We like that story as much as we like Dolly Parton. Rather, we like Dolly Parton because we like that story about who we are. The idea that Dolly is Dolly because of the strength of American diversity is one that pretends to be about how good Dolly is when it is really a story about how good we believe we are. In this story, the soul of America is a progressive teleology that will always, inevitably bend toward justice. America’s soul is immune to everyday evidence of its fallibility, and outright antagonistic to any suggestion that it is more myth than manifest destiny. Belief in the soul of America is as strong as another belief, with similar embodied metaphors. The soul is always at war with the nation’s racist bones. You know the racist bones. Those are the bones of which every good white American is fond of claiming not to have. If the racist bone exists, it is rendered as vestigial and unruly as a floating rib. There one minute but gone the next, and of no real consequence to the working of the body.
All of my reading also revealed this: Dolly Parton is one of very few living texts that could survive projections of America’s soul without buckling beneath its contradictions. It is treasonous to do so but if one strips away all the adulation, they are left with an odd totem for our socio-political times. Dolly is a white Southern multi-millionaire boomer who produces self-consciously white music while wearing a stylized drag of a fallen Southern belle. Only a society that willfully believes itself “post-racist” could produce such a queen. Post-racist does not mean there is no more racism. It means that we believe there is an us after we rid ourselves of our errant racist bones, which we are certain will come to pass. We craft Dolly into an unproblematic fave because the most problematic part of The Dolly Parton Moment is us.
Source: The Dolly Moment – essaying
I wish I could write like Tressie McMillan Cottom. Damn. Like Dolly, she can “write her ass off”. After each read, I feel like a drummer who starts crying after watching Larnell Lewis for the first time. Read the whole thing.
The woman can write her ass off. Her gift is one that is easy to overlook as mere folk. That is the category sophisticated people place art done by women, by and for poor or rural people, by people of color, created outside of a cultural institution, and that uses pastoral themes. Home. Love. Longing. Desire. Faith. Those sound basic and they are. Dolly’s creative genius is multifold and one of its top tiers is how deceptively easy her songwriting appears. Maybe anyone could write something like: “I don’t love you/and the grass is blue.” But anyone didn’t, and you didn’t either. Because you can’t.