Calling Out The Urban Myth

One of the sites I regularly visit is Juanita Jean’s–The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon. The proprietor of that establishment–a Texan who posts as “Miss Juanita Jean herownself-“-reminds me a lot of the late, great Molly Ivins. Over the past couple of years, she has shared posting tasks with several others, and while most lack her wit–and brevity– the site remains a good source of Texas criticism and occasional snark.

A recent post considered the uproar over Jason Aldean’s song “Try that in a Small Town.” 

I’m not a fan of country music– or for that matter, the contemporary music scene of any genre (actually, nothing much since Dean Martin and/or the Limelighters…) –but I’ve certainly seen reports about the song and the reactions to it. The racism was evidently barely veiled, leading to the deletion of some Black Lives Matter video, but the linked post by Nick Carraway focused on the song’s even more damaging stereotype: the belief that “small town” people are somehow different–and nicer–than the evil “others” who populate the country’s urban hell-holes.

As Carraway writes:

In looking at the lyrics for Jason Aldean’s song “Try that in a Small Town” you can see the subtle nods towards racism. When looking at the video you can’t avoid the subtle nods for racism. Left vs. Right is the main fault line everyone focuses on, but big town vs. small town is another fault line. There are others. Honest vs. Dishonest. Asshole vs, Kind. Narcissist vs. Empathetic. America has always been a collection fault lines and separations. Essentially we have made it through by standing with people we have common cause with even if we have other areas where we disagree. As much as the overt racism and sexism bothers me, there was something else I noticed immediately.

“Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk
Carjack an old lady at a red light
Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store
Ya think it’s cool, well, act a fool if ya like.”
I hate to be the “nobody is talking about” guy, but there is an image inherent here about big city life. I’m sure this is what people in small towns believe. It’s only been shoved down their throats for decades. Hell, the 2017 inaugural address was titled “American Carnage”. It was offensive on any number of levels, but more offensive to me as a writer. It was like a sixth grade thought experiment where the winner got his/her dystopian essay read on national television.

The biggest fault line dividing America today is fact vs. fiction. Aldean is telling a terrific story here. You could probably picture Gotham from all of those Batman movies where everyone was afraid to go outside and crime was just around the corner. SNL had a sketch years ago where they talked about someone in New York getting mugged every thirty seconds. So, they just made it the same guy. Chicago, Portland, New York, and Los Angeles are all billed as hell on earth. Yet, crime statistics per capita would tell you that they are statistically more safe than traditional red areas.

As Carraway says, this mythology has morphed from “left versus right” to fiction versus nonfiction. Songs like this one paint a picture of “big city” life that is–as he correctly notes –about as true as a dystopian novel.

Several commenters to the post offered confirming examples drawn from the small towns they’d grown up in; others offered statistical confirmation of Carraway’s point. As he wrote in response to those comments:

It’s the politics of exaggeration. Do carjackings happen? Sure, of course they do. Do they happen at red lights? I suppose there’s a non-zero chance of that happening. Of course people rob liquor stores. I’ve never heard of anyone being sucker punched on the street but I suppose anything can happen….

I suppose the hysteria over “Democrat run cities” and “groomers” makes perfect sense in that bubble. If the gay/lesbian/bi/trans population were really 20 percent as they believe, then something nefarious is happening. Except it’s not happening at that rate. None of it is.

(Actually, I wouldn’t consider 20% of the population being gay as nefarious. I’d welcome it. What is genuinely “nefarious” is the 20% or 30% who are MAGA….)

I call these fantasies about urban life “alternate realities.” Carraway calls them fiction. Both terms apply far more accurately to the lunatic caucus in Congress, where the GOP is currently “investigating” alien life and looking for little green men…which raises a question:

Since people like Aldean are so frightened of those urban Black folks, I wonder how they’d react to Green ones…


  1. “The biggest fault line dividing America today is fact vs. fiction.” Not left/right, urban/rural, religious/secular, Democrat/Republican. Our biggest divide as Trump’s criminal indictments and the 2024 election unfold will be fact vs. fiction. Thank you for this perspective. This is a lens I will use to in the coming months and weeks.

