Jason Aldean is right and here’s why
When I was 16 and waiting tables in my small town’s Big Boy, where my mother also worked, a visiting city-dweller, let’s call her “Professor,” treated me like I existed to be part of her small-town experience. Professor was fascinated that I had spent my whole life there and attended a high school that hosted an annual tractor day. She peppered me with questions and was overly enthusiastic, probably for a future cocktail party anecdote, that my weekend plans included a bonfire party in the woods and a swim across a nearby lake. It occurred to me that I was a zoo animal on exhibit in the eyes of this woman when, in a tone that made me wonder if she was going to try to pet me, she said, “Aren’t you just as American as apple pie?!” At her university, I believe that’s called a micro-aggression, but not if it is targeted at rural Americans, apparently.
People like Professor love the small-town experience because they get to feel superior. Like almost all other aspects of small-town culture, Professor doesn’t understand that residents of rural America generally do not measure their status based on what they do to earn money. Professor does though, and has fewer people to compete with for “best job title” in small towns. She sits at rural cafes and revels in the sanctimonious glory of her educational enlightenment and her kindness to the “little people.”
I imagine that Professor is sitting at her desk on a university campus at this moment hopping mad about Jason Aldean’s hit song, “Try That in A Small Town.” Professor does not bother understanding small-town culture because, to her, it is not worthy of understanding. More explicitly, who cares about the white, working class? Certainly not Professor, who is also white, but hates to be reminded of that fact. And since she disagrees with values like patriotism, well then, they must be racist, of course.
Many of us, the small-town, economic migrants, carry the values from our childhoods to our more populated neighborhoods. We still wave at everyone we walk past, talk to people in grocery stores, and bake cookies for newly arrived neighbors. We are also thankful for the perks we did not have in our small towns. Police presence and availability, for example, are better in our more affluent suburbs. In rural areas, smaller budgets and more square miles mean longer waits after emergency calls. We are raised to take care of our own and look after each other because we know government can be unreliable.
My childhood neighbor and friend, who grew up in a log cabin through the woods west of my house, is the embodiment of these values. We spent our youth catching bullfrogs, paddle-boating, and ice skating on his pond. When I was 15 and he was 16, we were leaving the demolition derby at our town’s annual carnival when two older, malicious boys I barely knew from another town followed me to the parking lot. My neighbor opened his car door and told me to lock the doors and stay in the car no matter what happened. Then, outnumbered, he confronted the boys and handled the situation. He subsequently won the high school wrestling state championship.
America’s small towns are full of courageous people with can-do attitudes, like my childhood neighbor. They embrace the most positive aspects of masculinity and are guided by faith and patriotism. Perhaps what is really bothering Professor and others like her, is that Jason Aldean and his insightful song writers are absolutely correct. Looting, arson, and random violence won’t fly in a small town and there is nothing Professor can say to change that.