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Summit County controversy exposes community’s ‘small-town’ values

The Park Record editorial, Aug. 9-11, 2017

It is said that in a small town, you are remembered for the most embarrassing thing you ever did. That's the downside of the often-extolled virtues of living in a tight-knit community. Never mind kicking the winning field goal in the state football championship or years of volunteer service with the civic club — if your dog ate the neighbor's chicken or you were featured in the local newspaper's police blotter, that's your everlasting legacy.

Put any small-town drama under the microscope of today's social media, and a momentary lapse of judgment can quickly rouse a viral lynch mob. We've seen it happen here.

This week, a young local musician delivered a painfully off-key rendition of the national anthem at what can only be described as the most quintessential of small-town events – a demolition derby. The misadventure took place Saturday at the Summit County Fair in Coalville and was, inevitably, recorded on a cell phone and uploaded to YouTube. As of Tuesday, it had been viewed 48,867 times.

To her credit, the singer, who was born and raised in Summit County, publicly apologized for the performance, assuring critics that it was not meant to be a political statement or intentional parody. Inexperienced at performing in a big arena, she explained that she was thrown off by the sound system's feedback.

Put any small-town drama under the microscope of today’s social media, and a momentary lapse of judgment can quickly rouse a viral lynch mob.

Not surprisingly, the commenters are having a heyday, with the uber-patriots, in particular, inflating the incident to treasonous proportions. Any number of contemporary rock stars could have warned her about tampering with the National Anthem, especially in times of hypersensitive political partisanship, right?

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But it was also heartening to see a smattering of support among the vicious internet takedowns. Perhaps those comments were written by someone who remembered watching a son or daughter flub a tune at an elementary school recital, or their own experience freezing up during a business presentation.

Regardless of why this particular performance ran off the rails, it is an opportunity to ask ourselves what kind of a small town we want to be. Describing a place as having small-town values can suggest its citizens are unsophisticated and petty or it can conjure up idyllic visions of a place were people are honest and friendly. In their response to Saturday's snafu, Summit County residents have a chance to demonstrate which one they want their community to be.