Newsletter 119: Garth Brooks’ Bewildering Billboard

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I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. This one’s from August 2018, about a truly confusing Garth Brooks public service ad campaign. I’ve had people inform me since I wrote this that the board seems to refer to some song that Brooks’ wrote, but honestly, I think that makes it make less sense, not more.

In two different spots here in Athens, a massive billboard featuring musician Garth Brooks has been installed right over the freeway. You cannot miss it. It is part of a public service campaign, the Pass It On initiative, whose goal is to be an “ongoing promotion of positive human values.” They place billboards all across the country as part of this promotion, but the Garth Brooks billboard is one of their more prominent, high-profile ones. It’s probably in your town right now too.

Here is the billboard:

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I have a few questions.

1. Why is Garth Brooks lit like a Bond villain? Or, more accurately, like he’s the mid-level account executive who has been saving up for this Westworld vacation for 18 months? He has to spend every day just eating shit from corporate headquarters while all his underlings put “DORK” stickers on his back, and he takes it all, because the benefits are good and and the job market is tough in this area of Ohio, and Taco Tuesdays, obviously Taco Tuesdays. That builds up a lot of internalized frustration, though, so all he wants to do on this trip is kill and screw some robots, so you best stay out of his way.

2. Why is the picture of Garth Brooks obviously from about 25 years ago? This is what Garth Brooks looks like right now.

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Oh, sorry, that’s Alex Jones. This is what Garth Brooks looks like right now.

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That billboard picture is “No Fences” Garth Brooks and, frankly, more Chris Gaines Garth Brooks, all told.

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Garth Brooks is still pretty widely known, and what he looks like is well-documented. That picture is like the newspaper columnist still using his mugshot from 1979.

3. Sorry, next question: Why exactly is Garth talking about race here? I thought this billboard was about love.

Not for nothing, but “When there’s only one race, and that’s mankind … we shall be free” is the sort of thing a white supremacist says! At least one trying to pass his views over as mainstream would say.

I am not saying that Garth Brooks is a white supremacist, not at all. He is in fact
far from it. (Ian Crouch a couple of years ago called him, “country music’s square, liberal dad.”) I am just saying that when you start a sentence with “when there’s only one race,” you are asking for trouble.

4. Is Brooks arguing that mankind is really a race?

5. Is Brooks doing the old Stephen Colbert “I don’t see color!” bit, but straight? I sort of love it even more if he is.

6. Is it not kind of passive-aggressively accusatory to say “we will be free when people stop seeing color?” This sounds an awful lot like those Daily Caller columns accusing LeBron James of “bringing race into this.” Perhaps Garth Brooks can pretend not to see color — though I doubt it — but it’s a lot harder for everybody else.

Also, I didn’t bring race into anything, Garth.
I’m just driving down the goddamned street.

7. These questions are getting too serious. Let’s get back to Garth. I say this with genuine affection for Garth Brooks, an artist whose work I don’t particularly enjoy but
who seems like a fundamentally decent person: Is there a whiter person, has there ever been a whiter person, in the history of planet than Garth Brooks. (OK, maybe me.) This is a guy who, at the top of his industry and the peak of his powers, took a massive risk by admitting to his diehard fans that he … loved Billy Joel. This is a person to whom Billy Joel was edgy! And yet Garth Brooks has thoughts on race? DO TELL.

I mean of all the people with thoughts on Race to put on a billboard … Garth Brooks!

(Well, Garth Brooks from 25 years ago, anyway.)

8. The whole point of doing a billboard like this is to say something vague and indistinctly inspirational, the PSA equivalent of the cat at the dentist office “hanging in there.” Stuff like this:

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Or this:

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But Garth appears, by virtue of empty sentiment, somehow says something controversial in these PSAs. He is the only person I can see in any of those ads who has something legitimately debatable to say. I don’t disagree with Susan Boyle’s dream! Oprah is a voice for good! That cat should hang on! But Garth somehow found a way to step in it. I would have thought that impossible. He could have just used a line from his songs: “Have friends in all places. LOVE. PASS IT ON.” But nope!

I just want to know, with all the people under Garth Brooks’ employ, of all the public relations specialists out there, of all the things Garth could have said … how did this slip through? This is the message he wants to impart to the world. This is his Susan Boyle dreaming a dream.

This has been Thoughts From Will Sitting In Traffic. I will leave you now to the rest of your day.

Wait, one more Garth Brooks? or Alex Jones? picture:

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