Wrangler Vogue: The Sexualization of Country Music as the “exotic other” via Dwight Yoakam
by Dan Taylor
In the late Reagan through first Bush years of the late 80’s to early 90’s, it was a time rapant cultural materialism (currently manifesting itself in it’s apex of our current pop era) and repressed sexual desires of resurgent conservative mores reminiscent the 50’s. And much like gyrating moves of Elvis, too obscene for television, the late 80’s spawned it’s own hillbilly sex icon, Dwight Yoakam. Only this time he gyrated through the pop culture lens set by the anthem of the time, “Material Girl,” by his female counterpart, Madonna.
The music of Madonna related to that of Dwight Yoakam? Yes, two sides of the coin, if taken in the right way. At the same time that Madonna vogued in revealing or little to no clothes, Dwight and his ever tight jeans captured the heart of a yearning, repressed America. Like a bulging package of cultural authenticity and raw sex, he twanged the zeitgeist of the collective consciousness.
But, in a far more nebulous way, American was using both Dwight and Madonna for their sexual pop music fantasties, but not truly valuing them as artists and performers. Much like is now commonplace, and had building from Elvis and before unto this time period, the lens made Dwight appear almost animal like in his sexuality, hat always covering his mischievous and seductive face, concealing his real identity and inner life.
Madonna, the exotic Brooklyn Italian primitive, seen the same way. All sex, all movement and materialism. American wanting to authenticate its cultural roots vicariously Dwight as his hillbilly Madonna sang of the life saving virtues of “Guitars, Cadillacs, etc.” to an American thriving for consumers position to fill its culture void of a soul. Where as Dwight’s longing and hurt was real, so was that of our nation, but channeled towards false hopes and corporate products.
But, Dwight as the mysterious and animal sexual other was not allowed his real hurt, and was cast also as a dangerous villain, on the edge of violence. See his portrayal and character in the film “Slingblade,” as a savage alcoholic in a narrative whose title uses the loaded imagery of the sexual blade and penetration that Billy Bob Thornton's character used in a grisly murder linked to sex of the mother and elicit behavior. Now rural America is shown as the violent other, a scarey place, linking crimes of passion and bloodlust to erotic tastes of mainstream moviegoers.
So, in this age that made him a star, Dwight was not framed as the caring, melancholic lover, with broken heart and sensitive tastes. His songwriting, though, would later show these sides, even if his cultural popularity began to wane. But, pop music is performance, image and showmanship. Dwight, like his idol Elvis, the other hillbilly to whom he owes a large musical debt, remains the tight jean country king of sex.