Life in a small town isn’t the pastoral paradise some think it is

I’m an authority on small town living and big city living. I spent years in big cities like Seattle and Salt Lake City and Philadelphia (also in the in-between kind of place, like Eugene, Oregon), and I’ve been living in a small town with a population of 5,000 for the last 20 years. I know them all. I know without doubt that there are good people and bad people in all of them, and that small towns do not have a lock on virtue.

So I tried listening to this new country song by Jason Aldean called “Try that in a Small Town.” It is so much bullshit. It’s popular among right-wing jerks who think urban is a synonym for un-American violence — you know, the same people who think the January 6 Insurrection was just a few tourists visiting an architectural attraction. The people who like it are the kind who want to roll back progress to 1950, when white people could use a firehose on black people, and occasionally lynch one as a lesson.

Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk
Carjack an old lady at a red light
Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store
You think it’s cool, well, act a fool if you like
Cuss out a cop, spit in his face
Stomp on the flag and light it up
Yeah, you think you’re tough
Well, try that in a small town
See how far you make it down the road
‘Round here, we take care of our own
You cross that line, it won’t take long
For you to find out, I recommend you don’t
Try that in a small town

Hey! Why is your paean to the bucolic pleasures of simple country life so violent? It’s all about retribution, and about an imaginary city where carjacking and liquor store robberies are common. Liquor stores get held up in small towns, too, and when they happen in big cities the cops will probably shoot you. Don’t try it in a big city, either.

I live in a small town, and I could tell you stories about the chronic alcoholism here, about people who hate gay and trans kids, about church sermons that tell women to be subservient, about confederate flags flying on trucks, about ugly attitudes towards diversity and large cities (but then, the song tells you that), about Latin laborers treated with contempt, about Trump voters who want civil rights revoked for everyone but them. Of course, I’d also tell you that those hateful people are a vocal minority; there are also good people here. But small towns are not the model of kindness and self-reliance that that song makes them out to be.

In fact, they are dependent on the economic surpluses of the big cities. There’s a reason you can’t keep the kids down on the farm — the farms are dead boring, and are run by people who hate change and excitement and novelty. Our kids here can’t wait to grow up and move somewhere, anywhere else, and one of the reasons is the self-righteous attitude of people like Jason Aldean. We raised three kids here, and if we were to suggest they move back to Morris, Minnesota, they’d laugh at us. They’ve all moved to bigger towns. They had enough of the petty, bigoted life with the people they went to school with.

A gay black man, Brian Broome, writes about growing up in a small town in Ohio. It’s representative.

All the Black people lived on one side of town, and all the White people lived on the other. Our churches were separate. We went to school together, but it was at school that I was called or heard the n-word from White students on a weekly basis. The racism of my small town was naked and powerful; seething hatreds were baked into its soil. And when all the steel jobs disappeared, leaving many on welfare, in poverty or desperate, those hatreds deepened and the n-word flew more freely than ever.

As I got older and realized that I was gay, my small town became for me a coffin lined with razor blades. But it wasn’t just my sexuality that made it uncomfortable. I was different. I thought differently. I began to question the things I had been taught, and I found no one in my hometown who offered good answers. I was just told to be quiet: by my teachers, by my friends, by my church and even by my parents. And then the smothering feeling set in, the wondering whether there was more to life than what I was being shown. And I knew I had to escape. I wanted to meet different kinds of people, I wanted different experiences, I wanted to learn new things, and none of that was going to happen in a small town in northern Ohio. I couldn’t wait to leave.

The only thing that makes me at all comfortable living here is that this is a college town, and the university community is a small island of tolerant cosmopolitanism, it’s the only anchor holding me here. I work with gay and trans and minority students, and they know far better than I that stepping out into the small town community is hazardous…and not a one of them has any desire to sucker punch anyone, or pull a gun in a liquor store, or spit in a cop’s face. That’s what the more arrogant, intolerant residents of a small town might try to do.

Also, I listened to that Aldean song. It’s a dreadful, unmusical hash of country-western noise, lacking in charm, melody, and anything catchy at all. It relies entirely on resentment and bitterness to appeal to a certain mindset. I think I’d rather listen to Prince.


  1. billmcd says

    Pay for your firefighters’ equipment
    And get your EMS training at night
    Maybe even get a second car for your local cops.
    Run the fiber optic line
    Keep your water and your lights
    and do it all without my
    big city money, red welfare states.
    Well, try that in a small town

  2. says

    You couldn’t pay me to live in a small town. Even putting aside the small people and awful politics, I’ve lived in a smallish town before and hated the lack of amenities. We have our problems in the city but I like that I can easily buy a loaf of bread on a Sunday and if I get hit by a car while doing so the closest hospital is a short ambulance ride away. Then if I want to take in a movie at the theater when I’m released I have a plethora of choices instead of the one or two the local one chooses. Or I can see live theater with professional actors if I’d like instead. While doing all of this I’m surrounded by different skin tones and a variety of religions and sexualities – though I have to be honest and admit that it’s still an act of bravery for two men to be holding hands walking down the street.

