony. It’s like these yahoos have soaked in all the language of the Civil Rights movement and the feminist movement and then decided that, if they become the spokespeople for “people” (animals) even more oppressed, then not only are they the only ones who can correctly interpret what animals want or need, but they get to declare that the actual liberation of people comes secondary to their agenda.
The idea that you could look at the people who work rodeos or who hunt for food and see them as being high enough up on the “who’s fucking over whom” pyramid that they need a good scolding from academics about not be sensitive enough to the animals’ feelings is just hilarious to me.
Anyway, it wasn’t all bizarre exhortations to consider the cow. Earlier in the day, a guy gave a really interesting presentation about all the black musicians who played on hillbilly records back in the early days of recording. Lonnie Johnson, for instance, was one and the Mississippi Sheiks. They weren’t always credited, but new research has made their presence more visible.
And apparently a band could release the same song on both race and hillbilly records under two different names and they just kind of fudged on what race you were, depending on your audience. He showed documentation where the record execs were like “Make this hillbilly” on a race recording (not an exact quote, but you get the idea). It was really interesting.
Speaking of fudging, Sam reminded me of the big Melungeon news–turns out that they’re not Portuguese Indians, after all. Which I guess we all knew. Still, there must have been some later intermarrying with Native Americans. I’ll be curious if they look into that, next.