Well, I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in this small town
And that’s probably where they’ll bury me
These are the words that end John Mellencamp’s 1985 hit, the aptly titled “Small Town.” For four years I worked in a dorm at the University of Minnesota, where my boss insisted on playing KQRS, the classic rock station, every single day. The guarantees in my life became death, taxes, and hearing that dreadful song every day. That “Small Town” is still being played on Classic Rock Radio in 2016 proves there is a sizable segment of the population that enjoys songs in which every line ends with “small town,” or they’re willfully ignorant of what a pandering mess it is. It’s rather unlikely that “And people let me be just what I want to be” *in a small town* rings true to anyone but good, hardworking people (read: white, heteronormative).
The Atlantic posted a story today about how well Donald Trump is polling among those who never left their hometown. Daniel Cox, head of research at PPRI, is quoted as saying “whites who were born in their hometowns and never left are really strong Trump supporters. If you’re raised in a more culturally conservative area and you never leave, chances are that you’re going to be a bit more insular.” It’s not really surprising that people who have never moved away from their hometown are insulated from people different from themselves, and therefore never have had to confront the beliefs they were raised on.
This small town ethos was on full display in the Vice Presidential Debate on Tuesday where Mike Pence declared in his opening statements that he is a “small town boy” who grew up with a “cornfield in [his] backyard”. He’s used this phrase consistently throughout the campaign, likely to provide a balance to the NYC native Trump, but the data would suggest that it’s completely unnecessary. Trump’s biggest lead is in small town America, where he has a 26 point lead with whites who still live in their hometown.
That Mellencamp’s own political views are in diametric opposition to Trump’s is immaterial when the songs he’s written serve as a validation of a desire to strand oneself in their hometown without any desire to grow in new experiences. His populist views do not stand in the way of his hit being co-opted by bigoted fear-mongering campaigns, but “Small Town” wouldn’t highlight the absurdity of someone like Trump using it in the same way that Ronald Reagan using “Born in the U.S.A.” or Trump’s use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” did. Even George W. Bush’s use of “I Won’t Back Down” isn’t an explicit validation of values that the songwriter purports to be about. Should Trump have used it to campaign, or god forbid, his re-election campaign, John Mellencamp wouldn’t have any ammunition to fire back with given that the song implicitly condones the sort of mindset that Trump is cultivating.
Mellencamp even admitted in a 2005 interview that his friends laughed at him when he was writing the song because the premise is so absurd, and such transparent pandering. It’s almost self-parody by Mellencamp, and yes I’m 30 years late in exclaiming my hatred of this song, but let’s be real here, the fact that Lambeau Field plays it after every Packers game should have been sign enough. Please, do it for the culture. Never play “Small Town” again.
Thoughts about the thoughts
Brock: ban everything Packers.