I like country music, so I watch a lot of CMT (Country Music Television). I’ve written about it, too, in “Those 9/11 Songs” and in “Love Your Country.” I used to think CMT offered a popular alternative to the usual lefty cultural sensibility reigning on MTV and VH1. I don’t think that so much anymore. CMT has been running Neil Young’s new video “I’m Walkin’ to New Orleans.” It’s a remake of the old Fats Domino tune, with video that tries to pin blame on George Bush.
Now “I’m Walkin’ to New Orleans” isn’t a country song. And Neil Young sure as heck ain’t no country music star. The famous Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Sweet Home Alabama” hits back at Young for blaming George Wallace on the whole South (in Young’s “Southern Man”). But now CMT is using a Neil Young song for a blatant political attack on President Bush. Even CMT’s most hawkish war songs don’t level attacks against named dovish Democratic politicians. This is the most blatantly political video I’ve ever seen on CMT, and it’s by a non-country singer who’s famous for hating the South.
This isn’t an isolated incident. It’s been clear for some months now that CMT’s cultural politics have been shifting to the left. They had a special, for example, featuring Jimmy Carter and his friendship with Willie Nelson. The program was fine, but I haven’t seen any comparable programing featuring Republican or conservative political figures. And CMT now runs an alternative music country program, “Wide Open Country.” It’s good at times, although a lot of the material is surprising weak and/or rock oriented. It would be nice to see a religious country program along side the alternative country show, but don’t expect that kind of diversity from CMT. Even if I can’t remember every example, I know I’ve seen a number of other signs of a cultural shift left on CMT lately.
CMT is owned by Viacom, the same company that owns MTV and VH1. Up to now, they’ve been reasonably separate operations. But it’s beginning to look as though the cultural left has decided to use CMT to try to proselytize the South. They’re also trying to push the country audience closer to rock. Up to a point, I have no problem with the rock angle. I generally like the Crossroads series on CMT, which pairs country stars with rock stars. Even so CMT is getting pushed to the musical, cultural, and political left, as the Young video shows. I love country music video’s, but maybe it’s time to break out the old radio.