Don’t learn patriotism from Toby Keith

Oct. 2, 2011

Aaron Collett
acollett@uccs.edu

Toby Keith is a pretty popular country singer. He’s actually popular enough that his music is closer to mainstream than country.

Recently, he’s moved toward so-called “patriotic” songs. Now, when most people think of patriotic songs, two always come up: “America the Beautiful” and the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Both of them express pride in our country, no matter what form our country takes through the years.

Keith, however, has decided that he knows what our country should look like and is telling us all what to believe through his music.

Keith’s most recent song, “Made in America,” is also his most egregious.

On a first listen, it seems to be a celebration of Midwestern American stereotypes – the cowboy, the cantankerous old man who raises the flag everyday at 5 a.m., the Craftsman man and so forth.

But as you listen to it more and more, you realize that this is not just celebrating stereotypes; this is actively promoting a superiority of a certain type of American.

The song starts out decently enough. In fact, the only problem I have with the first three lines is the link between dirty hands and a clean soul; but that’s a pretty common literary device, that the hard worker is pure of heart.

But then he starts to go off the tracks: “Breaks his heart seein’ foreign cars, filled with fuel that isn’t ours, and wearin’ cotton he didn’t grow.”

OK, this one is kind of funny. It’s actually quite possible that the “cotton” that this random person is wearing was, in fact, grown in America. It was just shipped to China or India to be processed into clothing and sent back.

The United States is actually the top exporter of cotton in the world.

And OK, he’s jumping on the foreign oil political bandwagon. I’ll take that.

Next we reach the chorus. Once again, first two lines, no problem.

Keith’s dad flies a flag and has a semper fi tattoo. Cool. He’s a patriot and was in the Marines.

Then he really jumps off the deep end: “Spends a little more at the store for a tag in the back that says USA.”

Oh, yes. That tag probably cost a penny for a Chinese peasant to print and then mail to the United States, along with our cotton that they processed for us, so that we can clip the Chinese made tag to the Chinese made shirt and call it made in America.

Buying things that are made in other countries is not bad. That’s how free trade works. Buyers pay the competitive price.

But the next line is worse: “Won’t buy nothin’ he can’t fix with WD40 and a Craftsman wrench.”

Grammatical errors aside, this one made me laugh. Craftsman tools are often made in China, then shipped to the United States to be assembled here. That’s why they’re “made in America,” just like our shirts.

Also, I understand that it’s a metaphor, but what about when he buys stuff that he needs but that can’t be fixed with a wrench and WD40?

Houses are often built in such a way that you need quite a bit of training to fix certain parts (roof, I’m looking at you). And don’t get me started on whether he has a computer or not.

Finally, the worst line in the entire song: “He ain’t prejudiced, he’s just, made in America.”

I’m sure that the creators of the Blue Laws in the south said, “We aren’t prejudiced, we just want to be separate from all you other people.”

And the Ku Klux Klan probably says, “We aren’t prejudiced, we just don’t want to be around those black folks.”

When you construct a sentence, “We aren’t X, we’re just Y,” you are making excuses. You are trying to justify actions that do, in fact, make you what you are claiming they don’t.

What about Americans who weren’t born here? We have tons of Americans who weren’t born here. They aren’t any less American than I am, just because my family has been in America since the 1700s.

For that matter, everyone involved in the Independence Day that this song venerates so much wasn’t American. They were British (America was still considered a part of Great Britain until 1783).

This song, “Made in America,” like most of Keith’s music, touts itself as a “patriotic” song. But Keith’s definition of patriotism is incredibly narrow.

To him, only those who proclaim their allegiance as loudly as possible are true patriots.

To him, if you don’t do what he promotes (raise the flag every morning, scream the Pledge of Allegiance, only buy things that have the magical “American” tag), you are not American. And that is wrong.

America is a land of opportunity and diversity, and that means a diversity of patriotism, too.