  2. He didn’t even write the song! Somebody else did and it was released in May. Somebody got their brave hat on and decided to shout it out. Whatever.

    Professor, there have been many performers that were outstanding. How about Tony Bennett that just passed or the band “The Eagles?” Elton John 50 year career? Or Miles Davis?

  3. There is an organization called “Braver Angels” that is purportedly making an effort to bridge the gap between “us” and “them”. I am going to attend an event this evening at the Unity of Indianapolis, 907 N Delaware, called “Depolarizing Within”. I will report back after the event. I am happy to see an organization that is making an effort to create some sort of unity in the country now. I am skeptical but will keep an open mind.

    One other fault line in Indiana: there are two types of people. Funnel Cake people or Elephant Ear people. I will make the extraordinary effort to try them both as a sacrifice in an effort to bridge that gap too!

  4. “Fact vs fiction” is the current state of division in America in a nutshell. “Both sides” is another myth perpetuated by MAGA fanatics. Well, both sides are NOT the same, and only one side, the conservatives, is being fed a constant diet of lies by cynical self-serving republican politicians and right-wing media, in order to grab and keep power. Whatʻs sickening is that republican voters are being told “the democrats are going to take away your social security!” when it is actually Rick Scott and other republicans who have consistently threatened and planned to eliminate social security for years. Same goes for health care. Up is down, in is out, right is wrong, and “freedom isnʻt free” has confused the heck out of rural folks.

  5. So, I’m left pondering where, exactly, one draws the line between “small town”, medium town and large town. Is there a population delineator? How many liquor stores must a town have before they’re considered not small?

    All the no-talent Aldean was doing was using the Trump formula for tribalism in order to sell records to the same “people” who mindlessly send money to Trump.

    Oh. Wait. Trump is from a big city. Never mind. It IS about racism and so much more. To Aldean’s “audience”, the Civil War never ended.

  6. If you want a deeper dive into the roots of this division, look no further than the usual source of lies and hate: the Republican Party: “The Politics of Resentment, Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker”, by Katherine J. Cramer.

  7. On the gay percentage, my children suggest–anecdotally, of course–that the percentage of people not traditionally straight in their high school is near 50%. One of my girls making that comment prefers girls, so she certainly may have some idea. For a long time, the consensus was 10%, or even less. I have a bias–largely due to my age, I’m sure–that makes me think it is not as high as they think, but it did get me to wondering.

    Each person has an attraction level for each gender. (Mostly; it’s actually more complicated than even that, but it’s an easy way to conceptualize it.) It’s widely accepted that people identifying as male will typically have a tendency to a stronger attraction to females, and weaker attraction towards males. And the converse for those identifying as female. So, we see many males that are strongly attracted to females but have little attraction for their fellow males, especially in comparison to the female attraction. And the same for females. But, we also see people who are strongly attracted to both genders, and others who are not strongly attracted to either. And all cases in between. (My queer daughter, for example, has a strong attraction for females and a somewhat lesser attraction for males. Note that “queer” is not derogatory; she describes herself that way. It’s used by the community as a shorthand for non-traditionally-straight. She’s had a girlfriend and a boyfriend at different times.)

    Over the previous many (!) decades, same-gender attraction has largely been deemed unacceptable in our social system. My suspicion is that this means a lot of people in the past who had some same-gender attraction alongside their “acceptable” opposite-gender attraction would have suppressed or ignored it. After all, it would have been way easier to move through society by sticking closer to the norms, especially when the alternative could be both stigmatizing and dangerous, in numerous ways. Just make it easy on yourself; after all, you _are_ attracted to the opposite gender, so go with that, and ignore any other possibilities. I bet many people would have started conditioning themselves towards the “norm” from a very young age.

    So, I suspect the actual number of non-traditionally-straight people is much higher than was previously thought. I still tend to doubt it’s 50%, although that’s not impossible, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s actually something like 30% or more. There may be a future coming where a substantial number of our fellow citizens have relationships with people of different genders over the course of their lifetimes. This will be good; anytime we can get over a stupid prejudice as a species, it’s a good thing.

