We deconstruct Toby Keith – Beer For My Horses ft. Willie Nelson´s video because a friend asked us to!
For this analysis I must give a big mention to a good friend of MVD’s and fellow ‘Jammer’ (as we TIMJ users refer to each other) MsSue – otherwise know as Sue, unsurprisingly enough – who submitted this video after winning our Nik Kershaw competition a couple of weeks ago. Thanks Sue! It’s a great video, one with many strands so let me delve in without further delay…
So the first, most obvious thing to note is that this is basically an episode of CSI fused with some fuzzy wild-west undertones and crammed in to a 5 minute country-pop video. It’s brevity means that, in the absence of time for nuanced character or plot building, broad strokes have to be used. An introduction to the main characters – none of whom even need actual names – is thus pretty easy to compile and goes something like this:
Toby Keith: The experienced homicide detective who probably likes to ‘play by his own rules’ but knows how to get the job done. He’s basically a modern extension of the Dirty Harry prototype which has popped up in almost every cop show/film since. The twist with this character is that he lives in the shadow of his father’s reputation, and the knowledge that he isn’t as good as his dad once was is what drives him.
Idiot sidekick (played by Corin Nemec): Plays the role that so many sidekicks do – i.e. he’s not as smart or as experienced but he provides good entertainment value. His role is to make Keith look good by constantly displaying his own comical ineptitude. His one redeeming feature is his bravery, although this exists on a very thin border alongside his stupidity.
Willie Nelson: This is the grizzled old retired forensic profiler (who also happens to be Keith’s dad) with the legendary reputation. His methods were a little unconventional, his attitude uncompromising, but he got results damnit. He is also a cowboy stereotype, an outlaw figure, and undoubtedly a bit of a redneck. He likes whisky, women and, well, probably Willie Nelson records too.
A video in 3 parts, the opening scene not only establishes the storyline (serial killer at large, Keith can’t ‘get a profile that really sticks, calls his father out of retirement to help, he helps) but also seems to articulate the real life relationship between Keith and Nelson. Here is the young country singer (he was 32 at the time), the upstart with a record to sell. It’s a good record but not a great one. What it needs to take it to the next level is a bonafide legend, an experienced old pro who can give it that vital edge it lacks. It’s a benevolent act on Willie’s part, something made clear when he tells his son ‘you come to me’. He’ll do him a favour, but on his own terms. Willie’s in charge.
The second scene, set on Nelson’s retirement ranch, essentially serves the role a montage would in a feature film. Shots of father and son working hard are interspersed with comedy moments provided by the idiot sidekick whose presence at the house seems to be totally superfluous to the actual case. Indeed, he has nothing better to do than goof around with Willie’s holster and pistols. This picks up on the other purpose of this scene which is to establish the back-story of Nelson’s character. He’s a cowboy, a sheriff no less who – if this story is to be believed (probably best not to think too hard about it actually) – must be about 150 years old. If this was a feature film we would probably find out that he was trained by an old Indian in the arts of tracking, and also that he was once ‘the best shot in the west’ or something like that. Honestly, there’s room in this character for a whole bunch of empty clichés. I bet he once profiled and tracked a killer for 5 days across a merciless desert with nothing but a hipflask of whisky for sustenance. And I bet an hour after he caught him he was in a saloon somewhere drinking yet more whisky and taking a shine to one of the dancing girls. I bet this guy pisses neat whisky and routinely sleeps with women half his age. He probably has a horse he refers to as ‘the most faithful woman in his whole life’. He’s one of the good guys but bad to the bone all at the same time. He’s hard but fair yet a strong advocate of corporal punishment, preferably hanging. He loves pork and beans etc etc…..
The final scene involves, naturally, the catching of the serial killer. This involves idiot sidekick dressing up as a woman, the ultimate in humiliation in such a conservatively heterosexual environment. The insinuation is pretty clear – a man in woman’s clothing is to be mocked and ridiculed in a way that further connotes a fairly rampant homophobia, one based on the all too frequent and mistaken conflation of homosexuality and transvestism. This is undoubtedly completely lost on the video’s target audience who will simply laugh at the idiot in the dress. Maybe I’m reading too much in to it myself and should simply see him as an idiot in a dress too. Or maybe not.
The apprehension of the serial killer (who is your basic, everyday rent-a-psycopath type) is notable for reaffirming two established tropes. The first is that the son is not his father, and ultimately needs rescuing by him. The second is the reaffirming of Nelson’s cowboy credentials via his choice of gun, one of the old style pistols idiot sidekick was playing with in scene two. Let’s make no mistake here: this may be Keith’s video, his cop-show fantasy but Nelson is the hero, an analogy which once again neatly sums up the actual song.
So what we have here is a white, male, Republican, country cop/cowboy fantasy made for white, male Republican country fans who like a good cop and/or cowboy fantasy. And to that end it works well enough. Actually, for all its faults I quite enjoyed it. And indeed, this is Willie Nelson. He’s one cool dude, and we at MVD think he’s the man. Toby Keith less so…
Final observations/questions: there’s men drinking whisky but not a beer drinking horse anywhere in site. I can’t help thinking the video needed one somewhere. Also, if you ride a drunk horse drunk does this fall under the drink-driving laws? Finally, how much beer can a horse drink? I’m betting they can put away a fair amount. Can you imagine the Lone Ranger trying to get a hungover Silver going in the morning, as he lays in a puddle of his own vomit? Hi-ho Silver! Get up you drunken bastard horse, we’ve got plains to cross! I shall leave you with that wonderful image in your head….