NASCAR and Country Music Capitulate to Cancel Culture
The two industries’ woke posturing is a big win for those seeking to fundamentally reframe America.
Cancel culture sure is moving fast. Over at National Review, there’s a live “cancel counter,” detailing the ever-growing number of long-established monuments, people, and brands we’ve suddenly realized are unfit for polite society in the past few weeks. The list is, as expected, completely ridiculous. Among the cancelled are the State of Rhode Island (whose former full name, ‘The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations’, was insufficiently woke) and the TV show “Cops”. Just today, we also say goodbye to Disney’s popular Splash Mountain ride.
It’s most surprising, though, to see former bastions of pop-culture conservatism fully capitulating to wokeness as well. NASCAR’s reputation as the province of red state America is well-earned. Despite its few PC gestures in recent years—most notably its affirmative action-style Drive for Diversity program—NASCAR has remained mindful of its fanbase’s overwhelmingly conservative bent. The NRA has long advertised in NASCAR’s three national series, and is still on board as the title sponsor for this September’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race in Bristol, TN. NASCAR holds a public, televised Christian invocation before every race, which has featured the likes of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson in the past. And just this past February President Trump paced the field at the Daytona 500 to resounding cheers from the crowd.
NASCAR shares much of its fanbase with country music, as former CMA Entertainer of the Year Brad Paisley—an avid NASCAR fan himself—noted before his performance at the Daytona 500 in 2011. So it’s unsurprising that Nashville has been similarly reticent to comment on hot-button cultural issues that could run afoul of its audience’s sensibilities. Taylor Swift, who has become increasingly supportive of en vogue social movements like gun control and gay rights since leaving Nashville, was famously mum on politics while still releasing country records.
Even those country singers who try to address contentious cultural issues have faced backlash. Paisley provoked a firestorm with his 2013 song “Accidental Racist,” an earnest-but-cringey duet with rapper LL Cool J that sought to address racial and regional differences. Despite Paisley’s good intentions, lines like “I’m just a white man coming to you from the Southland, trying to understand what it’s like not to be,” and LL’s “If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains,” were routinely skewered by national media.
The “Accidental Racist” episode should have been a lesson for country music: You don’t get the benefit of the doubt from our cultural elites. Instead, Nashville has doubled down on its attempts to appear woke. Grammy award-winning pop-country trio Lady Antebellum announced last week that they would drop the latter part of their band name: “We are regretful and embarrassed to say that we did not take into account the associations that weigh down this word referring to the period of history before the Civil War, which includes slavery.” Never mind that they chose the name to reflect “the Southern ‘antebellum’ style home where we took our first pictures.” (In a perfect turn of events, the newly-christened Lady A failed to check whether their now-untainted band name was already taken, and were promptly accused of “appropriation” and “white privilege” by long-time Seattle-based blues singer, Lady A.)
The Dixie Chicks followed suit, announcing today that they will now be called “The Chicks”. (Unlike Lady A, they made sure to receive the blessing of their predecessors in nomenclature, a New Zealand-based pop duo.) The Dixie Chicks have long been progressive outliers in the country music industry, so their current woke posturing comes as no surprise. Theirs is the band that was effectively blacklisted from country radio for stating they were “ashamed” to share their home state of Texas with President Bush in 2003. But it’s noteworthy that even despite their progressive politics, the Dixie Chicks did not feel the need to change their name until this woke moment. Such is the unprecedented power of cancel culture.
Over at the racetrack, there’s the increasingly ridiculous saga of the “noose” found in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s stall at Talladega this past weekend. Wallace, the only full-time black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series and himself a graduate of the Drive for Diversity program, has been catapulted into national fame for featuring a Black Lives Matter paint scheme on his historic #43 car, and wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt during pre-race ceremonies in recent weeks. That the “noose” was nothing more than a standard garage door pull doesn’t seem to matter; corporate sponsors, the lifeblood of the sport, will now be lining up to place their logo on Wallace’s Chevy, despite his middling performance on the track.
What’s perhaps most perplexing about this capitulation is its short-sightedness. Our cultural moment is yearning for leadership. Contrary to the constant posturing from corporate media and coastal elites, this is not, in fact, a racist country. The majority of Americans are not on board with cancelling our history and casting aspersions on law enforcement. NASCAR and country music, of all major cultural industries, were best positioned to blow the whistle on this madness. They could have provided a much-needed respite from the woke meltdown—and most likely added to their bottom line in the process.
Instead, they bowed to the pressures of the moment. In response, we’ll see the continued decline of NASCAR’s popularity, the continued transformation of country music into suburban pop, and fans’ continued realization that the suits in Charlotte and Nashville harbor as much disdain for them as do their corporate counterparts in New York and Los Angeles.
NASCAR and country music may be digging their own graves, but their demise is nevertheless lamentable. The two industries were once rare bastions of substantial cultural power that, for the most part, actually liked this country, warts and all. Their capitulation to this woke moment is a big win for those seeking to fundamentally reframe America; it knocks down two of the last remaining cultural institutions not fully beholden to the poison of identity politics. That fans of racing and traditional country music may now turn to local dirt tracks and indie records is little consolation. Let’s hope that Lady A, The Chicks, and NASCAR’s faux-noose saga are more anomaly than trend.