March 1 Flashback: (Not your) Country music

March 1 Flashback: (Not your) Country music March 1, 2022

Stop me if you’ve read this one before.

From March 1, 2017, “‘Where I come from’ we claim universal generalities as our peculiar virtues“:

Aha. It turns out this Very Nice man and his Very Nice community have some not-at-all nice — and very wrong — ideas about, well, everyone else who isn’t them. Because what he’s really telling us, over and over and over, isn’t that he and his community care about their families. What he’s really telling us is that they imagine other people elsewhere do not care about their families.

This isn’t an expression of local pride, but a slanderous accusation against everyone else who isn’t from around here. It’s not a celebration of the virtues of small-town community, but the prejudice that comes from parochial ignorance mixed with a willingness — and an eagerness — to presume the worst about everyone you don’t already know.

It’s similar to the weird white tribalism you can hear in dozens of Country songs. This has become a sub-genre of Country & Southern music in recent years, and the whole category is based on the same dynamic described above — a celebration of universal human values that winds up denying the humanity of others by claiming those values as the unique and peculiar property of a single community.

… This is why these songs come across less as celebrations of local pride than as expressions of suspicion and hostility to anyone who isn’t from “Where I Come From.” That’s the name of an Alan Jackson song. And of a slightly different Montgomery Gentry song. And of a slightly different Mac McAnally song. And that’s the gist of a slightly differently named song from Luke Bryan.

These songs all seem to wobble back and forth between a (sometimes clichéd) celebration of a (real or imagined) small community and a series of implied accusations and condemnations of everywhere that isn’t that place. They start out innocently enough, affirming something like what President Dwight D. Eisenhower described as: “the great and priceless privilege of being raised in a small town … the simple honesty, the neighborliness, the integrity.” They attempt to sketch the kind of close-knit small-town community where, as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s dad put it, others “know when you’re sick, and care when you die.” And that’s all good, even if — as Ike also admitted — it tends to fade into “nostalgic memories” that may exaggerate those virtues while blurring away any faults.

But problems arise when these great and priceless things are imagined to be “peculiar virtues” — the sole, exceptional property of the residents of those small towns. And when they assume and reinforce the assumption that everywhere else and everyone else embodies the opposite of the great and priceless things they attribute solely to Where I Come From.

The Montgomery & Gentry song begins with a defiant statement that makes its suspicion and hostility toward everyone else explicit: “Don’t you dare go runnin’ down my little town where I grew up / And I won’t cuss your city lights.”

That’s the undergirding assumption of this genre of songs: You folks don’t — and can’t — understand us because you’re fundamentally unlike us. The premise is that city folk know nothing about small-town folk, and yet that somehow small-town folk know everything about city folk. They sing:

If you ain’t ever took a ride around
And cruised right through the heart of my town
Anything you say would be a lie

And yet they assume that the same thing doesn’t apply to them — that they are able to speak with certainty about the values and character of those people over there, the ones who live under those city lights, without ever taking a ride around those places and getting to know those people. (And one gets the sense that by “those people,” they often mean, you know, those people.) They already “know” all they care to know about big city people, which is: 1) city folk spend all their time “runnin’ down” little towns; and 2) city people are presumed to be the opposite in every way of small-town/country people.

And thus, as a corollary of No. 2, if small-town, country folk believe in honesty and hard work, and if they love their family, their country, and their God, then it follows logically that those people — those big-city people — do not believe in honesty and hard work, and that they do not love their family, their country and their God.

Read the whole post here.

"I must have forgotten that. Thanks for the reminder."

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