    And if anyone wants to suggest that this potential future is a world where our species could start to die out or something, then please also imagine how monumentally and dramatically I am rolling my eyes right now at your silly worry. 🙂

  8. Laurie Gray’s comment, “Our biggest divide as Trump’s criminal indictments and the 2024 election unfold will be fact vs. fiction.” gets down to the nitty-gritty of our judicial system protecting democracy, Rule of Law and our Constitution. What we are seeing is that Trump remains above the law when it comes to criminal indictments and legal action against his crimes. That brought to my mind another long ago popular song:

    “Is that all there is, is that all there is
    If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
    Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
    If that’s all there is”

    Trump is now a private citizen but still being afforded Presidential Immunity as he carries on his fictional election results and his actions against the facts as his continuing presidential campaign foundation…in small towns and big cities. When a prosecuting attorney has to file for a Protective Order against him 24 hours after his arraignment it is evident that Trump’s level of criminal charges are no more important than an abused woman’s Protective Order against her abuser which are not acted on by authorities. The Arraignment Judge’s admonition directly to Trump that he would be “held” if he abused any of the requirements of his behavior while out on bond have gone ignored as all other orders regarding his threats and his actions. Would this be the same result if he would “Try That in a Small Town”?

  9. Jason Aldean’s wife has made racist and other nasty comments on social media in the past. Apparently, it took her husband a little longer to come out of his racist closet. Having been a fan of country/pop music for many years I’ve either muted the music or turned it off when a Jason Aldean song plays ever since his wife’s first offensive comment made the news a couple years ago. If she felt bold enough to make public racist and homophobic comments I believed he had the same opinions.

    I not only grew up in a small town, but still live in one and can assure you that the racist homophobic people are the ones with the least interest in being educated or learning about the “world outside of their four walls”. Unfortunately, most of them are also the biggest maga fans due to their fear of being replaced in the white supremacist pecking order by people who aren’t like them.

    Thanks to the ex-prez’s criminal hate-filled four years in power and fox’s 24/7 spread of ignorance, rural small town areas have become very divided between the maga cultists and those of us with open minds.

  10. Vernon- re your comment “To Aldean’s “audience”, the Civil War never ended.”

    Many of those southern civil war families moved to Indiana, Ohio and Michigan decades ago for better paying jobs, yet they still proudly display their fake confederate flags.

  11. To anyone whose job is gathering an audience, the only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity. I expect god old Jason will get plenty of stage time from this offensive screed. He’ll probably be a headliner at next year’s Republican Convention.

    At a party in 1985, a friend told me that I was missing out on some really great music if I kept clinging to the notion that there hadn’t been any great music since the 60’s! I decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did. I’m even coming to appreciate Rap, Hip-hop and some heavy metal (which I personally attribute to heavy metal in dark chocolate). I could give you an extensive list, if you ask.

  12. A article in yesterday’s Washington Post titled ‘In an Atlanta suburb, American realities collide over Trump’s indictment’ highlighted the differences between an extreme maga trump supporter and a person that immediately recognized the horror of trump becoming our president. They are each spending time leading their local campaigns for either trump or Biden. The biggest difference between the two is that the trump lover and his wife have their tv tuned nonstop into fox. He still believes January 6th was nothing more than a peaceful protest.

  13. he didnt write the song. the song is from what concert players ,muscians select from a catalog of writers,pay a royality to play it,and of course,the writer gets a kickback everytime its played.the muscian selected it. aldean doesnt write. so his,producer,the one who fronts the money,and comtracts him,usually selects the songs he will record/play.,if they agree. (yamight want to slam the producer)many a muscian record and play by whoever pays em. the song trivialises the narritive. like its so easy to say,but getting easier to play it out with todays folk heros like trump and desatin. the news genres have given a fog horn to the scenerios. now its become a anthem for the right to fiurther their ambitions.. take ths song apart in a sense of poetry. like theory,you can decide how you interpit it.unfortunatly,its now its been hung up like a flag and circulated as some blow hard inspiration for the red neck. its how the time is now. inspired by more of the last 20 years of rightwing fanfare of media news. if trump sought to cause the 1/6 words.this song only preaches what the hell is going on.
    it doesnt need to be targeted in small town,its now how life is everywhere.
    now whos gonna write a theme song about fox news?

