Try This in a Small Town

Jason Aldean’s song “Try That In A Small Town” has the whole internet taking to their phones either in gleeful support or horror or (the version the algorithms have relentlessly pounded me with) smug talk-down-to-the-offended reactions to the reactions.

I can’t help but note that this smells exactly like a genius marketing move for Mr. Aldean’s team.

But Ben… what do you think of the song?

I think it sounds exactly like 90% of country music that tops the charts these days: thinly veiled propaganda written by committee designed to mobilize a significant chunk of the country to take out their wallet and buy beer, American flags, bumper stickers, and (most importantly) concert tickets. Sorry so cynical. There’s some good country out there, but soooo much of it is just bad art (but great for selling t-shirts).

It’s not a bad song, and it strikes VERY WELL near the heart of a frustrating part of living in America and seeing the things that the news media and the algorithms parade in front of us: people with seemingly no regard for laws vandalizing, spitting in the face of cops, and stealing things with impunity.

If your algorithm isn’t showing you that, it’s because it thinks you are liberal. Your algorithm is probably showing you Trump-supporting politicians proclaiming to be pro-life while also being ok with killing immigrants, or the latest unhinged rant of some beyond-right talking head where they recommend some policy against brown people.

See what’s going on? You’ve got the two most-substantial (in terms of both raw numbers of people and disposable income) segments of the population that are not that far apart on the spectrum, yet each group is constantly being fed a steady diet of memes and points specifically designed to make them angry at that other segment.

As an aside: I don’t personally think it’s some deep state plot, so much as a natural outworking of the monetization of attention.

  1. Emotional people pay attention
  2. Attention pays sponsors
  3. Outrage is the low-hanging fruit of the emotional tree. Plus, bonus points: people are predisposed to outrage. It happens at a nearly subconscious level.

So what we are left with is two generally frustrated but unprovoked groups of emotional people. Nobody trusts a word of what “the other side” says, and fairly uncritically accepts that the folks on their side of the aisle are being reasonable.

Then into that powderkeg you toss a match labeled “Try That in a Small Town” that’s custom-designed to sell to your conservative small-town folks. It’s a stick-your-chest-out anthem that 98% of your target demographic will agree with every word of, with a bonus of being able to stick it to “big city liberal elites” who are (again, according to the biased and agenda-driven algorithm) clearly out of touch with what’s really going on. Just look at this video of a store being looted in San Francisco!

Here’s where the true marketing genius happens, though.

Make it juuuust close enough to the line to tick off a “liberal snowflake.” Throw in some phrases like “take care of our own” but be careful not to clarify how you’re dividing the line between “our own” and “others.” Say “Good ol’ boys” or other cleverly ambiguous phrases to try and get somebody to take the bait that you’re talking about race.

If all goes as planned, it will just take one liberal making the plausibly-deniable connection to race, and BOOM you’ve got yourself a best seller. See, the only thing that purchasing demographic is more tired of than being talked down to by big city liberals is being called racist.

Call them racists when they can plausibly and easily deny it, and you end up with koozies and keychains made with TTIAST in red-white-blue, Jason Aldean’s otherwise mediocre tour will sell out, his song will top iTunes and Spotify, and you’ve got a great new mascot for the Red team!

See, I’m not so concerned with whether the song is racist. I’m very concerned that after 20 years of seeing social media get better and better at pitting us against each other, we’re still so easily taken.

I'm not so concerned with whether the song is racist. I'm very concerned that after 20 years of seeing social media get better and better at pitting us against each other, we're still so easily taken. Share on X

And hey, while we’re trying to sell attention… here’s my song about politics: