New England roundup #13

Friendly's Restaurant & Ice Cream, Unionville, CT (image via Wikipedia)
Friendly's Restaurant & Ice Cream, Unionville, CT (image via Wikipedia)

Not much happening this week—must be those last, lazy days of summer:

About this feature: Each week, I compile recent articles and other items relating to New England’s history, its regional identity, and its future. If you come across something interesting or relevant, please submit it for inclusion in a future post. Click here for previous roundups.

Advertisements

When country music, regional resentment, and gender politics collide

While hunting around YouTube for the best version of Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers’ “New England,” I came across another remarkable text: the music video for Reba McEntire’s 1986 song “Whoever’s in New England.” Written by Kendal Franceschi and Quentin Powers, the song was a #1 hit on Billboard’s country charts and inspired McEntire’s first music video; the album of which it was a part was McEntire’s tenth, but her first to go to #1.

I’m not being ironic in using the adjective “remarkable” to describe the song and accompanying video. Both present a wife’s lament about suspicious business trips “up North” to Massachusetts taken by her husband, “an executive on his way up.” The video alternates between scenes of a lonely McEntire in her home and driving her husband to the airport and (imagined?) images of her husband dining and frolicking in the snow with a Boston businesswoman. “You know its not too late, ’cause you’ll always have a place to go / When whoever’s in New England’s through with you,” the singer declares in the song’s conclusion. In the video, her husband realizes the error of his ways, abandons his flight at the airport, and returns to McEntire’s arms.

The song seems to me to encapsulate a strain of the South’s late-twentieth-century resentment and feelings of inferiority toward “elites” from New England—and especially, and explicitly, Massachusetts—even amid the South’s own simultaneous political, economic, and cultural ascendancy.

Wikipedia tells me that McEntire’s song is a response to Barry Manilow’s 1976 recording “Weekend in New England,” a song penned by by Randy Edelman. In “Weekend,” the singer addresses a lover with whom he has spent time in New England (although it’s not clear that he is otherwise spoken for). The liaison occurs on “long rocky beaches” and the singer returns to “the city,” evoking the New England of coastal tourism, an escape from modern life.

But the lyrics and video of McEntire’s song establish a contrast, instead, between the tall buildings, executive boardrooms, fancy restaurants, and public parks of urban Boston and a suburban, implicitly Southern, home featuring both modern and country accents. New England is cold, with winters that may be “beautiful” but “can last forever.” It’s a foreign “up there,” and one needs a “place to go,” a Southern home to return to, when it inevitably abandons you.

The other woman (still from music video for Reba McEntire, "Whoever's in New England")
The other woman (still from music video for Reba McEntire, "Whoever's in New England")

Strikingly, the video also casts this contrast in terms of two models of feminine styling and comportment, aligning 1980s-era controversies over feminism with the clash of “icy” New England vs. the South. It depicts McEntire at home in her kitchen and/or at her husband’s side, clad in a sweater, denim, and a sensible perm. Compare this with the woman with whom he has an affair. She is not the secretary taking notes on his presentation; instead, she’s a businesswoman sitting among the men at the conference table. She wears glasses, a men’s-style jacket, and a tie, and her hair is pulled up severely. She, indeed, is the aggressor in their encounter: her smile cuts to his, then to hers again, after reeling him in for a dinner out. And the stained-glass window behind her, for some reason depicting the state seal, brands her and her behavior as unquestionably “Massachusetts.”

In short, watch this video. I think it could be a really useful in teaching—a compelling launching point for a discussion about the regional, cultural, and gendered dimensions of U.S. politics in the 1980s, and their many intersections.

New England roundup #12

I’m back from New England, so it’s time to get caught up on the latest items of note about New England.

But first, via a commenter on Matt Yglesias’s post about his soundtrack for a drive from D.C. to Maine, I’ve just discovered Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers’ song “New England.” Several years ago, a friend brought Richman’s “Roadrunner” to my attention, and it’s a fantastic song, with a lot of New England flavor (“Gonna drive past the Stop ‘n’ Shop…”), but of a Greater Boston-centric sort. “New England” is sparer but more catholic, consisting basically of the repeated couplet “Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-da-dum-day / Oh, New England” and a shout-out to Maine. When I one day teach my prospective course New England’s history and regional identity since the Civil War—which I really do mean to write more about here sometime—I’m definitely playing this on the first day of class. Until then, consider it the official anthem of these posts.

Pamphlet titled "South Shore of Massachusetts Bay," 1910 (image from Historic New England, Ephemera collection)
Pamphlet titled "South Shore of Massachusetts Bay," 1910 (image from Historic New England, Ephemera collection)

On to this week’s roundup:

About this feature: Each week, I compile recent articles and other items relating to New England’s history, its regional identity, and its future. If you come across something interesting or relevant, please submit it for inclusion in a future post. Click here for previous roundups.

