The relative presence or absence of clear norms prescribing certain kinds of alcohol use has long been regarded as a key factor in rates of alcoholism (e.g., 1, 2). In societies where it is expected that drinking will be used as a means to facilitate certain kinds of behavior or to assuage problems the incidence of alcohol problems is much higher than in those where expectations are that it be used for ceremonial functions (3).
The purpose of the present study was to examine the current image of alcohol use in country music, an element of American popular culture in which alcohol use and misuse has long been a major theme (4, 5). In country music the simple ideal and real values of the southern and southwestern regions of the United States, as well as middle-America generally, are explicitly stated. The lyrics affirm a simple and working classes and by those whose class origins are in these two groups. Therefore, analysis of such lyrical expressions provides an opportunity to explore values common to large segments of the population.
We hypothesized (1) that country music would reflect a high degree of ambivalence concerning the use of alcohol, wavering between an ideal value and a real one, and (2) that it would promote or prescribe the use of alcohol for the facilitation or assuagement.
While the ideal values of society, particularly the agrarian society from which country music stems, tend to portray drinking as "evil", the lyrics also extol its use. Adhering to the traditional fundamentalist view of alcohol as a tool of Satanic temptation (6), the ideal view condemns the use of alcohol. The real values, however, are quite different: Drinking is seen as related to manhood...
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... Two particular attitudes were found: (1) highly ambivalent feelings toward alcohol use and (2) the promotion of drinking for the sake of facilitation and assuagement.
These two themes are clearly related to a large body of literature on the relationship between societal attitudes toward drinking and the existence of alcohol problems. Fallding (3), for instance, demonstrated the potential destructiveness of drinking patterns based on ambivalent attitudes and the use of alcohol as a problem-solving mechanism. The presence of these themes in a "grass roots" expression of attitudes such as country music is an indication of their depth in the American social milieu. American society has no clear consistent drinking pattern, and, assuming that the values and attitudes expressed in these songs reflect basic attitudes, is not likely to develop such a set of norms.
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