At first glance, “Rich Men North of Richmond” and “The Blind Side” have nothing in common, except that they both originated in the American South.

The first is a ballad that went viral last week, elevating the singer, Oliver Anthony, to the sort of overnight fame that can be had on social media if people love you (or hate you) enough.

Anthony, a farmer who lives off the grid in Virginia, didn’t have an X/Twitter account 10 days ago. Now, he has more than 340,000 followers on X, including Joe Rogan, Bari Weiss and Seth Dillon, and “Rich Men North of Richmond” is being hailed as the new anthem of the working class.

As I write, it’s the No. 1 song on iTunes, having surpassed both Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer” and Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town.”

The Blind Side,” of course, is the hit movie from 2009.

Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her portrayal of a feisty Tennessee mother who took in a homeless teen and helped him with his education and eventual football career. It is the sort of film often described as a “feel-good movie” and depicted Leigh Anne Tuohy, the character that Bullock played, as something of a saint in ignoring the objections of her family and friends and opening her home to Michael Oher, who went on to play for the Baltimore Ravens.

Both the movie and the ballad have heartwarming origin stories — the happy ending of “The Blind Side” all the better because it was supposed to be true, and the out-of-nowhere love showered on a former factory worker who has said on social media that he wants to meet every one of his fans.

But now these origin stories have been called into question.

Oher is saying that the Tuohy family never adopted him, as “The Blind Side” depicts, and that instead, the papers he signed established a conservatorship, still in effect, even though he is now married and the father of four, according to People magazine. Oher also says that he never got money from the film, that the initial payment of $250,000 and residual profits went to Leigh Anne Tuohy, her husband and their biological children. The family has denied the accusation and said that Oher has tried to extort money from them.

Meanwhile, rumors are circulating on X — the same platform that catapulted Anthony to fame — that his rapid ascent to stardom was not an organic groundswell of affection from fellow laborers of the working class, but a calculated plan orchestrated by a digital marketing wizard.

So much for my happy ending, as Avril Lavigne sang.

Related
‘The Blind Side’ subject and NFL star Michael Oher alleges Tuohy family never adopted him
Sean Tuohy responds to ‘The Blind Side’ subject Michael Oher’s petition

You don’t have to be a fan of the movie or the song to be disappointed by this turn of events. And to be clear — there’s no proof that any of these accusations are true.

The man who helped propel Anthony to fame by tweeting about “Rich Men North of Richmond” has denied accusations that he helped engineer a so-called “AstroTurf” campaign that mimics grass-roots support.

Jason Howerton, whose LinkedIn profile says “I have helped grow media companies and political influencers grow their social media footprint exponentially,” runs a website called “High Value Dad” and says he’s “on a mission to create a network of strong, present fathers big enough to change the world.” (He’s also worked for the company that Glenn Beck started, Blaze Media.)

Howerton’s own star rose with Anthony’s, and he’s now pushing back, saying, “I’m incredibly flattered that y’all think I am capable of manufacturing a once-in-a-decade viral moment. Truly. Quite the compliment. Oliver could have posted that song on MySpace and it would’ve found a way to go viral. Y’all need to touch grass.”

But the accusations matter because the perceived authenticity of Anthony’s song is part of its appeal.

Charles Lipson, writing for RealClearPolitics, called Anthony and his song the “elegant voice of ... fury” saying “Whatever you think about populism, left or right, the lyrics are worth paying attention to. In those three minutes, you’ll learn more about the anti-Washington grievances than in hours of reading erudite analysis by journalists who visited flyover country from their homes in Georgetown, Cambridge, and newly fashionable Brooklyn.”

Moreover, Howerton told his followers an origin story of “Rich Men North of Richmond” that was as inspiring as “The Blind Side” movie. He wrote that Anthony was struggling with alcohol and asked God to help him, and a month later, he was asked to record the song on a YouTube channel.

“When I offered to cover the cost for Oliver to produce a record, I had NO idea what would transpire, nor did I know just how powerful his story was or the situation that God was inserting me into. I just wanted to help. This is how we’re going to change culture,” Howerton wrote on X.

So, what is the average person — say, a person who likes both the song and the movie — to make of these charges? Some will just stick with the narrative they already know and like. Others will demonize those making the charges.

The truth will eventually out, but for many of us, there will be a familiar sense of heartsickness in the meantime.

In the age of AI, it’s increasingly hard to know what is authentic and what is not, and every time a thing that is hailed as especially “raw and authentic” turns out not to be, we lose a little more trust in our institutions and our fellow human beings. No one likes to be manipulated. Each time we are, there’s an inclination to put up barriers to keep it from happening again.

I, for one, hope Anthony is the real deal (even though some of his language, and thoughts, are problematic). His self-deprecating video to fans, in which he said “this is not about me, this about you,” is adorable, and I’m ready to start a fan club just for his hair.

But I also wish “The Blind Side” movie was a documentary, and some news reports this week were making it look more like fiction.