One of the defining characteristics of modern country music is its distinctly American way of acknowledging of class and place. Country singers have long embraced their working-class roots and expressed pride in the battles they fight to make rent; the genre’s everyday Joes and Janes are proud to be everyday, or maybe even a little trashy, as evidenced in older songs such as Confederate Railroad’s “Trashy Women,” and Garth Brooks’s “Friends in Low Places” as well as more recent songs such as Trace Adkins’s “Ladies Love Country Boys,” Blake Shelton’s “Hillbilly Bone,” and Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.”
As someone from a rural area, albeit a more-than- one-stoplight town, I can see why it’s liberating to let go of the typical American pressure to try and “move up” in society. Country music has catered to that urge for a long time. But recently, a few female country singers have stepped away from this point of view, portraying small-town narratives in a more melancholy light. Instead of endorsing the country lifestyle, these artists question small-town living, the value of tradition, and the virtue in staying in one’s place. Instead of leaving life unexamined and being happy to be to do so, Kacey Musgraves’s “Merry Go ’Round” and Brandy Clark’s “Pray to Jesus” ask why people continue down the same road as their parents did. And as encouraging as many of the rebellious “embrace-hick-culture” songs were, these new songs feel more appropriate for the time we’re living in.
Read more. [Image: AP/Wade Payne and Evan Agostini]
Residents of a certain famously picturesque New England state recently got some heartwarming news about themselves. “Vermonters Love Pets,” USA Today proclaimed earlier this year, above a write-up of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s ranking of pet-ownership rates by state. What a generous and loving people Vermonters must be, to open up their homes to more furry friends, per capita, than the people of any other state. Can these really be the same folks whom The Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked 48th in the nation in charitable giving?
The vast range of communities contained within the United States is one of our greatest assets, but it is also responsible for some of our silliest conclusions about ourselves. A scan of a given day’s headlines confirms that there’s nothing quite so irresistible as a juicy ranking, and for good reason. Who doesn’t want to know how their neighbors stack up against the rest of the country? Trouble is, comparing things like consumer habits among states that have tremendous differences in income, geographic footprint, natural resources, and—perhaps most fundamental—ratio of urban to rural populations is often a waste of time.
Washington, D.C., is the classic example. The Web site PornHub.com made headlines this year when it released online-pornography-viewing rates by state, placing D.C. at the very top of the list. At least the alleged perverts living in our nation’s capital display more refined taste in other departments: the District also ranks first in wine consumption. “DC ranks #1 in being the subject of stupid ranking articles,” the urban-planning activist David Alpert tweeted shortly after the PornHub list came out. Fighting for statehood may be a passion for Washingtonians, but with 100 percent of D.C.’s roughly 630,000 residents living in an urban area, being ranked alongside the 50 states quickly loses its appeal—you almost always come out looking like the country’s chief basket case.
Of course D.C. watches more online porn and drinks more wine than the states. It’s a city—and compared with states, which include rural populations, cities have greater access to high-speed Internet, as well as higher incomes. Which makes it that much easier to pour yourself a glass of Pinot and discreetly call up the latest Joanna Angel video on your iPad. (For the record, city dwellers do not appear to be more sex-obsessed than people in the sticks—not according to yet another state ranking. The mail-order sex-toy company Adam & Eve reports that its best customers live in states with largely rural populations.)
Read more. [Image: Mikey Burton]
"Based on our research, we found that cats distinguish between the low- to mid-light wave spectrum — meaning purple, blue, yellow, and green, with blue and green being the strongest colors they see," says Hutton. The architects beta-tested their design with their own cats, he adds: "They weren’t too fond of the power tools, but as soon as the assembly started they were all over the outdoor carpet we used for the interior insulation and began climbing in and out of the boxes."
Read more. [Images: I HAVE CAT]
Leaning over a tiny wooden table, dressed in a shapeless gray-green prison uniform, she described her first encounter with him. “I was scared,” she said. “Why should I open up? But after Chris posted my picture on the Internet, I felt amazing. People commented and made me feel like I could accomplish a lot. After that, they knew my pain.”
See more. [Images: Chris Arnade]
[Image: The Bureau of Economic Analysis]
This week, Hurricane Sandy struck New York to become one of the city’s most devastating natural disasters on record. Officials from both energy monolith Con Edison and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have called it “the worst” in their respective 189- and 108-year histories. I feel incredibly lucky to have survived with virtually no damage and no power loss, but thousands of people across the river in Manhattan, including many friends, haven’t been so fortunate. How jarring it is to see this magnificent city, always so proudly imbued with its own myth, brought uncomfortably close to the scenes and landscapes we’re so used to seeing in apocalyptic fictions.
Read more. [Images: Louis Guglielmi, Mental Geography, 1938, Yale University Press]
That’s one of the key messages of a new ad campaign launched by the Canadian province of British Columbia. These ads appear on campuses and in transit lines in the province.
Starting in the 1980s, pit bulls came to embody all of the public’s fears and anxieties about what was wrong with America’s inner cities. The dogs have been stock images in a familiar, grim urban picture that includes drug dealing, racial tension, gun violence, and decay. Many cities and counties have banned them; Miami-Dade County in Florida just upheld a 23-year ban on pit bulls and related dogs by a 63.2 percent to 36.8 percent margin.
But all this time, there have been people who have spoken up for pit bulls as terrific companion dogs particularly suited to city life, one with a long history in American culture. There was Petey, of Little Rascals fame, and Buster Brown’s dog, Tige. World War II propaganda posters used the pit bull as a symbol of American spirit.
Read more. [Image: Shutterstock]
If you’ve been to Chicago’s Navy Pier recently, you’ve probably noticed it’s all tribaled up. The asphalt on North Street Drive sports a meandering yellow tattoo that seems to have slipped off of Mike Tyson’s face. What’s up with that?
Steed Taylor, that’s what’s up. The 52-year-old artist visited the Windy City a couple months ago to participate in the group show BIGArt, a celebration of oversized works that featured luminaries like Roy Lichtenstein and Nancy Rubins. At about 650 feet long and 25 feet wide, Taylor’s “Galloon” is one of the more pupil-jacking pieces in this exhibition. While it’s easy to soak up the road tattoo’s surface beauty, its title – galloon is a woven trim sometimes often used in military uniforms – underscores a more serious, pain-tinged meaning.
What are people supposed to get out of your street art?
I think the thing with the road tattoos is that they work in two ways. If you were there at the commemoration [when the names are painted in], it has a special meaning for you. If you weren’t, it has to exist as a really fun thing to drive over.
Read more. [Images: Steed Taylor]