Cultural Commentator

What ‘Nashville’ Means to Nashville

Cultural Commentator

What ‘Nashville’ Means to Nashville

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Last night, the Tennessee Titans pulled out a sloppy victory against a fading Pittsburgh Steelers side—a surprising win that did nothing to change the fact that Tennessee is one of the worst teams in the National Football League. But a rotten offensive line and a hot-butter defense are problems for next week—for now the Titans faithful can enjoy a bright spot in a depressing season.

That the win was on national TV made it that much sweeter. Like many small market teams, the Titans have long been ignored by the sporting press. Even when they have good runs—like the 10-0 start to the 2008 season—the team gets little national attention. From outside the Nashville area, it’s easy to feel like they aren’t real at all. With their pale blue uniforms and goofy cartoon logo, the Titans seem fictional—cannon fodder for the heroes to breeze past during a football movie montage, on their way to a confrontation with the real bad guy, the Dallas Longhorns or the L.A. Atoms. I mean, really—pro football in Tennessee?

Nashville has always shared that unreal sheen. People around the planet have heard of it, but few visit. Tell a stranger you’re from there, and they’ll respond, “Oh, yeah? I hear that’s a cool town”—the same response they give to people from Austin, but without the enthusiasm. This week, however, the 615 is in the spotlight. After the Titans completed their fluke win, the editor-in-chief of the excellent alt-weekly The Nashville Scene tweeted, “STEELERS — TASTE THE FURY OF RAYNA JAYMES!”

Rayna Jaymes, as primetime soap devotees already doubtless know, is the heroine of ABC’s Nashville. Played by Connie Britton, Queen of Good-Natured Exasperation, she is the anchor of a show that, in its pilot Wednesday night, proved to be both ridiculous and delightful. To most of the country, Nashville is a surprisingly watchable hour of trashy television. To those who know and love the Tennessee state capital, the generous references to local landmarks—the Bluebird, the Ryman, the Loveless Cafe—made it blush-worthy. When Rayna’s father—the wonderfully cast Powers Booth—bellowed, “This isn’t a backwater hamlet, this is an industrial and cultural juggernaut!” I felt like I should cheer.

Never mind that, growing up in Nashville, it was never like a juggernaut of any kind. Give a town fictional credit, and it will start to earn it in real life too. Nashville may sag after its pilot, and the city’s residents will probably tire of the novelty of seeing the Batman Building on the small screen. But for Tennessee ex-pats, the kind with a bad habit of playing Dolly Parton on bar jukeboxes and getting really emotional, it offers powerful nostalgia. By Sunday, the nation will have forgotten that sloppy victory over Pittsburgh. But as long as people keep watching the exquisite exasperation of Rayna Jaymes, Nashville’s fictional juggernaut rolls on.