Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Toby Keith – Made In America

Ecce homo!


Alfred Soto: The warmth and wit of “Somewhere Else” aside, Keith hasn’t made a listenable album end to end since 2006’s White Trash with Money. Since I’m not one of those liberals unliberal enough to express shock that someone may write songs about and to a jingoist audience, I appreciated this would-be Chrysler slogan for the small touches: the opening guitar riff and the enjambments (particularly “prejudiced/he’s just”), for instance. But the band is so undistinguished it might as well be the guys Chrysler hires to play on a Saturday afternoon on the lot. More importantly, Keith’s vocal won’t accept ambiguity, like it did in the seminal, subtle (anti-)abortion tune “Ain’t No Right Way.” In short, Keith’s self-constriction continues. He who lives for decals becomes one.

Jonathan Bogart: If he ain’t prejudiced, how come there’s not a single person of color in the celebration-of-America video?

Anthony Easton: I have always found American relationships to King James really amusing — the English monarch, with his belief in hierarchy, his fear of heresy, and his hatred of witches over-laced with a kind of hypocritical sodomy, is profoundly European; there is nothing American about his Bible at all. It is a beautiful text, but that it is the text of early Baptists, and of Mormons, of American evangelical patriotism is weird to me; especially since most of the dominonists who are profoundly affecting the heartland right now are pretty hardcore Calvinists — and the Geneva bible has a much stronger history of American theological care than the KJV – -Uncle Sam would have much more of a chance reading the Geneva (or if he was Catholic, the Jerusalem Bible) than he would be reading the KJV; and the historical KJV would be horrified/fail to recognize what is done in his name.

Brad Shoup: “King James and Uncle Sam” is wonderful as a lyric, but in the context of this specific song, it’s essentially trolling. The radar-sweep guitar lurches from point to point like Keith’s phrasing; he clearly can’t wait to get to the chorus, but his glass saints and shrugging implications demand to be heard.

Sally O’Rourke: Even when Toby Keith’s expressing agreeable sentiments (American jobs = good!), he can’t help but wrap them in the same old myopic, archaic, nationalistic fantasy of what a “real” American is that bears zero resemblance to actual American demographics and behavior. For all his “buy American” rhetoric, though, Toby doesn’t seem to have a problem with importing King James bibles or The Edge’s guitar textures.

Jonathan Bradley: In 1817, the British economist David Ricardo described the law of comparative advantage, which explains using fairly basic mathematics why free trade benefits all countries involved, even if one is less efficient than the other. This rationale didn’t need to be known for it to affect world history though; in the 1760s and 1770s, some other Britons — those in Parliament — tried to prop up the country’s ailing East India Company by placing protectionist measures on its tea. Though the various laws involved have become better remembered for the taxation they imposed, the impetus behind the protest known as the Boston Tea Party had a good amount to do with this attempt to make the American colonies a captive market. Eleven score and eighteen years later, Toby Keith has written a song about an old man who apparently likes protectionism just fine; it “breaks his heart seein’ foreign cars/Filled with fuel that isn’t ours.” (I assume he’s just fine with Chevy and Ford selling Detroit cars in other countries.) “He ain’t prejudiced,” Keith clarifies, and I believe him. There are plenty of working class Americans who think fighting against the arduous yet inevitable restructuring of their national economy will preserve their prosperity. But a patriotism built on locally grown cotton is a limited one, just like that of the woman Keith sings of in the second verse, who leads her class in the Pledge of Allegiance like teachers all over the nation. I say this not to accuse such patriotism of being inauthentic, just incomplete. There are songs that give these Americans vivid complexity, (try John Rich’s “Shuttin’ Detroit Down“) but “Made in America” is not one of them. Its guitar would be better suited to a Snow Patrol ballad and its chorus is only muscular like an old linebacker gone to seed. It’s the sort of American product folks buy because it’s stamped with the red, white, and blue, rather than because the best around happens to be produced locally. Meanwhile, Congress last week showed a rare display of bipartisanship, and ratified free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. Sorry, Toby.

Katherine St Asaph: Toby Keith’s “Made in America” vs. the Throne’s “Made in America.” Discuss. The debate ripping itself to straw smithereens will undoubtedly be more interesting than this song.

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