Jason Aldean (“Try That in a Small Town”)


As Washington Post columnist Paul Weldon correctly put it last week, “Aldean’s latest single, “Try That in a Small Town” — is an exercise in belligerent rural hostility, and it will almost certainly make him the right’s latest hero who was “canceled” for speaking the truth. Don’t be surprised if Republican presidential candidates start playing the song at their rallies.” (Well, at least we’ll be spared listening to Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless the USA”!) As Weldon aptly titled his piece,Jason Aldean cashes in on the right-wing fantasy of violent retribution.” The fantasy of “violent retribution” may be the immediate concern, but “cashes in” are the operative words.

Many country songs have celebrated the virtues of rural, small-town America (“full of good ol’ boys,” as the lyrics say) compared to the supposed evils of big cities, but the accompanying video makes this a standout. (CMT took it down in response to claims of racism.) Never mind that it was filmed in front of a small-town courthouse that was the scene of a 1927 lynching (something that, in fairness, Aldean may not have been aware of), what is most disturbing is its depiction of urban America (a place beyond the power and control of the small-town lynch mob, perhaps?) by way of violent crime scenes, many taken from the summer of 2020 following the George Floyd protests.  Aldean claims his message isn’t racist, but the dangerous enemy portrayed is clearly the violent “other” that supposedly threatens idyllic White America.  As Weldon puts it: “Its violent revenge theme is common in conservative rhetoric, whether it’s gun advocates talking about how they need AR-15s to fend off home invaders or wage war on the government, or Trump telling cheering crowds about his desire to inflict violence on liberals.” (Remember, “liberals” is the old word for what MAGAs now call the “woke mob.”)

“I will never apologize for my beliefs or my love for my family and country,” Aldean said in 2021. “This is the greatest country in the world and I want to keep it that way.” The contention, of course, is that he and those who share his beliefs care more about their family and country than do those in urban America, including people of color, the dangerous “other,” i.e., the good ol’ woke mob against whom his audience wants “violent retribution.”

“’Try That in a Small Town’ is a fantasy of violent retribution against outsiders.”

The big question is “retribution” for what?  It remains unclear what Aldean’s audience perceives these outsiders doing to them.  As this humble spirit has addressed repeatedly, it’s a tragedy that many of these people’s economic well-being has been so negatively impacted by the advent of globalization, automation, and technology. This legitimate “grievance” is the result of many confluent factors, but suffice to say, the “other,” liberals and/or the woke mob are all low on the list.  No matter how many guns these small-town victims stockpile or how many beer cans they shoot (courtesy of another country star cashing in!), the real source of their problems won’t go away, because the Republican-manufactured “culture wars” are irrelevant to the economic inequality at play.

It’s a shame these people’s legitimate grievances are turned into profit centers by right-wing politicians, their ever-profitable media machine and, as we can now clearly see, the country music industry.  In simplest terms, there’s reason to think that Aldean’s fans don’t know their friends from their enemies, that some of the “outsiders” who Aldean’s fans would like to harm, including all those nasty Black and brown people, might prove their greatest allies if given the chance.  This realization, of course, is what the Republican “donor class” fears most, and they couldn’t be happier than to watch the desire for violent retribution against the wrong people continue to flourish.

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