Some of my friends made a very "local" expressive gesture to support Obama in Charlottesville this weekend. Some old-time music, popping, and youtubing sweetness.
With a heavy southwestern Virginian twang, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley pours out words that endorse Barak Obama over Stanley's nasal cry-breaks and metallic rapid banjo picking. Stanley's radio ad speaks to issues about class, education, and family. He seems genuine in belief in Obama as the solution to Bush's 8-year catastrophe.
How obfuscating: How many other classical bluegrass musicians have been outspoken about supporting the Democrats? Like all other southern states, Virginia has been a red state for god-knows-how-many past elections. Are we able to come through this time? Or is it not confusing at all?
Bluegrass music often gets associated with white southern (rural) conservatism. But bluegrass comes out of a modernist, progressive aesthetics. Bluegrass was born at the junction of this country's post-WWII economic boom, in the midst of a tension between progressive outlook and the antimodernist backlash to continuing trends of urbanization and industrialization. It was not always, and still isn't, the music of the past, at least not quite literally as what most would think. Despite of having been caricatured as being past-laden, bluegrass is a music that has been consciously constructed as being about pastness. Bluegrass' semi-ironic distance to the past, the south, and conservative values speak to the rupture of the connections among these associations that we assume as being 'natural' now.
Undoing the semiotic depth behind the bluegrass icon may be something that I can do here. Obama and his campaign team envisioned it first. Undoubtedly they are working hard to undo these decade-old social and ideological divides. I've noticed that the people working behind the Obama campaign have been savvy in reaching out into the racial and economic underclass. This ad surprised me as much as the campaign's outreach in Asian immigrant neighborhoods near DC and NY. I think Obama is really onto something. He's able to tap into while inspiring the post-civil-rights generation like no one has before. Obama's rhetoric yields an immense sense of conviction, making people believe that voters are not just living history, but making history.
An exciting time indeed. Go out and get registered to vote!