  3. larrylyons says

    And this song is coming from someone who’s never lived in a small town, and at best has just driven through one. He was born and grew up n Macon Georgia, not exactly a small town, before moving to Homestead, FL. Again not a small town. He currently lives in Nashville from what I understand. Some small town.

    Like many Reich Wngers, he’s a master of pious hypocrisy.

  4. anxionnat says

    I grew up in a small suburban town, about seven miles from Berkeley, California. The best line I ever heard about my hometown is that “1952 was such a nice year that nothing has happened since.” Berkeley, a 20-minute bus ride away from home, saved my life. I started running away in 6th grade and completed the process about six years later. I never regretted it.

  5. says

    I tried a small town in the local bible belt for a few years. Nice people by any standard, but after a while you notice an invisible wall. As a coworker put it, even after 25 years she wasn’t “a local”. Fact is that unless your grandfather was born there you would always be an outsider at some level.

    I left that town after two years and have never looked (or been) back.

  6. Matthew Currie says

    I see now that the singer is trying to distance himself from some of the imagery in the video, such as its location where we can presume Henry Choate tried the wrong thing in the wrong small town, and was publicly lynched for it. I’m not a right wing lying racist, I’m just an unthinking idiot!

  7. says

    One of my friends pointed out that Jason Aldean has a song from 2018 called “Rearview Town”, which is about escaping the small town he came from.

  8. raven says

    Yeah, I saw that up north not all that long ago.

    There was and is a small town of less than a thousand in a scenic valley near the coast.
    It was settled by migrants (Okies) from the heartland during the dust bowl days. They still speak with a rural hill accent that I can barely understand.
    They are all fundie xians and there are 3 churches in town.

    Some of them are illiterate and sign their paychecks with an X.
    Poverty is high since the area depended on logging and fishing mostly and those industries don’t employ as many people as they once did. In the local school, 90% of the students qualify for the Federal free lunch program.

    The crime rate is high, domestic abuse is common, and incest is known to occur. Of course the place is saturated with alcohol and methamphetamine although one guy did die from a heroin overdose.
    Every few years there is a murder, mostly intrafamily violence.

    They are locally famous for burning a cross on someone’s lawn one night. That family’s crime was to adopt a Black child.
    During the Covid-19 pandemic, they ignored state law and kept the school open. Which was sort of pointless since all the teachers got sick with Covid-19 virus and there wasn’t enough staff to do anything. The school district ended up being investigated and paying a fine.

    The county knows they have a problem with this place and have spend a lot of money on trying to fix their problems with…big city taxpayer funds.
    They opened a low cost Federally subsidized health clinic that has been very successful and really made a difference in people’s lives.

  9. Doc Bill says

    I worked for a large corporation based in a small town in Oklahoma. The town literally had an “other side of the tracks” with real, functioning railroad tracks and a night-and-day other side of town. Provincial doesn’t begin to describe the place. Anyhoo, the first question asked when you met somebody new was, “What church do y’all go to?” Rather than answer truthfully, the Temple of Bastet protector of cats, I’d just answer, “Episcopal.” That always ended the conversation. Still, it always amazed me at the preoccupation with church. For us, we called the small town the Golden Rut: good pay, cheap houses, inexpensive.

  10. Reginald Selkirk says

    Cameron Smith explained away the misperception in The Tennesseean: paywalled

    The song itself has nothing to do with violence. If it weren’t for the video with clips of the courthouse where the historic lynching took place, no one would have been bothered at all.

    See how far you make it down the road
    ‘Round here, we take care of our own
    You cross that line, it won’t take long
    For you to find out…

    Full of good ol’ boys, raised up right
    If you’re looking for a fight
    Try that in a small town…

    Really, who could mistake that for a threat of vigilante violence? It’s a completely innocent.. um… Hey look, squirrel!

    Stomp on the flag and light it up

    It seems that the constitutionally protected right to free expression known a flag burning is objectionable to Aldean and the writers. Aldean has appeared on stage many times wearing a shirt with the flag of an enemy of the United States on it. Yes, that one; popular among racists and especially Southern racists and associated with slavery.
    Meanwhile, in a different universe, here is a recent clip from the news:

    US Capitol rioter who beat officer with flagpole sentenced
    An Arkansas man who used the pole of an American flag to batter a fallen police officer during the US Capitol attack has received a 52-month jail term.

    Peter Francis Stager helped drag the officer down the steps of the Capitol, then “forcibly and repeatedly” struck him, say prosecutors…

    During that incident, a fascist mob was chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! I obviously cannot speak for Mr. Aldean, but I find that more offensive than burning a piece of cloth.

  11. Reginald Selkirk says

    @11: Cameron Smith’s column without the paywall:
    Jason Aldean’s critics are missing his point and misrepresenting his message

    Aldean doesn’t hide his actual message

    “Cuss out a cop, spit in his face / Stomp on the flag and light it up / Yeah, ya think you’re tough,” Aldean sings. “Got a gun that my granddad gave me / They say one day they’re gonna round up / Well, that shit might fly in the city, good luck / Try that in a small town.”

