Nashville was on the short list (with Milwaukee the alternative) to host the 2024 GOP convention, but our Democrat-besotted city council would have none of it and so turned its back on a financial windfall. A local PR firm dumped country music star Jason Aldean, whom they’d served for seventeen years, when his wife, Brittany posted, on Instagram, “I’d really like to thank my parents for not changing my gender when I went through my tomboy phase.” And thanks to Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh, Vanderbilt University Medical Center was exposed for pushing child mutilation under the rubric “gender-affirming care,” and the backlash forced a pause in the practice. (Yes, VUMC has been a separate nonprofit since 2016, but at separation, the CEO assured us that it would “remain seamlessly connected to Vanderbilt University in fundamental ways.”)
What’s going on? Is Nashville turning into Portland? Well, some powerful forces are conspiring to push us that way. The “Athens of the South” (with a full-scale replica of the Parthenon to underscore that notion) is home to a raft of colleges, many of them with Christian roots. Such schools typically step onto a conveyor belt toward theological and social compromise not long after their founding. Some walk determinedly against the flow, but most ride along quite happily, even running ahead.
Vanderbilt is a case in point. In my 1970s grad school days in philosophy, we witnessed a convictional free-for-all, with the nasty San Francisco Mime Troupe performance one night and a film mocking Jane Fonda and her fellow NVA enthusiasts shown on another. Boston University president (and Howard Zinn nemesis) John Silber made a speaking visit, but so did Noam Chomsky, who valorized the VC. Conflicting narratives and insults flew freely, and we got a good dialogical workout. But a school that, at its 19th-century inception, was a university (unified around regard for Methodist tenets), and in my day a multiversity (with departments and faculty members doing their own chaotic, ideological thing), is now a monoversity (with cancel-wielding wokeness reigning supreme). This became clear a decade ago when Christian groups denying leadership to homosexuals were stripped of their campus status, the conservative Carol Swain was pushed off the law school faculty, and a black lesbian became dean of the divinity school (thus accomplishing an intersectional trifecta).
Not surprisingly, the public schools have jumped on the CRT bandwagon, and generations of children are becoming virtue-signaling racialists. And though Nashville is swelling with refugees from the blue madhouses of the coasts and upper Midwest, the influx includes a fair number of adepts who migrate to the benefits of this destination city, while grimly determined to replicate the culture which poisoned their points of origin. And they are met eagerly by fifth columnists embarrassed by the Grand Ole Opry and longing for fraternity with our social betters. In the meantime, they find comfort in our libraries, whose “banned books” displays “courageously” coax gentle readers to pick up Atwood and Kendi and a selection of gay normalizers, with nary a peep over Amazon’s refusal to sell Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. (Of course, “banned” rarely means “banned,” but rather “somewhere/sometime denied public-funded purchase and commendation while the book was freely available to individuals and private institutions”; but “banned” has more frisson and helps librarians feel like heroes at the ramparts.) Meanwhile, PR/HR-driven institutions and corporations of every stamp are falling all over themselves to get on board with DEI agendas, as are churches that stake their fortunes on cultural winsomeness and that tweak or jettison the clear counsel of Scripture to serve their emotional druthers.
Big forces at work, but let me mention a “little friend” inflicting weekly razor cuts, the Nashville Scene, a free, “alternative media” tabloid you find on racks throughout the city, including the alcoves of our public libraries. Its roots extend, manifestly, to Village Voice Media. To be sure, it carries useful information on our city’s doings — the offerings and schedules of our restaurants, entertainment venues, sports teams, and even religious institutions (with, for instance, the Jewish High Holy Day schedule).
The ads are a mixture of the conventional (realtors, LASIK surgeons, attorneys) and the prurient, thanks to suggestive photos from the “adult” establishments. The news items, columns, reviews, and rankings work relentlessly from a home base of reliably leftist grievance mongering, tribalism, slanderous caricature, damnable euphemism, and secularism masquerading as religion. And the editors are particularly aroused by signs of sexual deviancy. To this end, they celebrate businesses, performances, events, publications, and organizations that cater to the gay and trans agendas, and they issue weekly calls for more “LGBTQ writers” so as to “reflect [Nashville’s] diversity.” Of course, the point is to magnify the city’s perversity and to exhibit contempt for conservative perspectives, which can’t seem to find their way onto their inclusion-driven pages.
Nashville Scene’s love language is tawdriness, its message bilge, and its pretentions infantile. Three characters spring to mind when I turn through it — Sméagol (aka Gollum) from The Lord of the Rings and the duo on TV’s Beavis and Butt-Head. Each issue runs a Tom Tomorrow cartoon strip, wherein Dan Perkins insults anyone who might irritate Nancy Pelosi. In the copy at hand, I watch him portray Herschel Walker; Supreme Court justices Thomas, Barrett, and Roberts; and Donald Trump as “brain-eating space aliens.” (Recent issues do similar jobs on Tucker Carlson, Rudy Giuliani, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, Mike Pence, and anyone in a MAGA hat.) One can see Gollum Perkins clutching his contemptuous pen as he mutters with a gleam in his eye, “My precious!”
As for the Beavis factor, one has only to turn to such naughty-entendre, regular-column titles as “Pith in the Wind” and “Vodka Yonic” (featuring “a rotating cast of women and nonbinary writers”), and also the arts and crafts fair they sponsor, named “Crafty Bastards.” (Heh, heh. They said “Bastards”!)
