I can’t write about food and wine every week, so here’s something else. Wine rants return next week.
I’ve filled up this blog with a lot of words recently, so I’ll try to keep this one brief.
I was watching the Grammys on Sunday and I wasn’t particularly sober and I went on a Twitter #LadyAntebellum spree, joining a group of people commenting on the band’s name, a name which toes that fine line between “quaint” and “racist.”
But it wasn’t the band’s name that drew the ire of my Twitter thumb. I’ve been aware of the band for a while–well aware that they had one of the best selling albums of 2010, for instance. I found their music pleasantly dull and the band name a little unsettling, but I also remember thinking that it might be a name more appropriate for a southern drag queen.
And I don’t begrudge them any success. It was nice to see legitimate instrumental musicians (Arcade Fire, Lady Antebellum, Esperanza Spalding) win big at the Grammys.
However, when complaints began to circulate on Twitter about the racist undertones of a name that evokes the slavery-era South–totally valid complaints–the apologists ran to the band’s defense in droves. Those apologists are the ones who drew my ire.
Look, Lady Antebellum is a country-folk band from the South whose name refers to the plantation-era South and does so in a Romantic way. Was the architecture beautiful? Sure. Does the word “antebellum” sound pretty? Yes. But there were still slaves. Lots and lots of slaves. Lots. It was also a period marked by the United States’ tenacious clinging to slavery through harsher legal actions (Dred Scott decision, Fugitive Slave Act) even as much of the world took (admittedly slow) steps to abolish slavery. By simply Romanticizing the good while ignoring the bad, it’s no different then Lynyrd Skynyrd slapping the Stars ‘n Bars on an album cover.
A few people brought up other bands with potentially offensive names, most notably Joy Division, whose name comes from the English translation of the term in Nazi Germany for the slave brothel buildings set up in concentration camps, or at least as termed in one best-selling novella from the late 1950’s. However, the band was open in provoking both sides of the fascist coin during a tumultuous time in the UK that culminated in the election of Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing (some would say Nationalist) government. And a British band of post-punk provocateurs using a provocative name of (possible) Nazi origins is a very different beast politically than a multi-platinum mainstream Southern American band performing Southern American music with a Romantic Southern American name.
No, I don’t think Lady Antebellum should change their name. In fact, I don’t think Lady Antebellum really should do anything differently. But their apologists need to recognize that the band’s name carries offensive (or even racist) connotations for a lot of people, and that response is legitimate.
As I mentioned on Twitter, I could call my band “The Pogrom Twins” with all the best intentions, but I couldn’t then dismiss the accompanying accusations of anti-Semitism by assuring people the name merely comes from a love of Russian folk songs and onion domes.
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With their magnificent cribs, outré fashions, bling, bombast, human trafficking, and gunplay — the big Slaveholders were seriously the Ganstas and Pimpdaddies of their time: Antebellum.