Dolly Parton's America: Full podcast series
December 24, 2019 7:25 AM - Subscribe

In this intensely divided moment, one of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton—but why? That simple question leads to a deeply personal, historical, and musical rethinking of one of America’s great icons. Join us for a 9-part journey into the Dollyverse.
posted by latkes (4 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm posting this because I'm very curious what others think about it... I can't quite form my perspective. It has some big weaknesses - like that you never hear a full Dolly Parton song in it. It has Radiolab style production which I have grown used to but I know still has it's discontents. It is probably too long - maybe it would have been riveting if it had been 4 episodes of only the most thought provoking bits. Maybe it's impossible to make something with much depth when the subject is cooperating (and presumably has some veto power). But for me it's also quite compelling The biographical aspects especially in the early episode where they talk about her blossoming as a song writer were super interesting. And her story is as useful a frame to examine the issues of gender race and class it is exploring. I am having a harder time articulating what it is that is drawing me in about it, but it is.

I think, one episode shy of completion, what I'm left with is a frustration that the subject itself is hollow at the core. Jad has touched on this in a couple episodes, but what Dolly Parton is at this point is not a person, but an industry - Dolly Inc. She may be a brilliant song writer, but for decades now she has mostly been a canny business woman. But more than Dolly Parton's business sense, she is not really just a person any more. She's a corporate entity that makes choices based on sales numbers. Maybe if this had been made without Dolly's cooperation, and perhaps but less gentle and kind podcast producers, it could have explored the emptiness at the root of American popular culture in the capitalist context? But... so far it's just hinted at it.

Curious what others think.
posted by latkes at 7:33 AM on December 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Interesting. I'd never heard of this and am looking forward to giving it a try. Thanks!

I literally know almost nothing about Dolly Parton. I recognize the name as the punchline to probably-sexist jokes on television that I didn't understand as a child and don't actually remember. . . and, that's really all I've got. I couldn't name a song or say anything about her except for a vague sense that she's a country and western performer of some kind. I'm curious to see how it plays to someone hearing about her for the first time.
posted by eotvos at 11:14 AM on December 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Four shows in and coming at this without much prior knowledge, it's been really interesting. The first two shows were incredibly engaging and thoughtful, and easily could have stood on their own as part of some other series. The third was pretty short on content. I'm fascinated to learn that Dollywood exists. But, I didn't learn a whole lot about why it exists or what it means.

The fourth episode was a bit frustrating: it definitely spent a lot more time telling me how much the hosts were interested in the subject than explaining why I should be interested in the subject. I don't have any reason yet to care about Dolly Parton's childhood home. (I've got relatives in the Ozarks, which isn't exactly the same, but isn't all that different. Running like hell from that awful place is my natural instinct. Re-aligning that instinct to nostalgia is a real story-telling challenge, and probably an unfair one, but they haven't met it.) I'm a fan of gonzo journalism, but "we were really excited to look into the windows of an old house" is a hard thing to really grok if you're not already a fan of that old house. I'll reserve final judgement until the end, but I think I'm pretty well aligned with latkes' take on things, if less knowledgable about the subject.

I'm looking forward to the rest. I'm also slowly getting used to the accents. I find that I constantly have to remind myself to take the interviewees seriously. That's not something I'm proud of and is something I am working on changing.

Finally, as someone who would have to seriously consider whether to saw off my own leg with a rusty hacksaw or listen to a season of Radiolab, I actually enjoyed much of the production. The British scholar reciting lyrics over a bed of the actual song in the first episode was precious in a way that made me wince a bit, and they've made a few choices that probably ought to have been vetoed, but for the most part it's been a fun listening experience. It's definitely heavy-handed. But, they mostly let people finish their own sentences and don't over-do the sound effects in the way some other programs in a similar style tend to do. (Thanks for the heads-up, though!)
posted by eotvos at 10:22 AM on December 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I loved all the episodes and for me, it was less about Dolly Parton and more about America. I saw it as using Dolly as a touchstone for lots of topics that were worth discussing. I'm glad I listened to them.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:29 PM on January 5, 2020

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