    Respect and appreciation for law enforcement isn’t the same as demanding a white ethno-state. There’s nothing crazy about bristling when someone desecrates our country’s flag. While most conservatives have no interest in threatening anyone, we will not respond favorably to unconstitutional attempts to confiscate our firearms…

    How does a call for vigilante violence translate as “respect for law enforcement”?

  12. says

    Not only did Aldean not write that stupid song it was co-written by 4 different writers. You’d think one guy could easily string together some quotes from recent Fox News programs and call it a day.

  13. raven says

    A lot of these rural small towns in farming areas are mostly just dying.

    Every few years when I’m driving north, I go through an old farming town that is almost a ghost town now.
    At one time, it was a thriving place.
    All of the businesses have closed over the years. The last one was the cafe and it is still there, still has its sign, and has been boarded up for a long time.
    There are two churches in town. One is long abandoned and is a tear down by now. The other one was still open and for sale.

    Same with the small town a lot of my relatives are from, in the upper midwest not all that far from where PZ lives. They’ve been losing population for many decades and the population has dropped by a lot, 50% since the mid 20th century.
    The average age is 63 years although this is probably partially due to the main industry in town which is a nursing home for all the local area.

    None of my relatives live there any more. They all left, every single one of them as soon as they could.
    They all really don’t like the Federal government.
    I’d estimate that at least half the county income is Federal transfer payments.
    They get farm subsidies, a large variety of Federal programs such as fiber optic lines for their internet, a lot of land is in the Conservation Reserve Program, and Social Security and Medicare. The main employers are a heavily subsidized hospital and a nursing home.
    AFAICT, the governments are paying them to live there so the whole area doesn’t end up abandoned.

  14. microraptor says

    Does anyone know when country music turned into this jingoistic nonsense? I know there was a lot of it post 9/11, but I feel like the problem started well before then?

  15. says

    Out here in actual small town america, the economy did not survive the fracking boom and meth and fentanyl seem to be the main entertainment once a person graduates from drinking and driving on ATVs. They probably listen to country music, but mostly because the country aesthetic seems to be “aside from this toxic masculinity, I’m uneducated and violent, yee haw”

  16. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 18

    Easy, after Vietnam when the rednecks started blaming city folks and liberals for losing the war.

  17. says

    @16 PZ: I haven’t heard even one of his songs, but I can probably pretty confidently answer yes.

    [oldman]Today’s music is written by committee, recorded to a clicktrack to take any human variability out of it and run through Pro Tools to make sure the singing isn’t even one cent flat or sharp. 95% of “pop” and even rock today is 1-5-6-4 garbage.[/oldman]

  18. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 19

    They probably listen to country music, but mostly because the country aesthetic seems to be “aside from this toxic masculinity, I’m uneducated and violent, yee haw”

    And these are usually the same people who freaked out about Heavy Metal in the 80s and “Gangsta Rap” in the 90s.

  19. imback says

    Got to include a Prince song with the lyrics

    Now where I come from, we don’t let society
    Tell us how it’s supposed to be
    Our clothes, our hair, we don’t care
    It’s all about being there

    We do whatever we please
    It ain’t about no downtown, nowhere bound, narrow-minded drag
    It’s all about being free
    Everybody’s going Uptown
    It’s where I wanna be
    Uptown, can set your mind free, yeah

    Prince – Uptown (Official Music Video)

  20. says

    Does anyone know when country music turned into this jingoistic nonsense?

    Toby Keith’s post 9/11 “courtesy of the red white and blue” seems a watershed to me.

    If you really want to analyze c/w music you have to consider it in the context of rap/hiphop making a ton of money for mostly conspicuously black performers. Country tried to hawk up a few megastars like Garth Brooks, and has been moving politically to the right as hiphop and rap are more counter-culture, though not exactly left.

    I have personally wondered if the CIA is still manipulating the culture wars, to the benefit of capitalism/the establishment. But we won’t know for decades and I won’t survive for that answer. Some of the big oil memes in the country scene (“rolling coal”, nascar, etc) seem suspicious but could be all-natural stupidity.

  21. says

    I live in what would be between a “big city” and “small town”. Just too many people for me in cities. 2 hours from Chicago is close enough. The attractions, food and entertainment up there are top notch, no doubt, but I can’t stand crowds and driving up there on a regular basis would guarantee me a heart attack or stroke in no time. Couple years ago I had to make two trips up there within a week for buy a piano and even the few hours that I spent was enough for me for the rest of my life.

    Where I live is a tolerable pocket of sorta liberalism in a downstate (that being anything south of I-80, which is most of Illinois) that’s awash with rural conservatism.

