With some trepidation, I’ll share a few thoughts on the Jason Aldean song controversy. I’d like to speak to what I’m hearing from all sides of this debate…commenting a bit as both preacher and songwriter. In this critique, I will only analyze the song itself…
1: The song *might* be about lynching.
It never mentions lynching, this is true. But, lest anyone thinks I am defending the song, quickly see the next two points…
2: The song is DEFINITELY about vigilantism.
This cannot credibly be denied by anyone on any side of this conversation. This song CELEBRATES and ENCOURAGES small town vigilantism…small town folks taking the law into their own hands.
I trust that even Aldean’s most vigorous defenders will admit that this is a song about vigilante justice. It speaks of a world where small town folks have the right to vigilante justice, and it names various crimes that, are allegedly so self obvious that the constitutional standard of “innocent until proven guilty” do not apply.
Small town folks, the song celebrates, have some innate ability to be cop, prosecutor, and judge…and that is the very definition of vigilantism.
3: Vigilantism is directly tied to lynching.
These last two points taken together are the transitive property and logical steps that, it seems to me, are getting muddied, not being separated enough, in order to analyze them.
The song might be about lynching…but the song is definitely about vigilantism, and vigilantism is definitely connected to lynching.
Again, I don’t know how anyone can deny that vigilantism is connected to lynching: unless a. they are attempting to be intentionally naive, b. ignorant of actual history, or c. Are simply White Supremacists. (Those are the only three reasons I can see to fail to connect “vigilantism” with “lynching.”)
American history is rife with Southern Whites taking the law into their own hands and lynching People of Color. Whites have done this in one-off moments (Allen Brooks 100 years ago in downtown Dallas…we will remember him with a marker dedication tomorrow…) Whites have done this en mass in places like Greenwood/Tulsa.
But friends, we don’t have to go that far back. You can remind yourself of James Byrd, Trevon Martin, Ahmaud Arbury, and countless others. People of Color were/are indeed lynched in modern-day American. Byrd, Martin, Arbury didn’t “make it down the road,” because of the vigilantism of others who decided they were guilty of crimes they in no way attempted. Their vigilante/lynchers were absolutely convinced they were “raised up right.” They believed they were “taking care of their own.”
4: I have sympathy for the need for small town self defense.
I won’t name the place or store owner, but I frequent a family run store in rural Texas…several times a month. The owner there carries a gun for self defense. I completely understand why. His store is 30 minutes away from any town of size. He’s been robbed at gun point before. I totally understand his need for small town “self defense.”
5: This song INTENTIONALLY confuses “self-defense” with “vigilantism.”
This is, imho, an intentional artistic choice by the songwriters, in order to ding the lymbic systems of small town Americans.
Are people “burning the flag” in large numbers today?
But they are “taking a knee.” And burning and taking a knee are not the same thing. The song intends to subtly remind folks of the “take a knee” movement, while making the “crime” seem worse. (Except it wasn’t that subtle, was it?)
Yes, now and then, folks spit in the face of police. And, guess what? Sometimes in the police themselves will admit they deserve the anger of the community.
We have just this week reminded ourselves of one such moment in Dallas…the murder of Santos Rodriguez….and this week I have heard multiple Dallas cops admit that they understood the community’s anger at such a moment. But, by framing the issues in one of the worst ways possible (spitting at a cop), the song completely dismisses the greater truth that anger at police has often been quite justified.
This is both the genius and sinister nature of this songwriting here…simultaneously diminishing two modern social movements (“Taking a Knee” and “Police Reform”) while also triggering the lymbic anger and tribalism of small town folks…and finally while still being able to claim “Oh…we didn’t mean THAT…”
You know what we call that, right?
6: This song was a team effort. (kudos to Amy Speace for the first post I saw that noted this…)
Aldean’s defenders defensively shriek that he didn’t even write the song.
But…how does that make this better?
Doesn’t it actually make it worse?
I mean destroying Aldean personally, making him into a martyr here, won’t solve a thing, and might even help his streams.
But this song was written by four writers, promoted by dozens of AR folks and record label types. A large team created this, just like a large team created the January 6th insurrection. I mention that here because it’s the last known major insurrectionist/vigilante moment in our history.
It’s easy to blame Aldean for the song, and Trump for January 6th. But the roots of both are far deeper than one human.
7: The final and lasting harm of this song is the reinforcing of our Urban/Rural Tribalism.
I believe Rural/Urban tribalism is at the root of many social ills today, and I believe it’s mostly a construct of politicians who benefit from its creation and dissemination.
Therefore, let me end, with some positive comments about all Americans.
Small town Americans are justifiably proud to be small towns Americans. Most of them are hard working, law abiding, decent human beings. But they feel forgotten by our culture, and in many ways they are right. Their culture has been decimated by decades of brain drain, and horrors such as the opioid crisis. The opioid crisis helps us understand their distrust of politicians and the medical establishment…and why they distrusted best practice during COVID.
As with my friend the store owner, they work hard for every dollar, and they find themselves in need to self-defense because of the sheer distances between where they live/work and nearby law enforcement. They feel alone and abandoned in many ways.
But this song doesn’t help them, really.
This song, as I’ve said several times, presses on their lymbic fear and anger…things they see on their televisions far away. Our social media and TV culture makes Urban life seem like a constant war zone. It’s not, but that’s definitely the fear. I wouldn’t want the Urban world I see on TV either, But, that’s not the world I live in here in my big city. That created-narrative of constant violence and lawlessness simply does not exist. Most Urban folks have moments of peace and tranquility, just like small town folks do.
So, dear small town America: don’t worry, Urban folks are not zombies, headed toward you, bent on ruining your world. And, yes, I understand the need to feel pride in your world.
But, this song tells small town Americans that they are “good” not just for being hard working and seeking their own self defense, but that they are also good when they commit vigilantism. This is the heart of what is harmful about this song.
Urban folks hear this song, and falsely assume everyone in small towns will like it, or agree with the vigilantism.
And, therefore, this song unhelpfully reinforces stereotypes…social media and other narratives….about small towns in the minds of Urban Americans too. In that sense, it is harmful to the way Urban Americans see Small Town Americans too.
I totally understand the immediate leap to a fear that this song “is about lynching.” I can’t get inside the heads of the songwriters. So, I can’t with good conscience immediately jump to lynching.
But there are logical steps that cannot be denied:
— the song is about vigilantism.
— vigilantism is connected to lynching.
— lynching lives on in modern America.
Instead of drawing Americans together, this song has contributed to our continuing balkanization and division. It’s triggered the lymbic systems of everyone who hears based on their own urban or rural tribal groups.
Good art is simply enjoyed for its own sake, and doesn’t need to be analyzed over and over.
This song as been analyzed over and over.
Draw your own conclusions.