What a Faustian bargain is the internet. Access to the entirety of human knowledge and accomplishment — nearly 100 trillion times the amount of information once contained in the famed Library of Alexandria — is but a few screen taps away, yet, as depressing as it is to recognize at times, the majority of those 65 million zettabytes of data appear solely devoted to the generation of dank memes and outrage content.
Don’t get me wrong. A fire-ass meme is the nurturing lifeblood of my online experience, but it seems the price we have paid for Philosoraptor and Pedro Pascal eating toast is that the almighty algorithms are going to counteract our joy by force-feeding us shit designed simply to piss us off. Sure, we may come for the memes, but we can often end up dodging brazen hurls of “cuck” and “libtard” in the comments section of a rando New York Times thread.
Last weekend, as I slumped into the dad chair I once swore I would never own and carried out the mandatory post-millennial morning ritual of sipping coffee and mindlessly doomscrolling the socials, I became enlightened to the latest front line in the good ol’ American culture war. Namely, some over-tanned, vacant-eyed slab of beef in a Stetson blew a racial dog whistle over three chords and sent it out into the world for consumption.
Jason Aldean’s latest single, “Try That in a Small Town,” and its accompanying video, shockingly filmed at the site of a famous lynching, have sent each side of the Great Divide to their respective corners to fire the usual barbs back and forth at each other.
A confession: I have not heard “Try That in a Small Town.” Yes, that’s right. I am writing an opinion piece that generally concerns a song I have never heard, and have no intention of hearing, and I am flouting that admission because I don’t need to hear it to know exactly what it is.
A cursory glance at the lyrics shows the song’s subject matter to follow a country music trope as tired as cowboy gunfights, alcoholism, and, my personal fave, domestic abuse survivors killing their tormenting husbands. Simply put, it’s that cities are havens for hordes of (implicitly nonwhite) criminals and ravenous America-hating socialists and the only thing saving (implicitly white) rural residents from being overrun is a brigade of bearded alpha males armed to defend the nation’s precious heartland.
Never mind that Aldean’s own hometown of Macon, Georgia, has more than 150,000 people in it, which puts it in the top 1% of municipalities by population in the country. Even if he came from some tiny Southern backwoods, so what? To me, defining yourself by where you’re from is like being proud of your blue eyes or your size 10½ foot or, a’hem, your skin tone, i.e., things that are randomly assigned at birth and that require no contribution from and are immune to influence by the person feeling the pride. Pride, I’d argue, is something you’re supposed to reserve for accomplishments.
While small town origins aren’t something he can/should be proud of, Aldean has every right to take pride in the media storm he’s stirred up by appealing to the casually racist erogenous zones of every goateed, Oakley-clad meathead with a “LET’S GO BRANDON!” bumper sticker on his F-150. Not only has the controversy cluttered everyone’s social media feed, reputable so-called hard news outlets like the Times and the Washington Post have chimed in. The story has more legs than the Canadian wildfires, and those have actually affected the Northeast by smogging out the sidewalk cafes where Times reporters — monocles firmly affixed, ascots rakishly loose — love to breakfast.
And though I am not among the number, “Try That” has been played more than 8.5 million times on Spotify, though we’ll never know if those streams are from Aldean’s usual (small) fanbase, outraged liberals hate-listening, or from stuffy journalists forced into to at least one once-through to make their deadlines.
It is precisely this media frenzy that illuminates just what this song really is. In the words of one of my favorite memes — Fury Road’s Tom Hardy gesturing above his head from behind the wheel of his postapocalyptic death mobile — “That there’s bait.” Also like Tom Hardy’s “Mad” Max Rockatansky, I’m not falling for it.
I don’t need to hear “Try That” to know it’s the same sort of manufactured good ol’ boy machismo worship that provided the inspiration behind Hank Jr.’s “A Country Boy Can Survive,” Toby Keith’s “We’ll Put a Boot in Their Ass,” and about half of Charlie Daniels’ catalog.
I also don’t need to hear it to know that, musically, it’s terrible. Not just because it’s contemporary commercial country music, which, by default, makes it so, but also because it comes from a “conservative” viewpoint. Allow me to launch a shamelessly over-generalized sortie from my side of the aisle: Conservative “art” is objectively awful. Whether it’s Jason Aldean, Kid Rock, Tim Allen, or Ayn Rand, the product is almost universally vapid, unchallenging, and mundane. I would contend that this is true because, by nature, conservatives are mostly devoid of the human empathy and diverse life experiences required to create quality art.
Unfair and unproven? Perhaps, but it’s not lost on me that the No. 2 song on the Billboard country charts for the past month, Luke Combs’ “Fast Car,” might be one of the most beautiful love songs you could ever hear and that it was also a lesbian anthem written by a Black woman who crawled into the public eye from her normal hermitude to plead U.S. citizens to vote for Joe Biden in the last election.
So, nah, I’m good. I won’t be drawn offsides by the Aldeans of the world attempting, consciously or not, to capitalize on liberal outrage. I am no more moved to hate-listen to a bad country song than I am to scowl at an F-150’s “LET’S GO BRANDON!” sticker. Jason won’t get his $0.003 for my play, and I won’t get mired in the online back-and-forth. Modern conservatism seems defined by pOWnIng dA liBs, but all too often, progressives fall for the trap.