by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & To Keith Olbermann, If I May & r & & r & Is Toby Keith the worst person in the world? It's a question I've pondered a lot since 2002's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" unabashedly beat the war gong in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion scoring a platinum record -- and won more country music awards than Keith ever had before.
I returned to the question last weekend watching the opening scene of Stop Loss, where young soldiers in Iraq pump themselves up by singing that song before being cut to ribbons by insurgent fire. Watching the film just happened to come on the heels of a month-long marketing blitz by Keith's people, trying to get me to promote his Spokane Arena date. It got me thinking. He'd been such a pro-war figure from 2001 through the release of "American Soldier," another big-selling pro-war single, I was curious whether he'd kept it up. He totally hasn't. Since 2005's Honkytonk University he's pulled out of the war for hearts and minds completely, adopting a totally apolitcal stoney party guy image: the Jimmy Buffett of Nashville.
His new tour -- an extension of his vanity record label, Show Dog Nashville -- blatantly sells sex (Carter's Chord are the Dixie Chicks minus introspection plus several cup sizes) and willful stupidity. Trailer Choir's "Off the Hillbilly Hook" adopts tired hip-hop slang while reveling in Confederate culture and bragging about raising hell with shotguns. I'd call it obliquely racist if the band weren't so dumb. Any racism they were to spout would be upfront and direct, not oblique, I'm sure. Nothing in Keith's personal work since 2004 even hints at patriotism.
What makes him such a repulsive, cynical figure, then, isn't that he's a sometime-patriot and redneck and merchant of base desires -- I grew up in the sticks; I come from a military family; God knows I'm a fan of base desires. It's that he dons these hats as their market values dictate. He ditched the patriot pose as soon as the war became unpopular. If there is a time the troops need support, it's when the nation's resolve goes south.
But no, at just that moment, Keith decided to reinvent himself again, as America's favorite horny middle-aged frat boy with a cowboy hat. So: worst person in the world? Dude's got my vote.