    John Kay,steppenwolf fame,wrote a song once called,,, give me some news i can use…
    its a far more revealing about todays news,it was written back in the 70s..

  14. Nancy,

    Correct. I grew up in NE Ohio in the 50s and 60s… and went to high school with the children of those migrants. A poignant anecdote: A high school football player at my school – whose parents migrated from Virginia – became an honorable mention All-American and was flooded with scholarship offers from the Big 10 and other conferences. He chose a SEC school. Why? “So I don’t have to play with any n_______s.” It’s a paraphrase, but the message was clear.

  15. Life and humans are much more subtle than the divides. I grew up in a “Jim Crow” town in SC in the 1950’s and 1960’s . But, most of my relatives lived in NYC, Boston, etc.. From what I saw, heard and read, “everyday racism” was as bad or worse in those Northern cities. Life ain’t simple.

  16. The murder rate in the entire State of Florida is 9.7 per 100,000 residents. The murder rate in New York City is 5.3 per 100,000 residents. 20% of the population in big cites might be gay because they’ve most likely been driven out of those “small towns” by those guys that won’t let you “try this”.

    When I moved to downtown Indianapolis and the Old Northside Neighborhood, I fell in love with an old house (a big Victorian), but the thing that kept me there for 34 years was the neighbors and the neighborhood. I remember one resident who came from a small town when her husband’s job forced a relocation, Judy O’Bannon, describing the neighborhood “like a small town in the big city”, and a very much inclusive town with a huge diversity of residents in almost every way imaginable.

    “Try that in a small town” is nothing but a racist, and most likely homophobic, and misogynistic rant.

  17. Vernon, plenty of AA players in the SEC, so I don’t know why they’d want to play in the South. More exposure to NFL scouts, maybe?

    I saw this, “It’s the politics of exaggeration.”

    My community is small enough to see racism firsthand. While we have the obvious Confederate flag bearers, most are subtle. They’ve moved their kids into private schools or county schools where the percentage of white kids is over 90%.

    Most have banned me on social media, so I don’t see it anymore. The fans of Aldean’s song will mostly be subtle racists unless you see them wearing his brand. Then I wonder why you proudly wear racist gear in a mixed community. The symbolism is compared to wearing a sheet with a pointy hat. Yea, be proud of your racism…

  18. I agree with all of Mr. Carraway’s comments, except his statement that he had never seen anyone getting sucker punched on the street. We’ve all seen that happen on the news. Remember the Asian Americans being attacked out of the blue, and the homeless?

  19. As long as Aldean and his fans want to live in a fictional world where cities are cesspools of crime and small towns are idyllic gardens of Eden, wait till I tell them about the murder rate in Cabot Cove.

  20. Truth vs, fiction includes Rick Scott and his attacks on civil life, and now, it has been announced, one of his campaign
    crew for ’24, will be Newt Gingrich, long known as a spewer of BS.
    TFG/Mr. Indictment, has been the most, if you will, fictionalized character on the American scene for years. He makes
    Newt look like a beginner with his lies, and his public persona is PURE fiction: Yeah, Rambo with a rocket launcher out to
    save the world from the pedophiles…while he has been known to salivate over the possibility of relations with his own
    Yes, JoAnn, “suppressed or ignored it,” is just what being in “the closet” means. The standard estimate
    for gay people in the population was always 10%, indeed, but that may not have included all of the
    forms by which we now realize alternate sexuality exists, so 20%, or more could be more accurate.
    In this regard, I again, suggest people read “Evolution’s Rainbow, Diversity, Gender and Sexuality in Nature and People,”
    by Joan Roughgarden.
    I have to admit that I’d not heard of that other migration north (how ironic) of the heartfelt confederates before reading of it here.
    It makes a sorry new sense of the state of hate in the country.
    I like Steppenwolf, and will mention that a number of jazz greats came from Indiana, including Wes Montomery:
    Mitch D.

