The decade's most triggering comedy
Seven years ago, for one night, the attention of the national political class in this country was on a small town in the middle of Virginia called Farmville. The occasion was the vice presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence. A handful of Farmville’s 8,000 residents were in attendance. Most of the debate focused on issues that no one even pretends to care about anymore, like Donald Trump’s tax returns, and the fact that Trump called Rosie O’Donnell a fat slob. There was also a lot of talk about the internal politics of faraway countries like Syria.
What didn’t come up, in any meaningful way, is what either party would do to help towns like Farmville. And that’s odd, when you think about it. By the time Tim Kaine, Mike Pence and the national press corps showed up in 2016, Farmville had been bleeding population for many years. The median income in Farmville was an obvious cause for concern — it was less than half the median income in the United States, and dropping. Thousands of residents lived in poverty. And yet, despite that, all that the residents of Farmville heard during the debate were vague promises and cliches about an economy that would soon “work for everyone,” and leave no one behind.
Seven years later, both major political parties have had a chance to run the White House. The decline of Farmville, Virginia has only continued. Four years after that vice presidential debate, the one with all the promises, Farmville ranked as the single poorest town in all of Virginia, with nearly a third of residents living below the poverty line. In 2021, the median household income in Farmville was under $36,000, compared to more than $70,000 in the United States.
What’s happening in Farmville isn’t unique. Multiply the story of Farmville, Virginia by the thousands of small towns all over the country that have deteriorated in recent years, and you get some sense of the scale of the American decline that’s been completely ignored in Washington. Politicians use these towns as props, or as picturesque backdrops for their televised debates. But once the cameras leave, so do the politicians.
One of the Farmville residents they left behind is named Oliver Anthony. He’s a former factory worker who lives with his three dogs in the town. Last week I briefly talked about Anthony’s breakout song, “Rich Men North of Richmond.” The song isn’t just about the failings of this country’s political leaders, who long ago abandoned people like Oliver Anthony. It’s also about dignity, personal responsibility, and spirituality — all verboten topics in the music industry. You’ve probably seen the song on social media; it’s everywhere now. We played it on the show on Friday.
For context, Anthony was completely unknown and recording songs with his iPhone for an audience of a few dozen on YouTube as recently as last week. At this time seven days ago, nobody had ever heard of him. Here he was on August 7th:
A few days later, this guy had three of the top ten songs on iTunes and was performing for a crowd of thousands in North Carolina, who were all singing along as if they’d been singing his songs for years. Here he is performing “Rich Men North of Richmond” for the massive crowd:
Big crowd singing along to Oliver Anthony's "Rich men north of Richmond." pic.twitter.com/UyVerCNY4t
— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) August 13, 2023
Oliver Anthony, and the many people cheering him on, are not supposed to exist. Or at least you’re not supposed to know that they do. You’re not supposed to hear from any of them. They don’t belong to any of the perpetually oppressed classes you’re told, endlessly, to grieve for. They don’t go around identifying as LGBTQ2S+ or whatever. These are people who have actual, useful skills. People who want to work for a living. These are people who don’t think their sexuality or race is a substitute for personality or ethics. These are religious people — men and women who despise sexual degenerates, who appreciate good music, and who understand that they’re not all-powerful, or all-knowing. They are not the controlled opposition that the Left has grown familiar with. These are, in a word, normal people. It’s as simple as that.
Anthony made much of this very clear this weekend. Moments before the performance you just saw, he delivered an important message to the crowd that had gathered. As you watch this, put yourself in Anthony’s position. Just a few days ago, you’re a complete unknown. No one listens to your music. Now, all of a sudden, you’re getting all kinds of offers — for interviews, for record deals, and so on. You’re one of the top trending topics across all social media platforms. How would you begin your first show after all this attention?
Here’s how Oliver Anthony did it:
STOP what you’re doing and watch @AintGottaDollar’s first message on stage since his viral song…
With all the labels watching. POWERFUL 🙏🙏🙏 pic.twitter.com/O2AFHxifr4
— Jason Howerton (@jason_howerton) August 13, 2023
He opens his concert not with a plug for his Instagram, or with any kind of narcissistic celebration of his own success. Instead, he quotes Psalm 37. “The wicked will perish,” he says. The crowd erupts. It’s quite an applause line. They’ve probably never seen anything like it, at least not from a famous musician. This isn’t Sam Smith’s satanism, or Cardi B’s sexual perversion. In fact, most of the people in that crowd probably haven’t even heard a message like that in their churches, where most pastors would consider it insufficiently “welcoming” to quote the Bible’s warnings about the punishments doled out to evildoers. I don’t think Anthony was trying to do anything revolutionary by reading that particular passage. It just means something to him, it resonates with him, so he read it. He’s a normal and authentic guy, which is the appeal.
