Southern Misfits: Politics, Religion and Identity in the Music of Indigo Girls

By Greene, Kate | Southern Quarterly, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Southern Misfits: Politics, Religion and Identity in the Music of Indigo Girls


Greene, Kate, Southern Quarterly


The songs of Indigo Girls Amy Ray and Emily Saliers express southern identities that resist convention. The music, even when it is clearly personal rather than political, presents a complex world - full of all its dilemmas and conflicting emotions - and asks the listeners to explore those dilemmas and emotions in themselves. Their explicitly political music is also designed to get the listener to see different ways of being in the world that would lead to an ethic of love over violence. The music of Indigo Girls is a kind of personalized political activism aimed to transform the world one listener at a time.

Because Ray and Saliers both explicitly identify as Southern in their lyrics, musical styles, writings and interviews, this analysis of their music will draw its structure from work on southern identity. A brief explanation of this framework will show how the music of Indigo Girls is more than just a long play list of individual songs, but is a coherent expression of their identities as "misfit" Southerners.

The study of southern identity, like southern identity itself, has a complex, "contradictory and contested," history.1 The once "exceptional" South which was constructed as a white man's world has been re-examined to include African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and women in the story of southern history and culture.2 Southern identity has long been the subject of study by historians such as C. Vann Woodward, W. J. Cash and James C. Cobb, among many others.3 Additionally, sociologists such as John Shelton Reed and Larry Griffin have cogently addressed the question of modern southern identity. Griffin, building on the work of Reed (1983), recently examined the demographics of southern identity and analyzed its complex "social psychology."4 Using the University of North Carolina's Southern Focus Polls (SFP), Griffin has shown that Reed's theories of southern culture are empirically supported. These theories identify two major shapers of southern identity: the collective definition of the region and the social psychology of regional identification.

Griffin notes that the use of a region as a reference point for self-identification is a choice, even for those who have lived in a region all their lives.5 The interesting questions then are: who chooses to identify as Southern, and what factors influence that choice? Evidence shows that each year fewer and fewer people who live in the South actually identify as Southerners, though the vast majority continue to do so.6 Additionally, while those most likely to identify as Southerners are Protestants, political conservatives, and those who are southern-born and have lived in the region for a long period of time, there are only small racial and gender differences in southern identity. That is, those who identify as Southern are not just white, Protestant, conservative men. African Americans, women, Hispanics, Native and Asian Americans, religious minorities, and other "outsiders," also commonly accept or assimilate a southern identity. Southern identity has thus been transformed by the diversity of those who claim it.7

The question that follows is why these individuals choose a southern identity. Building on Reed's speculations on the social psychology of white Southerners, Griffin uses the SFP to help identify what major factors influence the decision to choose southern identity. He found that while longevity in the region is always a major factor, others of significance include the belief that the South is superior to other places (that is, lifestyle, climate), and/or whether the individual embraces the South's positive qualities and downplays its negative ones, sees the South as distinctive, reflects on its meaning, and identifies and fits with others in the region.8

Griffin's social psychology of southern identity provides an interesting framework for analyzing Indigo Girls' work as musicians, songwriters and activists. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Southern Misfits: Politics, Religion and Identity in the Music of Indigo Girls
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.