  22. says

    We lived in a small university town in Oregon for a decade. Western Oregon was less ‘rtwing red’ than many places then. But, PZ, you are lucky, as a Professor, you are part of the ‘in crowd’. While we are academic in our lifestyle, we weren’t directly involved or accepted by the university culture, so we couldn’t be part of that ‘small island of tolerant cosmopolitanism’. We had to scramble for jobs and avoid the ‘lumberjack’ mentality prevalent in many places. Small town culture can vary. But, in our experiences, small towns often mean small minds. But, big cities are a dangerous chaotic mess. And, overall civil society is deteriorating, not improving as time passes. Marcus Ranum @19 is correct in his assessment.

  23. says

    Oh, and by the way, I’d rather listen to Tom Paxton or Beethoven. I use the phrase ‘country western’ but I can’t bring myself to add the word ‘music’ to that phrase. As my friend says, ‘Country western is almost entirely limited to 5 themes, a vocabulary of 150 words and you must sing through your nose to hit the charts.’

  24. raven says

    Does anyone know when country music turned into this jingoistic nonsense?

    I’ve always thought of country music as the music of poverty, resentment for lives that aren’t going anywhere, and dysfunctional societies.

    Mostly, the songs all sound the same and they complain a lot about everything.

    Well, got up in the morning with a hangover and left my boots who knows where
    My wife ran off with my best friend and the dog died.
    The pickup wouldn’t start again and we spent all day fixing it with duct tape and bailing wire.
    That night at the bar, got in fight with a New York Liberal and lost.
    Oh Lord, when is this all going to end

  25. says

    Check out YouTube channel Pat Finnerty and his “Why this song stinks” for the plethora of reasons why the music of the last 20-30 years is shit.

  26. says

    @28 raven, you nailed it. The only song that approaches ‘country western’ that I like is the Byrds ‘Mr Spaceman’. Lots of fun:
    Woke up this morning
    I was feeling quite weird
    had flies in my beard
    my toothpaste was smeared
    over my window they’d written my name
    saying, so long, we’ll see you again.
    hey, mr. spaceman
    won’t you please take me along
    I won’t do anythng wrong

  27. birgerjohansson says

    Stephwn King has a sense for the nasty things that may hide under the surface in small towns, and I don’t mean the supernatural things.

  28. says

    Easy, after Vietnam when the rednecks started blaming city folks and liberals for losing the war.

    The hard hat riots (construction workers beating up hippies for protesting the war) were sponsored by large payments to the unions buly the CIA.

  29. says

    There is a style of music by folks like Townes VanZandt, Emmylou Harris, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Fred Eaglesmith, Bob Dylan, Slaid Cleves, Hayes Carll, and others that tends to get the label “Americana” – its non-jingo country western, rooted in Nashville but hardly supportive of the establishment.
    Emmylou’s “Red dirt girl” is a good example.

  30. birgerjohansson says

    In Sweden we have adopted Reggae for complaining, none of that fancy “country” you are using.

    Here Peps Persson is complaining about how “high standard” (of living) has nothing to do with quality of life.

  31. birgerjohansson says

    If you take a country that has no tradition of slavery, open carry of guns, good education, low rate of corruption, high transparency and >80 % voting attendance, small towns do not have to be that bad.
    It could be any Scandinavian country.
    It could probably be Holland and Belgium.

    Small towns are by their nature more gossipy than cities, but if you pick a small town by choice instead of necessity it is not so bad.
    You can hang out with fellow astronomy nerds some evening and easily find a place without “light pollution”.

    If you have kids they can run all over the place without being flattened by those 18-wheelers Americans sing about.
    You might even find a place to live that does not cost what you earn in ten years (yes, I am looking at you, New York).

  32. StevoR says

    @36. Dóh! First Link = Dixie Chicks Slam Bush. Link is right, description, well, I fucked that up, sorry.

    Dolly Parton is Country (~ish?) too and a truly good human being too.

  33. m4tt says

    Long long long long time reader, but I think a first-time commenter here.

    I just wanted to say that I know Brian Broome, I just saw him for the first time in a long time a few weeks back, and he is the very prototype of a minority rising above the station that “they” tried to place him in. And he’s an example of the very thing Florida politicians would like to never happen again.

  34. says

    “Aldean and the writers?” PLEASE tell me you’re kidding — did Aldean, or someone else, actually pay other people to ghost-write lyrics that crappy? The whole point of a ghost-writer is to write something BETTER than you alone can do. Now it looks like Aldean is just as no more competent about songwriting than he is about small towns.

  35. raven says

    It is no secret that a lot of small towns especially in the midwest are declining. They’ve been declining for many decades now.
    It even has a name, rural flight.

    Small Towns are Dying. Can They Be Saved?
    Strong Towns June 24, 2020

    Every few months, photojournalist Vincent David Johnson sets out on a road trip. His purpose: to document “rural America and the little pieces of Americana I find along the way.” Writing earlier this month in The American Conservative, Johnson said he thinks of his work as “modern-day exploration.” The problem with that description, he acknowledges, is that explorers go to find something new. In contrast, “I know what I’m going to find and it hasn’t changed for almost three decades now.”