  21. As an “ancient” on this blog (a WW II guy) I grew up in a small town in southwestern Indiana and there was plenty of racism to go around there. We lived kitty corner across from the volunteer fire station and there was a liar’s bench in front of the station. WW II had not yet begun in Europe and the Great Depression was in bloom (though waning due to FDR’s progressive New Deal policies) when I recall the following.

    Two black retired coal miners would walk into town from their abodes some three miles out of town and sat on that bench on Saturdays in the summertime to chew the fat with other retirees. No blacks lived in town. When the sun was setting our town marshal would walk up to them and say: “OK, boys; it’s time,” and the two of them would obediently get up and walk back home. I remember sitting on our front porch and witnessing this more than once, and am humiliated to now write that I thought at the time that this was the way things were supposed to be, and in telling this story to family and others now I always say that if I were to witness such an encounter today I would go across the street and tell the marshal to go home.

    As to music, I am of the Big Band/Jazz era and have zero interest in country music with the exception of Dolly Parton, and even that is probably based on my affection for Dolly rather than her music. My musical tastes run to Stan Kenton, Peter Nero, Count Basie, Duke Ellington et al., and I spent many a juke box nickel listening to their wonderful outputs.

  22. Mitch: What a small world! I was a member of a five member law firm in Indianapolis with offices in the Circle Tower Building and one of our members represented Wes Montgomery’s estate. He was great, and while talking of Hoosier musical performers and composers let’s not forget Hoagy Carmichael and his composition of the immortal STARDUST.

  23. Jack Smith, I have to ask, do you think Jason Aldean has no agency or choice in the matter whatsoever? He’s just a shill for the producer and songwriter? My guess is if the song didn’t resonate with his personal values in some way, he wouldn’t have chosen to perform and record it.

  24. Sheila, re. your last sentence, maybe contact with an intelligent alien life form would jolt us all into recognizing our common humanity.

  25. Everyone in the US can express their ideas/culture freely as long as it’s not hate speech against a protected “Class” of others. I didn’t mind hearing the song for myself. No thank you. I grew up in a small village until college. I know the culture well and always questioned it. I love to learn about all cultures and haven’t found a way to do that better than questioning those steeped in them.

  26. Mitch D; why did you target me with the “suppressed or ignored it” meaning being “in the closet”? I made no reference to that nor would I as I know what “in the closet” refers to.

  27. The portrayal of life in those urban dens of iniquity that the white supremacists like to use as justification for their vicious, suppressive agenda is not new by any means.
    “The 4-H Harvest, Sexuality and the State in Rural America”, by Gabriel N. Rosenberg, lays out the history of how the White, Protestant, straight male power structure went to great lengths to reverse the trend that was lamented in the old song about “how to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree .
    The case can be made that the original goal was about wealth and technology as the country entered the industrial age. It quickly became as much about religious conformity to strictly enforced gender roles. Rural communities offered little to young people at the turn of the 20th century, not jobs or opportunity, let alone lifestyle choices.
    Now as then, the use of children’s education was critical to the strategy by those who stood to gain power and wealth. There were many handmaids and willing adherents just as there are now. As always, follow the money.

  28. Todd. The SEC had teams that mostly didn’t allow AA players. Not even the famed Bear Bryant couldn’t recruit black players. Of course in the 50’s and 60s there the calendars read 1850.

    My friend’s school had NO black players.

  29. JD: as I know you know, Gabe Rosenberg’s father is the estimable Judge Louis Rosenberg. Lou and his wife Sheila raised three brilliant and accomplished children here in Indiana (although at least two of those children no longer reside here….)

  30. By the way, my mother and a couple of her siblings moved up north from the south in the 50s for jobs. My uncle was a truck driver and mom worked in an ice cream/soda shop when she met my dad. The siblings left behind in the south lived in those small towns and we visited often. I lived in Alabama for awhile and listened to the homophobics and racists growing up. The most racists ones were in Indiana! Aldean lives in a big city now and a couple of years ago wrote about the sundown towns and how he “left them in the rear view mirror “ in another song he sang.

    All this publicity is not bad publicity in his neck of the woods. He needs to grow up like the rest of the hicks in the world.