The crusading is relentless — the choice of Queerfest as the “Best New Musical Festival”; the refusal to list a No. 1 “Best New Conservative,” instead starting with names in the second and third spots; a generous book review for a “transmasculine, Latinx activist, thought-leader, public theologian, ethicist”; a warm report on the Nashville Jewish Film Festival’s kickoff movie — “a comedy feature Kiss me Kosher [wherein] Shira and her non-Jewish German girlfriend Maria want to get married”; a practice of giving place of honor to tacky photos illustrating the most transgressive textual items, whether “Gayface: A Photographic Exploration of Modern Queer Identity,” “Back to Black Burlesque,” or “Spooky Drag Teen Trauma Queen.” And yes, F-bombs aplenty.
So, with all this effort to turn Nashville into Portland, why aren’t we there yet? Well, I think I picked up a clue at two recent events, which I attended thanks to the help of Vet Tix. On both occasions — a classics night at the Grand Ole Opry and a Keith Urban concert at Bridgestone Arena — I heard Bible references in the music. At the former, Larry Gatlin fielded and honored hymn requests from the audience, and one of the artists covered Randy Travis’s “Three Wooden Crosses,” wherein a pastor holds a blood-stained Bible given to him by his mother, who, as a prostitute, was the only survivor of a horrendous bus crash (the other passengers being a farmer, a teacher, and a preacher). The dying words of the preacher as he handed her that Bible led to her conversion and to her son’s godly upbringing. It was sung without irony or apology and received gratefully by the audience. And then, the next week, Keith Urban offered up a song declaring that he’d learned everything he needed to know from “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” In this vein (and with a nod to Oscar Wilde’s take on Dickens’ Little Nell), I suggest that one must have a heart of stone to take seriously any putdowns of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors.”
Of course, a ton of country music is devoted to not-always-regretful drinkin’, backslidin’, and cheatin’, but precious little to child mutilatin’, endless racial resentin’, and other woke mainstays. For, typically, when a country singer goes off the rails morally, he or she does so with Bible consciousness or a God-haunted worldview.
So I think that Nashville still enjoys a sort of spiritual ballast reflected in its music. I’m concerned that it’s being depleted through the sweaty machinations of such folks as the Nashville Scene editors and contributors, as well as their enablers, who bless it with advertising and distribution. (Can you imagine the outcry if Nashville’s public library branches offered stacks of conservative periodicals with cartoons savaging Joe Biden and John Fetterman for their mental slippage, Hunter Biden and Eric Swalwell for their moral turpitude, and Stacey Abrams and Hillary Clinton for their hypocrisy over election denial? And what if the publication in question ran cultural/political broadsides by Victor Davis Hanson and Newt Gingrich plus preachments and devotionals by John MacArthur and Franklin Graham? “Progressives” would go ballistic, and those freebie racks would disappear in a week.)
Back to Portland. When I visited the nearby End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, I was struck by a display with a quote to the effect that, as pioneer wagons headed West, the families would toss out heavy stuff like pianos along the trail … and that included their Back East religious faith. In that connection, it’s often noted that the Pacific Northwest is the most unchurched region in America. So I connect the madness of Portland (and Seattle and San Francisco) to a relative indifference toward the “whole counsel of God” revealed in Scripture. Nashville’s Bible Belt sensitivities may simply be dying, cut-flower phenomena. Heaven knows (and so does Hell) that many forces conspire to wilt the bloom. But there’s still color in the petals.
Of course, Nashville Scene is joined by other “alternative media” around town and, indeed, around the country. Locally, I came across a copy of East Nashville, whose editor and regular writers speak of “overwhelming white-male-based power structure” and declare, as they “wave their freak flag high,” that it “seems like Nashville is turning into a right-wing amusement park of Kid Rock’s personal vomitorium” and observe, “You’re a conservative Christian Republican who believes a guy came alive after three days dead and walked around freaking people out, and you don’t know a tinker’s damn about how that’s a story with a moral behind it.” And a fresh publication, the Nashvillian (same editor), proudly announces a new column, “Matters of Faith,” covered by a female rabbi who, in her inaugural piece, celebrates the addition of “LGBTQ Jews” to Nashville’s “beautiful mosaic.”
Of course, the “alternative media” cherish the courageous-outsider sound of their conceits, but their dream is to be mainstream. Still, even as they become so at the same time their established but increasingly attenuated counterparts (e.g., the Tennessean, now in the Gannett stable), increasingly parrot their perspective (albeit without the obscenities), they may still cling to their bad-boy posture, sporting, so to speak, Che T-shirts and calling themselves a People’s Revolutionary enterprise for decades after the revolution has settled comfortably into tyranny.
So how do sensible traditionalists counter the force of this stupid-making coalition of civilization-despising publishers, government-funded distributors, and supine-if-not-eager advertisers? Well, why not just retool another freebie such as Nashville Christian Family (with Tony Dungy and his wife on the cover of the current issue) to publicize all the goings-on in town? Maybe then the advertisers would jump on the bandwagon and join the current patrons, e.g., Christian colleges, radio stations, apps, and contractors. Perhaps then the local libraries would facilitate their spread. But no and no: Good people would be averse to promoting much of what goes on in the city, since the execrable is well mixed in with the honorable. Furthermore, most ad buyers would shun a parochially wholesome tabloid, fearing that it would turn off a host of potential customers and that they themselves would have to surrender their “with it” cards.
Yes, conservative media can be tendentious, but there are ethical and spiritual limits to what we feel free to do and say. We hate to talk crazy. We still have a sense of shame. Not so much the progressives. Attempts at moral equivalency are non-starters.
I suppose the answer at this point is to let them run wilder and wilder, showing themselves to be so distasteful and wrongheaded that even those marinated in the insanity of our age will have a hitch in their spirits. And might we also complain that those who meekly or enthusiastically join in the circulation of these toxic pubs are parties to social decay? Worth a try. But above all we really need to pray for a nationwide, soul-shaking, spiritual awakening, the sort that could make Nashville Scene, as it’s currently constituted, a financially untenable pariah. As history teaches us, it could happen according to God’s sovereign pleasure.