DADT repeal and the boundaries of heterosexuality

Detail of 1943 advertisement for Cannon Towels--or, technically, for war bonds--depicting "the bathing facilities of our boys in the service." Click for full advertisement.
Detail of 1943 advertisement for Cannon Towels--or, technically, for war bonds--depicting "the bathing facilities of our boys in the service." Click for full advertisement.

When historians talk about how modern conceptions of homosexuality and heterosexuality emerged in conjunction with one another beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, attention understandably focuses on the changing lists of sex acts one could do, or have done to oneself, without raising eyebrows. But the emergence of homo- and heterosexuality also involved a whole array of subtler changes in routine social interactions. My advisor George Chauncey discussed a compelling example—the less-intimate poses adopted over time by Yale football players in their team portraits—in a Yale Alumni Magazine article last summer.

This phenomenon came to mind as I read New York magazine’s fascinating new profile of the National Guardsmen in Iraq who, led by 22-year-old Codey Wilson, created the Ke$ha-soundtracked “If the Army Goes Gay” video that went viral earlier this year. This passage of Lisa Taddeo’s article especially stood out:

The thing they seem most concerned about is that the repeal [of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy] will usher in a slew of new rules about fraternization. “If everyone knows you’re gay and you touch someone, even as a joke, you’ll be going down for it, the same way that if a guy held a girl’s hand on the—Stop it, man! My roommate’s touching me right now.”

Wilson’s concern that DADT’s repeal would require the reconfiguration of the behavior considered acceptable for heterosexual soldiers offers another example of how sexual categories have evolved, and continue to, at different paces and in strikingly different ways in different social contexts.

And it would be pretty fantastic if those much-maligned DADT surveys ended up indicating, rather than anxiety about predatory gays in the barracks, apprehension about the fate of horseplay and grab ass.

New England roundup #11

Platform at Springfield's current Amtrak station, adjacent to the old Union Station (cc photo by NatalieMaynor)
Platform at Springfield's current Amtrak station, adjacent to the old Union Station (cc photo by NatalieMaynor)

It’s August already?

  • If you missed it on Twitter earlier this week, I have a guest post at The Lazy Scholar on Connecticut’s online archives.
  • There’s been lots of news this week on the future of passenger rail service in New England:
    • On Thursday, an official at Connecticut’s Department of Transportation publicly discussed plans for both the New Haven-Springfield corridor and the longer New Haven-St. Albans route.  The AP has an overview, and the Brattleboro Reformer covers the Vermont angle. Initial work on double-tracking in Connecticut and other track upgrades in Massachusetts and Vermont will be completed in two to three years and will cut the St. Albans-to-New York trip of Amtrak’s Vermont service—which has seen strong ridership growth in the last year—by about 90 minutes. Prospective longer-term projects would further cut travel times and increase train frequencies, from six roundtrips to 25 at Hartford and from one to three at Brattleboro. And Connecticut’s latest application for additional federal grant money “got a fairly good reception,” likely aided by the state’s plan to sell $260 million in bonds to further fund work to support New Haven-Springfield commuter rail service.
    • In another positive development for the same corridor, the Federal Transit Administration on Tuesday unfroze funding for the rehabilitation and redevelopment of Union Station in Springfield. The project aims to make the station, which has been abandoned since 1973, into a hub for Amtrak and commuter rail as well as local and inter-city bus service. The Republican cheered the development in an editorial today. (You can take a look inside the empty facility as it stood in 2007 via the Flickr feed of Heather Brandon, who writes about Springfield and Hartford at the blog Urban Compass.)
    • Finally, Amtrak’s Downeaster service between Portland and Boston attracted record ticket revenues during the just-ended fiscal year. Work begins Monday to extend service past Portland to Brunswick and is projected to finish in fall 2012. I look forward to testing out the Boston-to-Wells portion of the route in a couple of weeks!
  • Published earlier this month: Lost Ski Areas of Southern Vermont, by Jeremy K. Davis, which “looks into the over-investment, local competition, weather variation, changing skier habits, insurance costs and just plain bad luck that caused these ski areas to succumb and melt back into the landscape.” The author is founder of the extensive New England Lost Ski Areas Project, which records over 100 areas in Vermont alone, including Maple Valley, which I pass by every time I visit my parents.
  • Boston, Hartford, and Providence all failed to break July records for days over 90 degrees.  Hartford, though, saw a tie for the highest average July temperature on record, Ryan Hanrahan reports.
  • The latest Beige Book from the Federal Reserve sees continued economic expansion but “signs of slowing” in New England, according to the Globe.

About this feature: Each week, I compile recent articles and other items relating to New England’s history, its regional identity, and its future. If you come across something interesting or relevant, please submit it for inclusion in a future post. Click here for previous roundups.