  31. Just finished reading a book written by the wonderful writer David Sedaris, who in a simple straightforward way deals with a lot of these complex urban/ rural issues. He and his partner have residences in NYC, London and rural France and others where they alternate living when he’s not traveling the world on his book/lecture tours. Sedaris has a talent for dissecting craziness in a humorous way.
    We’re being played by profit motives, political agendas and the media; sometimes and often it is confusing like a tower of Babble. A neighbor who supports TFG told my husband that they no longer listen to Fox news since “it’s becoming too liberal.” They go to That to get the truth where a lot of other veterans go?? I don’t want to look at things from an authoritarian war mode and am hoping that the strong arm of our civil laws holds out on the current attack on our democracy!

  32. Rose; I find it humorous that you view Sedaris’ view for “dissecting craziness in a humorous way” that “we are being played by profit motives” from a man who has residences in NYC, London, rural France and others where he and his partner live while traveling the world making money on his book/lecture tours.

  33. Racism is. Horrible thing and resonates politically. BLM was originally sponsored by George Soros who exploited our racial divide. Most of the money funneled thru BLM went to Democrat candidates who manage and control most major cities. Racist police actions spawned large political responses. Some say that the protests were peaceful, the problem with the protests is that politicians actually supported them when they became destructive, saying its a necessary thing. Many business owners black or white took huge losses.
    The black community suffers from such protests but those who gain or jeep political power regardless of the new found business desert, grocery store desert and pharmacological desert do little to reverse the the tragic change to the community.
    Are there sociological consequences when politicians who say they represent the black community and put forth policies that don’t work. Black pastors suggest that the war on poverty has been more devastating to the black community as two parent families have plummeted drastically since the 1960s.
    Try that in a small town of course is targetted as a racist song politically even though most of the video clips are from news services, no mention of skin color or race is mentioned,. Its what people see in the song from their own viewpoint.
    Whats ironic is that one party sponsored a KKK platform, showed a racist film in the White House and continues to blame the other party for their iwn poor political power and control.
    Repeat offenders are let out of jail by DAs that George Soros sponsors. Soros is a self proclaimed little god. He is proud of destroying communities as he destroys communities nationwide.
    The song should be Hey George, try this in a small town, ha.

  34. Jo Ann, we’re being played by profit motives in many areas where I don’t think it should be the main aim like healthcare, health insurance, government, politics etc. and I don’t think that’s humorous. I stand by what I said about Sedaris and his writing and commentary on cultural issues that he has faced in a difficult life of being a gay man. He works hard at his art/craft and travels a lot for his readings to his millions of fans. He accomplishes a lot with the way he uses humor and I think he earns his pay honestly. I recommend his books, he’s worth a read.!

  35. A 2019 BBC article called “Why is billionaire George Soros a bogeyman for the hard right?” explains who invented the myth, and why this myth was started:

    “In 2013, when the Hungarian leader (Viktor Orban) needed advice on getting re-elected, he approached a legendary political consultant, called Arthur Finkelstein… Finkelstein, who died in 2017, worked for Donald Trump, George Bush senior, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and is renowned for making “liberal” a dirty word in politics.”

    “Finkelstein created a new style of politics dubbed “Finkel Think”, says Hannes Grassegger, a reporter for the Swiss publication, Das Magazin.

    “Arthur Finkelstein always said, ‘You don’t go against the Taliban, you go against Osama Bin Laden.’ So it’s about personalisation, picking the perfect enemy and then [you] go full on against that person, so that people are actually scared of your opponent. And never talk about your own candidate’s policies, they don’t matter at all.”

    Finkelstein realised the best way to get Orban elected was to find a new enemy. He suggested Soros, and it was a perfect choice, Grassegger says. “The very right hated him because he was Jewish, people at the very left hated him because he was a capitalist.”

    The irony is, Arthur Finkelstein was himself a Jew. “This Jewish man creates this Jewish monster,” Grassegger says.”

  36. Big city, medium city, all I know is that Indianapolis is worse that a third-world country during a civil war.
    How do I know? Why, Jefferson Shreve, Republican candidate for Mayor told me so in his primary campaign TV ads (not as much now). Old law’n’order memes keep on being repeated.

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