    Small towns are in serious trouble. Tens of millions of people left rural communities in the second-half of the 20th-century, and many communities continue to lose their young people to larger cities. Businesses and population alike have taken huge hits, as freeways run motorists around (or over) these towns, but never slowly through them. Rural taxpayers subsidize their own demise, even as they pursue an approach to growth that is designed to decline.

  36. raven says

    A lot of electrons and photons have been spent documenting the decline of small towns in the USA. Here is another article from the NYTimes.

    I’d forgotten how corrupt and mean the small town cops can be sometimes. I can recall at least five times I/we were pulled over and harassed by the cops just because we were obvious outsiders driving through town. It doesn’t take much, out of state license plates, the wrong bumper sticker, or driving a VW van or late model car instead of an old pickup.

    Ironically, one of those times was where I used to live and I was visiting friends and relatives. The probable cause was driving a new, high end car with California plates.

    Opinion | Small-Town America Is Dying. How Can We Save It? (Published 2018)
    Aging populations, unemployment, addiction: Readers talk about the obstacles to saving rural communities.

    Dec. 22, 2018
    By Rachel L. Harris and Lisa Tarchak
    Can America’s languishing rural communities reinvigorate themselves and bring jobs, infrastructure and people back to their increasingly austere landscapes? Or is it time to cut and run?

    In “The Hard Truths of Trying to ‘Save’ the Rural Economy,” Eduardo Porter writes about their grim prospects. Among more than 1,000 comments from readers, rural Americans talked about the harsh reality of living in, and sometimes having to leave, a small town with few job prospects or a failing family farm.

    Geographic and cultural stasis concerned Sil Tuppins, a reader from Tennessee: “We are leaders in opiate deaths and abuse. We continue to be historically low educated. And our rural folk stay in their communities for a lifetime. That is a prescription for failure in a technology driven world.”

    “Accepting that some of these communities will die also requires acknowledging the suffering that goes along with their ending,” wrote Betsy S, a reader in Otsego County, N.Y. “I don’t know the answer, but I am absolutely certain demanding individual responsibility isn’t going to make anything better.”

    More comments from readers are below. They have been edited for length and clarity.

    ‘Let it die’
    I’m from Appalachia, where getting into the working class was an aspiration. I was raised “up the holler” and know the culture intimately. You have no idea of the amount of anger, self-righteousness, bigotry and willful ignorance you’re dealing with. I have seen a blighted small town use a corrupt sheriff and judge to run off a business owned by a black man. I have been present when an entire community looked the other way when a gay couple was burned out of their home.

    They support Trump and the reason is simple: He acts just like they would if they had money. There is no saving this culture, nor should you want to save it. The people who could have revitalized it have either left for better opportunities or been run off. It’s a breeding ground for hatred and despair, dying with a Bible in one arm and a heroin needle in the other. Let it die. — Peregrinus, Erehwon

    For some, there’s nowhere else to go

  37. says

    @36 & @38 StevoR pointed out some songs and artists
    I reply: Thanks, StevoR, you pointed out some very good songs and artists that are the exception to the rule. Do I have to go out to my pickup truck, light a cigarette and kick the dog as penance?

    Also, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘My Little Town’ has some serious imagery in the lyrics.

  38. kome says

    Country music pre-9/11 wasn’t so weird overall, It was basically just slow rap that rural white people could identify with. But ever since 9/11 the genre just got populated by the worst kinds of dumbasses who are affecting the appearance of being rural while advocating for the most inane and self-defeating kinds of mindless patriotism. To quote one of the actual good country artists, “that don’t impress me much.”

  39. Hex says

    Are you really sure none of your trans students have a desire to spit in a cop’s face? Speaking as a trans person who belongs a fairly sizable queer community, I honestly don’t know a single one of us who doesn’t lol. These are the people who when genocidal laws restricting our bodily autonomy or access to heathcare are passed against us, are in charge of enforcing them. Not to mention they shot at and teargassed a ton of us (myself included) during the big BLM march we had in 2020. Unequivocally fuck the entire institution of the police.

  40. raven says

    I can do Americana with no problem.
    It’s more like Folk than country but that is OK.
    Even American Pie.

    Here is a country hit that was also a crossover hit.
    Because we can all identify with it.
    You might have to be a Boomer to remember it though. It came out in 1968.

    Harper Valley P.T.A.
    Song by Jeannie C. Riley

    I wanna tell you all a story ’bout
    A Harper Valley widowed wife
    Who had a teenage daughter
    Who attended Harper Valley Junior High
    Well, her daughter came home one afternoon
    And didn’t even stop to play
    And she said, “mom, I got a note here from the Harper Valley PTA”

    Well, the note said, “Mrs. Johnson
    You’re wearin’ your dresses way too high
    It’s reported you’ve been drinking
    And a-running ’round with men and goin’ wild
    And we don’t believe you oughta be a-bringin’ up
    Your little girl this way”
    And it was signed by the Secretary
    Harper Valley PTA