That simple fact makes him a clear and present danger to the many talentless and eternally bitter members of the so-called entertainment industry, along with their friends in the equally joyless news media. That’s why, predictably, Rolling Stone just published the first hit piece on Oliver Anthony. More will surely follow. For its part, Rolling Stone chalked Anthony’s success up to, “right-wing influencers,” who have artificially promoted Anthony’s song. The piece mentions me, and a few other people. For the record, though, I very much object to being called an influencer.
Is that really the explanation for the success of “Rich Men North of Richmond?” Well, you saw the clips we just showed you. That crowd didn’t look like a bunch of influencers to me. They didn’t even look like the sorts of people who pay very close attention to influencers. They seem, again, like normal people.
TMZ managed to miss the point even more, implying that Anthony wrote the song in order to make money. Here’s what they wrote. “This is a pretty fascinating trend we’re seeing — it appears when right-wingers perceive something (like a song) they think addresses their grievances/perspectives, they lean into it … and, from the small sample size we’ve noticed, it can be effective in the marketplace. Capitalism, baby … it reigns supreme.”
In other words, he’s just trying to make a quick buck. “Capitalism, baby,” they sneer, as if it was so obvious that a song like this would instantly go to number one on iTunes. As if Anthony stood in the woods next to his deer stand and played an acoustic song about his troubles as a working man all in some cynical ploy to make millions of dollars from an audience who, at that point, didn’t even know he existed. No, It’s pretty obvious that what happened is this: Anthony was singing from his heart about his own experiences. He assumed that the song would be heard by the same few dozen people who heard his other songs. And he was fortunately quite wrong in that assumption.
As weak as these hit pieces are, the truth is, we know that Rolling Stone and TMZ are just firing the warning shots here. We already know that the media will set to work to destroy Oliver Anthony. No doubt they’re digging through his past and looking for skeletons as we speak. Maybe they’ll find some. Everyone has a few. And honestly, who cares?
As the Daily Beast and Huffington Post ghouls scour through Anthony’s social media feeds and start interviewing his high school friends looking for dirt, let’s take a step back. What we’re seeing here, as remarkable as it is, shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. Consider this. All of the biggest hit songs that have gotten the buzz and attention in recent weeks have been country songs. Recently the top three songs on Billboard were country songs. Before Anthony it was Jason Aldean, with a song centered around similar themes. “Try that in a small town,” Aldean sang. That touched off, what, a two-week news cycle?
The media freaked out about the Aldean song, just as they’re starting to freak out about Anthony’s song, because it’s music that attacks the elites and gives voice to the normal concerns of normal people. Americans who aren’t demented, as it turns out, don’t like it when hordes of BLM rioters torch small businesses and courthouses in their communities. They don’t like it when politicians send billions of dollars to Ukraine, while towns like Farmville fall apart. Normal people have been told to shut up about all of this, for years and years. But now these normal people have a voice.
A moment ago, I scoffed at the idea that Anthony would make a song like this as some sort of marketing or self-promotional strategy. And it is an idea that deserves to be scoffed at. It’s totally absurd, given the context. But we should note that, yes, there is indeed a huge market for this kind of thing. Just like here’s a huge market for movies like “Sound of Freedom.” Millions and millions of people — normal people — are starving for art that speaks to them and their values and concerns. There are in fact many millions of dollars to be made here. That wasn’t Anthony’s motivation, but the money is there to be made, and now he’ll make some of it whether he wanted to or not. This just makes it all the more remarkable that the mainstream music industry, just like the mainstream film industry, absolutely refuses to cater to this audience or give them art that will actually resonate with them.
Sure, you can make plenty of money by churning out another demented rap song with that talks about female genitalia in graphic terms, and openly encourages the listener to act in depraved, lawless, and self-destructive ways. You can make plenty of money with another mindless, soulless pop song that might as well have been generated by AI. But the songs that have set the world on fire recently, the ones that have topped the charts and gotten people talking, are songs that connect with an audience that despises all of that stuff. Anthony sings that he’s an old soul living in a new world. And those of us who relate to that lyric are made to feel this way in large part because of the sort of “art” that the entertainment industry vomits out. We see this stuff, and listen to it, and our souls are crushed just a little more each time. It grieves us to be surrounded by such ugliness and stupidity, and to think that so many people are just marinating in this filth without realizing what it’s doing to them. There are many of us who feel that way. So many, that we made a literal overnight superstar out of one simple, authentic guy strumming his guitar in the woods.
So the question is: given that this huge market exists, and that it is hungry for this kind of content, why won’t the entertainment industry serve it? Even if it is just for the sake of “capitalism, baby” as TMZ says, why don’t they produce songs like “Rich Men North Of Richmond?” The answer is exactly what we’ve already established — they hate normal people who read their Bibles, and have “traditional” values, and care about things like hard work and honesty. They want us all to become lazy, helpless, degenerate parasites. They want to create a population of stupid, weird, hollow people. They’ll even forgo profit to make that happen. That’s how deeply they hate normalcy. That’s how badly they want to destroy it. Which is fine with us — if they don’t want our money, no problem. We’ll give it to guys like Oliver Anthony instead.