Last night, a University professor used country music star Gretchen Wilson’s popular song “Redneck Woman” to help explain what she calls the “virile female” in country music.
The description, an attempt to analyze the cross-cultural ties between gender, class and popular music in academic work, was just one of many examples professors gave last night to explain how the three genres intersect.
Nadine Hubbs, a professor in the School of Music and Women’s Studies Department, joined Michael Bertrand of Tennessee State University and Sherry Ortner of the University of California at Los Angeles in reading scholarly essays before a medium-sized Kuenzel Room crowd in the Michigan Union.
Between reading her essay, “Musical Cross-Dressing as Class Rebellion: Gretchen Wilson and the Country Rhetoric of the ‘Virile Female,’ Hubbs played clips of the song. About 40 people, mostly middle-aged women and female students, attended the forum.
The two-hour presentation resembled a typical humanities lecture, with several students fervently taking notes, others nodding off and one woman finishing a sudoku puzzle.
Hubbs explained how in the song’s music video, Wilson is shown “musically cross-dressing,” or assuming male roles and imitating the styles of male artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock.
Bertrand presented his analysis of how rock’n’roll and R&B affected race relations in the South. The crux of his argument centered on the 1956 beating of jazz pianist Nat King Cole when he was performing a concert in Birmingham, Ala. Three white men attempted to kidnap Cole while he was on stage before being subdued by police. Bertrand said the assault actually improved race relations in the South, as most condemned the assailants and many newspapers published apologies to Cole.
Ortner’s talk focused on the production of independent films, explaining how the class and gender of the genre’s producers affect the finished product.
She discussed how producers of indie films usually come from wealthy families and tend to have Ivy League or more advanced degrees. She said viewers of these films also tend to be white-collar professionals, making independent films “stories they tell themselves about themselves.”
After the professors were finished presenting, the three members of the panel reacted to each other’s work, offering both praise and criticisms.
LSA sophomore Dana Darmstadter, who attended the forum, said she appreciated learning new views about popular culture.
“I didn’t know what to expect before coming, but I enjoyed it,” she said. “The questions at the end really tied the three together.”
Angela Kane, a professor in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, said it was interesting to hear how race and class issues are so closely tied to politics.
“I think it’s great that Michigan has these interdisciplinary debates,” she said. “I’d like to see more of them.”