    Well, it happened that the PTA was gonna meet
    That very afternoon
    And they were sure surprised
    When Mrs. Johnson wore her miniskirt into the room
    And as she walked up to the blackboard
    I can still recall the words she had to say
    She said, “I’d like to address this meeting of the Harper Valley PTA

    Well, there’s Bobby Taylor sittin’ there
    And seven times he’s asked me for a date
    And Mrs. Taylor sure seems to use a lotta ice
    Whenever he’s away
    And Mr. Baker can you tell us why
    Your secretary had to leave this town?
    And shouldn’t widow Jones be told to keep
    Her window shades all pulled completely down

    Well, Mr. Harper couldn’t be here
    ‘Cause he stayed too long at Kelly’s Bar again
    And if you smell Shirley Thompson’s breath
    You’ll find she’s had a little nip of gin
    And then you have the nerve to tell me
    You think that as the mother I’m not fit
    Well, this is just a little Peyton Place
    And you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites”

    No, I wouldn’t put you on because it really did
    It happened just this way
    The day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA
    The day my mama socked it to the Harper Valley PTA

    Source: LyricFind
    Songwriters: Tom T. Hall

  41. Hex says

    Like seriously, do you have any interaction with trans students outside of being their professor? Have any invited you into their spaces? I’ve visited friends and spent time in their communities all over the midwest and eastern US and I’m utterly astonished that you can make that claim. Obviously not a lot of us would actually do it given that there’s a pretty high chance that we’d die, but if we knew we could get away with it safely? And that’s just speaking on the trans people you make that claim for; none of your “other minority” students has that desire? If that’s true I reaaaallly get the feeling they aren’t comfortable actually speaking their minds to you. The fact that you seem to frame spitting on a cop as a negative thing might be one of the reasons why.

    Look PZ, I admire you a lot as one of the people who pushed back against the misogynistic rot in atheist movements, and appreciate that you aren’t a transphobe, and you’re a great biology educator, but on this and several other posts on your blog, sometimes your white cishet privilege really shows.

  42. Hex says

    And I want to be clear that I’m not saying any of this to be mean or put you down, it’s just that we really, really need actual allies more than ever right now, and we need them to understand the systemic role the police have in enforcing genocide and brutality against minorities and enabling white supremacy. You know how they’ve treated POC since the very origins of the institution. You know that when Roe v Wade was repealed they enforced laws against abortion clinics and have used violence to arrest people who got or provided abortions. They are hired guns who will enable all kinds of atrocities at the whims of a handful of people in power. Should my state pass laws requiring them to round up trans people, they will be the ones doing it. Fuck them, and fuck pretending like they deserve any respect whatsoever. I may not be one of your enrolled students, but I’ve watched along with lectures and entire courses you’ve posted online and know that if I could, I’d spit on every last one of them who continues to put on that uniform and uphold the white supremacist systems that are destroying the people I care about

  43. birgerjohansson says

    I am a foreigner so I am not well informed about the Ukraine hate /Love for Russia and Putin among the regressive crowd.

    Is it about being contrary to Biden?
    Is it about liking Putin harassing gay people and rolling back rights for women? Is it about the Ukrainan president being jewish.?

  44. Rob Grigjanis says

    My favourite country song is “Ode to Billie Joe”, by Bobbie Gentry. Brilliant stuff, musically and lyrically. As with any genre, there are gems (songs, singers, writers) among the dross.

    (1967 was a great year; “Penny Lane” and “A Whiter Shade of Pale” came out then too.)

  45. birgerjohansson says

    Raven @ 46
    I would suggest economic development programs for small towns linked to conditions. Like having professional police forces not appointed by local elections but integrated with state police. Conditions of the towns hiring minority groups, and generally trying to leave the 19th century. Ambitious upgrades of local education.

  46. Hex says

    Um, thanks, but I’m well aware that were I to actually spit in a cop’s face there’s a good chance I’d have the shit beat out of me at the very least. Wanting to/having a desire to do something doesn’t mean I’m going to actually do it regardless of likely consequences.

  47. says

    ‘Round here, we take care of our own

    So, socialism, then?

    There is a house along a route I often ride my bike which has a large “Socialism Sucks” flag in the front. When I first saw it, I laughed out loud. This is a rural area which is served by a volunteer fire department. I have a hard time coming up with a better example of grass-roots socialism than a VFD.

  48. robro says

    microraptor @ #18 — Not all country music has that bent…think Willy Nelson and Waylon Jennings, or the new generation of artists like Molly Tuttle. And remember, “redneck” was actually a term used against striking coal miners, Black and White, in West Virginia who were fighting the coal company bosses who were basically treating them all like slaves.

  49. wzrd1 says

    I asked a few Good Old Boys, so, since you hate the city, why do you use the internet, take medications from the pharmacy and import your John Deere parts from those cities you want nothing from and nothing to do with?
    For that matter, who is gonna buy all that food from the farms, if those city folk disappeared? Sounds like the bank’s gonna own your farm, but you’ll do fine in the woods with the cottonmouths.
    No answers, just sputtering. I left them kicking rocks.
    Honestly, I was expecting a sucker punch. Something I’ve saw them do on more than one occasion, as well as spit on cops and fly anything but our flag.

