May 25, 2006

Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On

Kevin Jones of Philokalia Republic points us to The Rat via Eve Tushnet:
"Bluntly equating literary discourse with sexual intercourse, Wister indicates [in the novel The Virginian] that a cowboy can make love to a woman only by first gaining intellectual access to her through an acquaintance with canonical fiction."

- Blake Allmendinger, "The Cowboy: Representations of Labor in an American Work Culture"
Uhh okay... whatever. "An intellectual stretch", Kevin says, and it made me wonder what an academic might do with the old country song "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" by Mel McDaniel:
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Down on the corner by the traffic lights
Everybody's lookin', as she goes by
they turn their heads and they watch her 'til she's gone
Lord have mercy, baby's got her bluejeans on

Up by the bus top, & across the street
Open up their windows, to take a peek
While she goes walkin', rockin' like a rollin' stone
Heaven help us, baby's got her bluejeans on

She can't help it if she's made that way
She's not to blame if they look her way
She ain't really tryin' to cause a scene
It just comes naturally, No -- the girl can't help it

Well up on Main Street, by the taxi stand
There's a crowd of people, in a traffic jam
She don't look back, she ain't doin' nothin' wrong
Lord have mercy, Baby's got her bluejeans on

"Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" -- Mel McDaniel
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Place tongue firmly in cheek while I attempt to "decode McDaniel":

Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On is a particularly deft example of a preconceptual paradigm of reality. In the song the term "blue jeans" evokes the American myth of Emersonian independence. "Blue" conjures a limitless expanse of the sky with its "Manifest Destiny" overtones, while "jeans" is an obvious literary allusion to Victor Hugo's character Jean ValJean, who represents the peasantry and the casting off of the law's tyranny as America casted off English tyranny.

"Baby", a nickname the songwriter uses to suggest innocence, wears a pair of pants that would seem to command the attention of the eye. By saying that "everybody is looking at her" we may infer that the threshold of some sort of community standard has been met in her case, and indeed exceeded. Baby is ignorant of her body's impact and represents the Rousseauian "noble savage" in her unencumberances; the songwriter hints that if we could all be like her - innocent and unaware - there wouldn't be any "scenes" or "traffic jams". "She ain't doin' nothing wrong" implies that those watching her are doing something wrong.

Listeners to McDaniel's work might find Baby's lack of self-consciousness difficult to believe. How, we might ask, can she be insensible to a community response that results in traffic jams (obviously symbolic of the social upheaval of the '60s and the accompanying sexual revolution)?

The song appears to leave unexplored as to how to resolve the tension between the unconscious individual and a society that prefer she remain unconscious even at its own peril. We might wonder, but cannot know, whether Baby is clinging to an "invincible ignorance" in order to avoid the possibility of having to change her behavior, a change that might result in a decrease of status and social standing which are conferred by the rubberneckers. But that would be unfair to McDaniels, who insists that Baby wears her blue jeans sans social motive. In the end, the community decision to keep Baby ignorant is only impoverishing. The truth is its own reward, but, as Felix Adler said, "The truth which has made us free will in the end make us glad also.".

Update: Steven Riddle demurs with great post-modern fluidity:
Obviously the song is about the dysphoria that comes with the paradigmatic shift that results from the hegemonic oppression proceeding from a hermaneutics of infantalism--this is the "baby" of the song title, thus diminishing capacity and objectifying and essentially reinforcing the cultural entreclat while undermining ego identity creating the collapse of "eigen" space (or augen space if the central dimension is visual.)

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