Every now and then, in some culture war argument, somebody will point out that despite what Red America says it believes in, rates of social dysfunction — divorce, out of wedlock childbearing, etc. — are higher in Red America than in Blue America. Typically this is seen as an example of Red-American hypocrisy.
In my post earlier this morning on country music and conservatism, the really excellent comments thread produced the following observation by Edward Hamilton. I thought it was so insightful I wanted to break it out:
That idea, that the music is aspirational — either by critiquing personal behavior with confessional language reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets, or by presenting a vision of an ideal world that seems more like Christian apocalyptic visions of a post-parousia utopia — makes a lot of sense of why poor whites are so willing to be “irrational” in their values, embracing value systems that don’t resemble their actual lifestyle. They’re aspirational rather than practical because that’s the message they absorb from immersion in their artistic medium. If rap music purports to say “That’s how I am, that’s how society is, and we just have to accept it”, then country music says “That’s how I am, and often it’s ugly, but this is how I wish I could be”.
Poor white voters are bound by a strong sense of the teleological. Marriage “ought to be” this sort of thing. Families “ought to work” in this way. That’s an element of most religious traditions, and country music is transmitting that concept of teleology even for underclass whites who are disconnecting from religious participation, as a sort of folk catechesis.