    Pierce, it was allowed to filter in in blatant ways gradually, it was always present back when far right types wanted to bring fascism to the US and that kerfuffle called WWII gave fascism a bad name. They then kept low, gathering supporters, started the Southern Strategy and overall increased by wedge points divisions until we’re at a near civil war in the most heavily armed nation on earth, which also is nuclear armed. That makes everyone nervous, save Putin, who feeds the flames shortsightedly, as everyone really does know he’s feeding flames and either side will want to visit fires on him hotter than the sun if our homeland burns.

    Pity, as some of the best soldiers we ever had were farmers.
    Now, I guess to show the courage of their convictions, they’ll need to toss those Deere tractors and their AR’s and AK’s from the city and make their own out of fresh pig iron.

  50. hemidactylus says

    @48- Tabby Lavalamp
    I’m not a huge country fan. It was my dad’s thing. He did to his credit much love Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. I never got into Garth Brooks, but am in awe in how huge he crossed over in the 90s as a superstar of epic proportions. His push for acceptance of LGBTQ+ and he and his wife supporting Ukrainians from your link, plus the backlash against him show he’s one of the good guys, unlike Toby Keith and this latest jackass.

    I used to kinda like Bocephus before he went all Godwin on Obama and lost his Monday Night Football gig. Aside from that and his terrible political views Hank Jr did have bona fide crossover appeal, doing some vaguely memorable stuff with Van Halen for instance. His songs probably didn’t age well. Charlie Daniels was another. I’ve pretty much tapped out my superficial “knowledge” of country. Reminds me too much growing up around racist rednecks and trying to pretend I wasn’t born in Massachusetts, thus being one of the reviled enemy. The South, as the bumper stickers all warned us, did rise again, after subverting the Party of Lincoln. To a large extent country music was their soundtrack.

  51. hemidactylus says

    @22- Akira MacKenzie
    I wasn’t much a fan of gangsta rap. As glam metal chased me into hiphop, gangsta chased me away. I did like early Ice-T even as he verged into proto-gangsta. NWA went from the World Class break beats into politically charged stuff like Fuck tha Police which was good, but Dre et al got too much into that gangsta scene and Suge Knight was a seriously bad turn. When it went off the rails I kinda bailed on rap for a while. I did love Ice T’s Body Count, especially the most infamous canceled song. He was always a headbanger at heart. He even managed to outdo Suicidal Tendencies on their own track:

    Reeling it in from that tangent, maybe my beef with gangsta was due to the way it was commodified by the culture industry, whereby white kids wound up feeling enabled in adopting the worst possible stereotypes as their own as some batshit appropriation thing…think Jamie Kennedy in Malibu’s Most Wanted.

    Chuck D got a bit more nuanced:
    “On glorifying the gangster mentality:

    “A lot of people think ‘So What You Gonna Do Now,’ (a cut off the new album) is an anti-gansta-rap record. I’d like to put it straight on the record like this: What I’m doing is I’m attacking a trend of gansta rap. It’s a trend set up by the record companies and exploited by the record companies. And that’s what I’m attacking. I’m a firm believer that every story should be told. What’s lacking is a severe lack of balance now. I’m no saint, but I know what’s not good for us as a people and what’s been destroying us throughout. There’s nothin’ fly about the drug trade. People die and they go to jail, and nobody deals with these people when they’re in jail or after they’re dead. So I attack the whole mentality and exploitation of gangsta rap.””

  52. microraptor says

    @57: It’s all those things plus the idea that Putin is a Strong Man who runs Russia the way they wish America was won.

  53. microraptor says

    @36: Yeah, I’m old enough to remember what happened with the band now known as The Chicks. I was just thinking about how through the 80s and 90s there was a definite trend of country music moving away from being about social issues and being about how great it was owning a Ford and shopping at Walmart- very materialistic, mindless consumerism mixed with blind patriotism.

  54. numerobis says

    Fuck me, Brian Brooke is writing for WaPo now? That’s awesome!

    He was in my extended circle back in Pittsburgh. Super nice guy, and his friends were nagging him to start publishing back then. Clearly they were right.

  55. John Morales says

    Hex @53 (to PZ),

    Like seriously, do you have any interaction with trans students outside of being their professor?

    Does he have to have had such before having an opinion?

    And that’s just speaking on the trans people you make that claim for; none of your “other minority” students has that desire?

    You do realise PZ has a blog, and he’s been pretty consistent about his stance therein? This blog, specifically, and its previous incarnations.

    Look PZ, I admire you a lot as one of the people who pushed back against the misogynistic rot in atheist movements, and appreciate that you aren’t a transphobe, and you’re a great biology educator, but on this and several other posts on your blog, sometimes your white cishet privilege really shows.

    A privilege he acknowledges and about which he’s been quite open.
    Not like some sort of nip-slip, there.

