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We started this discussion of localism when I mentioned that I had been reading William Cobbett’s Rural Rides . I meant only to offer our literary friends a suggestion that the beginning of Rural Rides may have influenced the beginning of Dickens’ Bleak House , but, along the way, I referred back to Rusty Reno’s fun set of posts last year on “roots music”: the modern pop music of resurgent rural localism in England , Quebec , and South Africa .

And then we were off to the races—with thoughts from me , and Rusty , and me again , and Rusty again , and me yet again , and then David Goldman , and then Rusty yet again .

The ironies of self-conscious localism are many. In his first post on roots music, Rusty mentioned that wonderful old 1970s rock standard from the pre-plane-crash Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Sweet Home Alabama” . Turn it up . . .

Rusty remarked on the song’s power to stand as a localist anthem, as here in a concert in Nashville, complete with a snatch of “Dixie” and the Confederate flag wrapped around the microphone:

But its success at being such an anthem also opens it up to the usurping power of irony from the anti-localist hipster: for capitalism’s engine of postmodernity, in other words. As witness here, when a Finnish pseudo-group calling itself the Leningrad Cowboys hires the Red Army Choir to help sing “Sweet Home Alabama” for what was, at the time, one of the mostly widely watched television shows in European history. In Birmingham they love the governor, woo woo woo . . . :

I suppose this ought to make me tremble: the Red Army Choir, for mercy’s sake—songbirds of murder in the gulag days, somehow surviving the fall of the Soviet Union to wander out on the European music market and appear with a bunch of Finns in clown suits and wigs. But the irony is too old, been done too many times, to have much real effect.

Perhaps it does, however, set in clear focus—better than anything else I’ve seen—a problem of modern localism: Successful declarations of localism, by their success, are opened to the modern devices that must inevitably undo localisms.

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