July 27, 2023

Jason Aldean

“Jason Aldean‘s ‘Try That in a Small Town’ is experiencing exponential growth following controversy over its music video. ‘Try That in a Small Town,’ which was released in May, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 this week…

“In the visual, Aldean — who has been awarded country music artist of the decade by the Academy of Country Music — performs in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee. It is the site of the 1946 Columbia race riot and the 1927 mob lynching of an 18-year-old Black teenager named Henry Choate. Aldean’s video received fervent criticism online, with some claiming the visual is a ‘dog whistle’ and others labeling it ‘pro-lynching.’” AP News

“[The video] features Aldean performing in front of [the] courthouse with an American flag hanging from the entrance. The performance is interspersed with footage of a flag burning, protesters screaming and attacking police in various scenarios, and robbing a convenience store… Toward the end, the violent scenes are juxtaposed against images of Americana such as a small girl playing hopscotch and a flag rising, as a news anchor’s voice comes on talking about farmers dropping their crops for the day to help a neighbor.” Billboard

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From the Left

The left criticizes the video, arguing that it invokes racist tropes and glorifies vigilantism.

“There’s no evidence that Aldean and the team behind the video knew what happened on that site in 1927. But the powerful symbolism underscores the song’s toxic message: that those who step out of line in Aldean’s small town — whether they ‘cuss out a cop’ or ‘stomp on a flag’ — will find themselves facing down ‘the gun that my granddad gave me.’ (Never mind that desecrating a flag and swearing at a police officer are, for the time being, constitutionally protected actions.)…

“The song is a celebration of vigilantism, though Aldean denies it. He defends it as an ode to small-town America, but it is really a statement of entitlement — an assertion of who is allowed to make and enforce the rules, both as a matter of law and as a matter of extralegal violence… The courthouse where Choate was lynched is a particularly evocative emblem, not only because of the murder that occurred there but because the building itself, a county courthouse serves as a local symbol of justice — and who can access that justice.”

Nicole Hemmer, CNN

“Whether Aldean’s song intentionally evokes ‘sundown’ towns, which required Black people to be good and gone by nightfall, at which point White residents had license to let their worst impulses run wild, or is instead just a heartfelt paeon to violence against all, regardless of skin color or social station, who dare bring their citified ways across a small town’s borderline, is probably not worth an argument… Intentional or not, the racial and violent imagery in Jason Aldean’s music video mirrors the divisiveness that has infected America.”

Francis Wilkinson, Bloomberg

This is the dark side of the ‘small-town values’ Republican politicians often advocate, which are supposed to be about things such as honesty, integrity and hard work. Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘Try That in a Small Town’ is anything but a wishful fantasy. It might sound as though it’s addressed to urbanites, but they’re not the real audience. It’s not a warning against city people coming to small towns; it’s a dream of how great it would be if they did. Then they could finally get what they deserve.”

Paul Waldman, Washington Post

From the Right

The right defends the video, arguing that it is not offensive.

The right defends the video, arguing that it is not offensive.

I covered some of the riots in Portland. I saw flags, Bibles, and plywood fascia burned by the dispossessed and activists in the street before the federal courthouse. A compulsion to destroy the country exists among many of these rioters — and they’re certainly not made of straw. It’s delusion at best and malevolent projection at worst to suggest that Aldean calls for violence against black Americans because he condemns anarchy…

“As Aldean noted, and I’ll do again, the fact that progressives see the use of crime footage as racist implies that they think a particular group of people are the sole perpetrators of said crimes. Yeesh.”

Luther Ray Abel, National Review

“Aldean doesn’t like criminals in general, and rioters in particular. Are those views now out of bounds? The overwhelming majority of Americans hate crime and hate riots. The problem here, of course, is that the video depicts BLM/Antifa riots, which are darlings of the Left. But most Americans agree with Aldean: regardless of their purported ideology, riots are unacceptable…

“It is true that the Democratic Party’s militant wing, the KKK, carried out lynchings at various locations many years ago, but there is zero reason to think that this video has anything to do with that century-old event, or that the people who made it knew anything about that incident. There is no reference to lynching in the song. There is one reference to guns, but that is a warning not to try to take them away, not a threat to shoot someone.”

John Hinderaker, Power Line Blog

“There’s an important distinction… between the ‘outlaw’ nature of Outlaw Country and the lawlessness of the BLM rioters. For the most part, the culture that shapes country music singers and fans views the criminal justice system as legitimate—even when those singers and fans find themselves on the business end of that system…

“In ‘Try That In a Small Town,’ Jason Aldean is not saying criminality doesn’t exist in rural America. Rather, he’s pointing out that chaos and disorder are not tolerated; that those who do break the law—which does still occur in small towns—are nevertheless swiftly administered justice.”

Emile Doak, The American Conservative

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