Check out Today's Reading on "The Rural Brain Drain." My second choice for the "Today's Reading" nod was a piece from the NYTimes Week in Review, on the similarities between rap music and talk radio, "Call it Ludacris..." by David Segal. Placing these two pieces side-by-side is instructive.
Segal observes that both rap and talk radio are, finally, conservative: celebrating a myth of individual 'boot-strap' achievement awkwardly coupled with a pessimistic view of human nature, voiced by those who claim to "speak for a demographic that believes its interests and problems have been slighted and ... ignored."
This form of "conservatism" has been harmful to the inner city, certainly, but the downside of this is perhaps more clearly seen in rural America, where its effects are unchallenged. This is where the "brain drain" comes in as, for both inner city and rural town, the loss is the same: capable young people look at that cultural story, and get the heck out of there.
(Needless to say, the rappers and talk show talkers don't live there.)
Hmmmm.... I'm noticing that when I'm thinking about the "agents" in these accounts, my picture is of men, whether rapping or talking. Women don't fare so well in rap music, nor in talk radio, and these cultures have real effects, particularly in terms of violence against women -- almost the only "agency" allowed to men, particularly in some (though not all) forms of rap.
Indeed, if you're a consumer of rap or talk, you're buying a culture that has very little to offer you by way of real world agency, a downside that is particularly borne by young men. More concretely, I'm guessing that, if you did a gender analysis of those who do flee the inner city or the rural town, you would find that those who leave -- who get out -- are disproportionately female. Sometimes running is a good idea.
Update: for a nifty analysis of talk radio, check out Joel Achenbach's discussion of a Time profile of Glenn Beck. Key point for our purpose: "The broader theme here is the monetization of divisiveness."