Country Music, Kentuckyian Kangaroos, and Masculinity

June 12th and 13th

The final day of the Country Music Festival was a culmination to a week full of new experiences. I had never actually been to a concert a week ago, shocking since I lived in New York City. I had never had media credentials to a major national event. I had never traveled 3,000 miles to a city in the middle of Tennessee alone and left with new friends.

The last concert was the most fun for me, in part because I met of group of folks my own age. The first person I met was an interesting character. He was in his early thirties, balding and overweight. I met him as he introduced himself to me. We talked for a while before he said offhand “I like that girl’s boots.” Without another word, he walked over to her and started talking. I was impressed. Then he did the same thing with a group of girls. I was, honestly, flabbergasted. We talked to those girls for a while, then walked back to his seat.

Miranda Lambert ends her performance at CMA Fest shortly after her marriage to fellow country star Blake Shelton.

“Alright. How did you do that?”

“Uh well, I’m just friendly. Ya know, I get rejected sometimes, but those people aren’t very interesting.”

My new friend from Iowa was a brilliant conversationalist, and a pro at precisely what I was trying to work on: approaching groups on your own. I picked his brain for a while, but it was just so natural to him that he didn’t have much advice. I met his friends and went down to the field in time for the concerts, determined to try it out later.

When I made it down, I ran into the family of four from my last post. They were back for another round of concerts, and I was happy to have them there. As the night went on, I met a group of guys and girls who worked in various jobs as artists, talent escorts, and web designers. I got on very well with one, and we hatched a plan to benefit us both in the future. These interactions were not unusual enough to merit deep description, but they made for a simply wonderful night.

The Band Perry, whose Song "If I Die Young" is beautiful, but always makes me a little sad.

The topics of Country Music and masculinity are mostly unrelated, though tie in briefly. My last day at CMA Fest did not inspire enough in me for a full article, so I am combining the two into a post slightly longer than usual.

Masculinity has been on my mind, because I have been viewing it in many forms. Not to mention I have been in the process of developing my own sense of it as I’ve been traveling.

In Nashville, masculinity means muscles. True throughout much of southern youth culture that I have witnessed, young men in white T-shirt’s, leather cowboy hats, and designer jeans throw slurs at each other, fight, drink beer, and flirt. Muscles are the difference between a “pretty boy” (someone who wears the same outfit without muscles) and a “rugged” country boy in the eyes of one girl I spoke to. This culture is easy to see at the University of Richmond’s gym and some fraternity lodges, but walking around LP Field in Nashville after 11 PM made it very evident.

Taylor Swift's closed the festival with a performance that excited the college kids as much as the preteen girls who make up the bulk of her audience.

In country music, these ideals of masculinity are paired with a soft side. Love your wife, your mama, and your kids. Work for your family. Make amends with your dad. Strength of character as well as strength of body. This is a bit of an upside in my opinion. I grew up in a liberal household in New York City, and so was never really exposed to southern masculinity until this past year. I was not much of an athlete, had never been to the gym consistently, and could never see much of a good reason to fight.

In New York, masculinity is money. Spending money on expensive alcohol and drugs provides as much social standing where I grew up as ownership of the biggest Chevy pickup down here. Instead of music being a saving grace as it is with country music, the music found on New York radio stations encourages infidelity, heartbreaking, and sexual promiscuity. I’m sure a level of musclephilia exists in the North as well, but it seems less dominating than its role in the South.

Swift's movements are often dramatic, but the audience responds.

I have never found either of these appealing. I like aspects of both, and plenty of other cultures exist that have influenced my own thoughts on masculinity.

Maybe a list will help. Much of this is borrowed from my pyramid designed a while back:

1. He protects those he cares about as much as they want protection, and is physically and emotionally strong enough to do so.

2. He has strong opinions, but knows he is not always right, and is willing to step aside when necessary. Not stubborn, essentially.

3. He is passionate about the things and people he cares about.

4. Does not betray the trust of those he cares about or who depend on him. A masculine man, in my opinion, will never cheat.

5. Acts on his beliefs. Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, and habits become character. When he sees wrong, he corrects it as best he can.

6. What he desires, he actively seeks.

Swift ran through the crowd, prompting a security scramble that left the security guys closest to us shaking their heads.

7. He is not afraid of death, or of life.

8. He is healthy.

9. He is able and unafraid to dance, sing to a degree, and create music.

10. He is honest.

A bold parakeet who landed on my hand was rewarded with nuts.

11. He loves well, and has options.

12. He does not lose his temper, and always has his emotions under control.

13. He has the power to influence others to live better.

14. He is socially apt. The center of attention when he wants to be, on the sidelines when he should.

Playing dead so that his wife carrying a Joey would not notice him.

15. He is a leader, able to bring people together to help them realize their goals and desires. He is always setting a good example.

16. He is self sufficient. Happy on his own, and happy to share himself with others.

17. He can talk to anyone, anytime, about anything.

18. He is equally as comfortable around a dying man, a newborn, a teenager, and an adult.

19. He is confident in his morality and abilities, but knows he could improve.

20. He never stops trying to make himself better.

When born, the Joey is about the size of your pinky. The mom lays on its back and the baby climbs along her stomach and into the pouch.

21. He has his own style of manner, dress, and behavior.

22. He treats everyone well, even those who have given reason for poor treatment.

23. He can read people well, and often knows what they want before they do.

Some of these are directly related to masculinity, others are things that anyone, male or female, would be benefited by pursuing. This is neither a complete list, nor is it all-encompassing, but in an era where masculinity seems defined mostly by culture, it serves as a list of reference for me to develop my own—hopefully more condensed—sense of masculinity. I have been thinking about it a lot the past few weeks, and this is what I’ve come up with so far. To me, being a man is much less about what I own, wear, or do, but what I am.

Me and a Kangaroo in the Australian theme park in Central Kentucky.

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