Understanding the Red Tribe with Music

I used to think I understood American culture. How wrong I was! I was familiar with TV shows of all genres, I listened to different podcasts, and, most of all, I listened to different kinds of music. After some time, I came to the conclusion that I was really just following Blue Tribe media. There was nothing Red Tribe-related in my knowledge. Understanding a culture’s music is a good proxy of understanding the culture itself. During the Rise Of Donald Trump, people on my side of the now-apparent cultural spectrum began to speculate that Trump’s sway in politics was due to cultural, not economic, factors.

So I sought out to understand the culture Trump’s supporters lived in. The musical angle hit me completely by mistake. Before that, I tried to learn about Red Tribe culture by reading books about the modern-day troubles of “poor whites in America”. That didn’t work. I then researched the Civil War era, which helped even less. (I don’t know what I expected.) So I took the next rational step: giving up and going on Reddit.

While browsing one of my favorite subreddits, Let’s Talk Music, I saw a post about country music. Realizing I’ve listened to almost no country music ever, I tried it out. Despite my broad tastes, I have skipped a genre outside the Blue Tribe domain. I didn’t expect too much from country, so Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free caught me off guard. Not only was it Red Tribe, but it was good! A story of a manual laborer who… Actually, just listen to it. Any of my explanations will sound boring. Try Genius if you want something better.

Like the Blues, the Red Tribe has different people of different viewpoints. Isbell does not speak for his culture any more than I speak for mine. Regardless, it seems to provide a shard of perspective on the cultural beliefs and attitudes of Reds. As a bonus, it even sheds some light on the ground-level view of rural America’s economy.

Most of my posts have some type of intellectual understanding of something. Culture, as far as I know, does not work like that. This is usually the part in the blog post where I try to refactor something so it makes more sense. But most of us Blue Tribe people can’t even see what Red culture looks like from the inside. Before any refactoring is possible, we have to try factoring. Music is a glimpse into this alternate dimension. The real fun is figuring out how to deal with the other side of the looking glass once you’ve seen it, but that will have to come later.


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