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We’re back and we’re saluting Dolly Parton

by on July 1, 2014

We’ll blog later this week about the GWO conference and other events we’ve been to. For now, however, the person everyone’s talking about is country singer Dolly Parton, the ‘undisputed queen of Glastonbury’ (The Telegraph) whose set on Sunday has been described as ‘memorable’ (Daily Mail), ‘ridiculous, yet sublime’ (The Guardian) and as the  ‘biggest attraction since the Rolling Stones’ (The Independent).

At 68 (and 18 months older than Hillary Clinton), she has joined a long list of singers who have headlined at recent musical events when in their 60s and 70s. Most of the commentary has mentioned her age (an ‘old pro’, a ‘veteran’, and ‘legendary’ are some of the terms used).

Ahead of Sunday’s performance, The Independent described her in this article as the ‘debutante who’s so fake she’s real’ and explained how Parton will fit in at Glastonbury ‘precisely because contrary to all … she is as honest and authentic as you get. The reassembled features? She talks about them openly. “I am not a natural beauty. So I need all the help I can get”.

Has this attitude helped her to sidestep some of the age-related speculation (and scorn) that can be targeted on high profile women who have plastic surgery? There’s always been a sense of paradox about Dolly Parton. Take, for example, her famous quip that  “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap”‘. The following extract examining the effect of this quote is from an academic paper on metaphor in organization theory:

This is highly sophisticated, ironic self-parody, which, in terms of sensemaking processes (Weick, 1995), forces the listener to completely reconsider the identity of Dolly Parton as a cheap, customized, busty, dumb blonde. Just by making the statement, Ms. Parton decenters herself from the image and implies that she deliberately set out to manufacture and cultivate such an image, that she is separate from the image, and that—once you start to think about it—achieving the appearance of “cheap-ness” to appeal to a mass audience is a complex and, indeed, rather expensive process. Moreover, her self-parody belittles the very sexism that has fueled her success to the point that it is no longer clear just who has been exploiting whom. The irony works by confronting us with the conventional meanings attributed to the images of “cheap,” “blonde,” and “dumb” and then forcing us to recast and reconstruct them from a quite different perspective.’ (Oswick, Keenoy & Grant, 2002, pp 299-300).

Indeed. And it’s worth pointing out that this is also a woman who plays numerous musical instruments, has written over 3000 songs and does good work promoting literacy. Her Imagination Library started in Tennessee in 1996 providing every child in a chosen area with a hard-back book every month from birth to the age of five. She backs the library with her own money from the Dollywood Foundation, manages the distribution of books, and helps find sponsors in local areas. We salute you, Dolly!

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