    Presumably, this is where you think he got over-familiar:
    “I work with gay and trans and minority students, and they know far better than I that stepping out into the small town community is hazardous…and not a one of them has any desire to sucker punch anyone, or pull a gun in a liquor store, or spit in a cop’s face.”

    You: “Are you really sure none of your trans students have a desire to spit in a cop’s face? Speaking as a trans person who belongs a fairly sizable queer community, I honestly don’t know a single one of us who doesn’t lol.”

    Wanting to/having a desire to do something doesn’t mean I’m going to actually do it regardless of likely consequences.

    Um. If you quite deliberately choose to not do it (obs, for the consequences), what it tells me is your desire to not do it exceeds your desire to do it — both are present, but you yourself concede the net result is what matters.

    (Perhaps that may be to what PZ referred?)

  56. hemidactylus says

    Weird. The Wikipedia on gangsta rap puts Philly’s Schooly D smack dab in the thick of it. I always thought him more hardcore rap than gangsta. I guess my heavy listening to Schooly D and Ice T back in the day makes me more gangsta adjacent than I’m comfortable admitting to. I thought those two were more precursors to the genre. In retrospect, much of the Dre stuff with Snoop Dogg was musically adept, though I pretty much despised it at the time. Dre is a top notch DJ. Funny how they wrote out the awkward World Class Wreckin Cru days out of the narrative for the Straight Outta Compton movie as it doesn’t quite fit the hard edge narrative. IMO NWA merely transitioned from break beats into edgier hardcore rap at first before gangsta became an actual thing. I kinda know what I’m taking about but am relying on decades old experiences as a music fan.

    Gangsta could be much like grunge in that it was questionable as an actual thing more than marketing label. Were folksy Pearl Jam and more metallic Alice in Chains in the same genre as Hole (and that other band Nirvana)?

    Also weird how that now obnoxious jackass Kid Rock was kinda hiphop influenced though he didn’t seem as polished as other nu metal acts. I will give him credit for Bawitdaba being a pretty hardcore song, but that’s about it. Eminem is from the Detroit area too but is more bona fide hiphop, though only did maybe two songs I liked. Kid Rock is more country hick oriented obviously now and did only one song I liked.

  57. says

    I recently read Richard Rothstein’s 2017 The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. I have a few issues with it, but it’s very good and I recommend it. The main argument of the book concerns the role of the federal and state and local governments in creating and enforcing segregation over several decades, but some of the sections that hit me the hardest describe local white townspeople and neighborhood associations and the mean and petty tactics they used to exclude black people – the narrow zoning laws and permitting restrictions and requirements for new construction and on and on. They put so much thought, energy, and organization into this stupid, hateful project, and here’s this joker still at it in 2023.

  58. cheerfulcharlie says

    “Does anyone know when country music turned into this jingoistic nonsense?”
    – microraptor

    30 years ago, with rise of the cassette tape, and “The Cassette Culture”, a lot of amatuer musicians were producing home made music distrubted on cassettes. The was an underground country music culture that spread savagely racist country music. Some was rather violent. Real Ku Klux Klan type stuff. I suspect that someplace on the net some of this stuff is still around. Then came punk rock and Nazi Skinhead bands.

  59. lanir says

    This is just a specific instance of a more general concept: if someone is telling you nothing but positive things to sell you on something then whatever they’re talking about is probably garbage.

    Every small town is one big tribe that cooperates and works together? Yeah, that’s obvious horse shit. Nobody’s believing that, they just like how it sounds. You work for a big corporation and they keep sending internal memos about how great the company is? Yeah, nobody’s believing that nonsense either. It’s a corporation. It’s sole purpose is to grub for money and nothing else matters to your bosses. You have relatives that go on about how important family is while you’re dealing with some nasty family issues? Yeah, they know all about your problems and they don’t care. They’re just spouting obvious bullshit to guilt trip you into going along with their fantasy life even though they know doing that is going to harm you.

    Neither the people slinging this shit or the ones who buy into it ever have your best interests at heart. GTFO as soon as possible.

  60. microraptor says

    One thing I’d like to point out about this song: Jason Aldean lives in Macon, GA. Which has a population of 157,000. The county I live in has a population that’s between 1/2 and 2/3 that size. I grew up in a town with a population of about 600 that had one restaurant, one store, a post office, a bank, and three bars. No traffic lights, a volunteer fire department, no cops or doctors, not even an urgent care.

    Some things that Jason should try in a small town:

    Being queer.
    Being someone who preferred reading books instead of watching football.
    Wanting to do something on a Friday night that didn’t involve alcohol.
    Wanting to see the world.
    Wanting a good job that paid well and didn’t involve heavy labor.
    Wanting to go to college.

  61. stochastic says

    Emily Nussbaum has a great article in The New Yorker about how Music Row, which controls what gets played on country music stations, has forced out most musicians who are not conservative white cishet males from country music playlists. Created a new genre of “Americana”, which gets excluded from both radio and CMT videos.

    (The cover of that issue also shows what really happens when lemmings reach cliffs.)