Books

Small Town Queens Reign During Festival Season and in 'The Rhinestone Sisterhood'

David Greenwood describes festivals as "a chance to feast on joy, to ditch the cynical side of modern life and embrace old-fashioned play". The same is true of his book.


The Rhinestone Sisterhood:A Journey through Small-Town America, One Tiara at a Time

Publisher: Crown Publishers
Price: $25.00
Author: David Valdes Greenwood
Length: 288 pages
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-04
Website
Author website
Amazon

Meet Lauren, Kristen, Chelsea and Brandy. Otherwise known as Fur, Cattle, Frog and Cotton. They are four of Louisiana's esteemed festival queens, and author David Valdes Greenwood has an awfully fun time introducing them to you in The Rhinestone Sisterhood.

In exploring the small-town festival circuit, Greenwood has found a fascinating sub-culture, one that you could imagine shining through a variety of treatments -- a lavish full-color spread of pageant night in National Geographic, an illuminating Oxford American article on Southern traditions, a Marie Claire feature with a serious moral about standards of beauty. For Rhinestone Sisterhood -- Greenwood's third book, following two memoirs -- he chooses a chummy style, writing like a protective older sister as he follows the ups and downs of the queens during their pageants, their festivals, and their reign.

Small towns organize festivals because they are tradition and because they help advertise local industry. To be a queen of, say, Rice, Hot Sauce, Oil & Gas, Oranges, Swine or Crawfish, you need to understand this industry inside and out. You will be quizzed on it during your closed-door interview with the judges -- the most heavily weighted part of the pageant. Plus, successful queens will need to represent their town and its industry at other festivals across the state, which they attend with gusto.

"Do you sit at home and let your crown get full of dust, or do you put on your crown and let it get full of festival dirt?" So says Chelsea, the 2008 Rayne Frog Festival Queen. She is literally talking about dirt, which may be acquired while chasing after a greased pig at the Swine Festival or creating a stylish outfit out of a burlap sack for the Yam Festival. The difference between beauty pageants and festival pageants is not quite the difference between Sassy and Seventeen, My So-Called Life and 90210. Festival queens are primped and polished and do, of course, wear rhinestone-studded crowns.

With no swimsuit contest to fear, these queens come in all shapes and sizes. They also must be unflaggingly game. Gracing the book's cover is Kristen the Cattle Queen, who poses for photos while wearing her crown, a cow-print dress and matching flip-flops, all while straddling a cow. ("She not only keeps her poise, but changes position a few times, even stretching out lengthwise in the pose of a daydreamer who just happens to be nestled on bullhorns instead of pillows.")

Sitting on a cow or chasing a slippery pig is not the closest that this sub-culture gets to mud-slinging -- that, as Greenwood explains, would be the Voy boards. This website has both "positive" and "negative" boards. On the negative boards, the childish, the vindictive, and the downright mean spread rumors about rigged results, the personal lives of queens, and other dirty laundry. A young woman may be called a "crown chaser" for vying for a title outside of her home area... or she may be called much, much worse.

Voy board vitriol is not the only challenge faced by Greenwood's four queens. During the year covered by the book, they also learn that "your crown has no magic when you're at work, around the dinner table with your folks, or dealing with a recalcitrant boyfriend." Greenwood delves into the queens' relationships with boyfriends and parents with mixed results. Clearly, these issues are of significant importance to the young women, and have an impact on their quest for titles and their reign as queens.

However, Greenwood is in full "older sister" mode at these moments, and you begin feeling a little old to be reading this book. Speaking of Chelsea after she caught her train on someone's foot during a pageant, he writes that "honestly, it is not the train incident that has her feeling blue; it's [her boyfriend] Jace... It's not as if a satin banner with your name on it offers you any protection from disappointment and heartache." Greenwood tells her that if she is a queen, she should find a guy who treats her like a princess.

Yes, Greenwood's prose can be a bit cloying. "To be a festival queen," he says, "there is no height-weight chart except for the one a girl sets for herself... [S]urface details... matter less to judges than the glow of the girl within." You might want to cringe ever-so-slightly at the Splenda-sweetness of it all.

Just like a determined aspirant to the festival throne, Rhinestone is too upbeat to let any missteps slow it down. Greenwood describes festivals as "a chance to feast on joy, to ditch the cynical side of modern life and embrace old-fashioned play". The same is true of his book.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image