Country Music in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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Country Music in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Abstract: This essay explores the way white trash identity is performed through country music. In particular, the focus is on the way the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel Coen, 2001) uses a soundtrack of 'old-timey' country music from the 1920s and 30s to aurally assist the film's white trash aesthetic. Various cultural critics (Barbara Ching) and music historians (Richard Peterson) have already documented the way country music is white trash music. Such histories are drawn upon to demonstrate the way country music is used to authenticate white trash as rural, impoverished, simple-minded and sweet. The authenticity of white trash often depends on an authentic performance of country music; one that is dependent on staging a particularly commodifiable white trash image or ' look' . Does this mean the supposed authenticity of white trash is all performance? By locating the white trashness of country music within a broader historical and cultural context, this essay demonstrates the way O Brother, Where Art Thou? depicts white trash as an identity that is only authentic through a performance of authenticity. This essay explores the way white trash is often depicted on screen through the use of early 20th century country music. Whether it be through white trash country music narratives or the use of country music on film soundtracks to signify white trashness, it is undeniable that white trash has a special affinity with country music. For this reason my analysis of O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2001) will demonstrate the way early forms of U.S. country music emphasise the white trashness of the film' s characters. What exactly is white trash? U.S. cultura... ... middle of paper ... ...Bring Coen Brothers Film Soundtrack to Stage' . Rolling Stone 21 April. 2000. Peterson, Richard A. Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. Scott, A.O. ' O Brother, Where Art Thou?: Hail, Ulysses, Escaped Convict' The New York Times 22 Dec. 2000. Singer, Ben. ' Modernity, Hyperstimulus, and the Rise of Popular Sensationalism' . In Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life. Eds. L. Charney and U. Schwartz. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. 72-99. Williamson, J. W. Hillbillyland: What the Movies Did to the Mountains and What the Mountains Did to the Movies. Chapel Hill, N.C. and London: University of North Carolina, 1995. Wray, Matt, and Annalee Newitz. White Trash: Race and Class in America. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.
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