Saturday, June 17, 2006

Whistlin' Dixie

Does this make you want to vomit? I know I did. (Want to hurl, that is.)

I didn't really care about the Dixie Chicks episode in 2003. Fine, they're against the war. Said it on a stage. No sweat. That's democracy.

I don't know much about the Chicks, except that they went to The Greenhill School (one of my rival schools when I debated) and formed in Dallas' Deep Ellum music scene during the period I was pretty involved with it. I don't know their music and I'm not interested in country music on the whole. But I find the vague "poor Chicks overcome Big Brother" hero-worship from abroad a bit much and more importantly, I find the Chicks' own spin of the debacle to be fairly pathetic.

"The reaction was as if Natalie had said 'Death to the President' or something," says violinist and vocalist Maguire.

"It was the bullying and the scare factor," shudders banjo and guitar player Robison. "It was like the McCarthy days, and it was almost like the country was unrecognisable."

Shuddering, indeed.

McCarthy days? For people who seem so concerned about free expression in a democracy, they seem wildly unfamiliar with the notion of responsibility which accompanies that freedom. Sure, you can say any damn thing you want, no matter how irresponsible. But when you say something, especially publicly, you open yourself up to criticism or negative sanction. That sanction represents society's collective right to exercise *its* freedom of expression. That's the deal. That's democracy. No one ever promised any of us freedom of speech without consequences. Our Constitution merely makes the promise that the government will not incarcerate or punish us for expressing our views. If you fel strongly about a view that is unpopular, by all means express it. But don't cry to the British press when you voice this opinion and it meets with a predictable response. Show some sack.

Last I checked, the Dixie Chicks were free to make another album and untold millions. They made their opinion about the war known, which is fine, and in response a good deal of the country made its opinion of the Chicks' comments known. Touche. I saw nothing in the way of government intervention or censorship that might recall the McCarthy era. I also saw no major deviations in the recognizability of this nation's political discourse. So either Robison has her head somewhere physically uncomfortable when it comes to the history of McCarthyism or she's playing martyr. I'll let you make the call.

"The entire country may disagree with me, but I don't understand the necessity for patriotism," Maines resumes, through gritted teeth. "Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country… I don't see why people care about patriotism."

Now the patriotism comment is something altogether different and troubling, gritted teeth or no. Again, the notion of responsibility completely eludes these intellectual heavyweights. Do you have to love this country to live here? Obviously not. Do you have to support everything the government does? Clearly not. Can you speak out against certain policies as Maines did in 2003? Sure.

But what is patriotism? Patriotism is defined as love and devotion to one's country. A willingness to sacrifice for one's country. Please note that the definitions speak of country and not government. An important distinction, I would say.

I think any American with a sense of history should love and respect and be willing to sacrifice for a nation which has given so much to each one of us. After all, how many heroes died at Bunker Hill, Antietam and Normandy? How many Americans have foregone significant portions of their salaries to provide clean drinking water, social security, welfare, education and so many other things which have allowed us to reach for our dreams? Poor little Natalie sits in her counting room on stacks of bills to the ceiling, in part, because of the sacrifices of so many nameless, faceless people who made contributions to her life. That she sits on these bills and shows not the slightest bit of gratitude for the sacrifice of the nameless, faceless may be both a commentary on the superficiality of this band and the Entitlement Generation's repugnant worldview.

But then again, a key aspect of the definition of patriotism is the willingness to sacrifice for love of country. Patrick Henry said "Give me liberty or give me death." He was willing to risk it all for his devotion not to a government, but a nation. Natalie Maines' 2003 comments could well have been viewed as patriotic, but her clear resentment of criticism showed she was quite unwilling to sacrifice for love of country. She was not a patriot. Her 2006 comments further support this. It was not even her objective to speak out for love of country. Maines was a disingenuous patriot in 2003 and displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of patriotism in 2006.

Finally, how about this baffling juxtaposition?

"A lot of artists cashed in on being against what we said or what we stood for because that was promoting their career, which was a horrible thing to do," says Robison.

followed by

Early concerns about the premature demise of the Chicks' career subsided when the furiously unapologetic single Not Ready to Make Nice became the most downloaded track on iTunes, despite a lack of radio airplay. Then the album went to number one on the Billboard 200 after selling half a million copies in the week after its release in America last month. It looks set to be their first UK top 10 album this Sunday.

So it was wrong of other artists to "cash in" on the Chicks' 2003 comments, but it is perfectly OK for the band to merchandise itself on the basis of a furiously unapologetic single. Hey, more power to you, Chicks. But lose the hypocrisy.

Bottom line, people with marketplace power have a voice. It just sucks that these voices tend to be backed by precious little gray matter.

UPDATE: See point about marketplace power. Five minutes after I post, here's what GoogleAds gives us:

Dixie Chicks TicketsBuy Dixie Chicks Concert Tickets. Where Fans Buy & Sell Tickets.™
Dixie Chicks ConcertsVisit for the Latest on the Dixie Chicks & the New
Dixie Chicks RingtonesDownload Dixie Chicks ringtones for any

Poor Natalie. She's really sacrificed. It's McCarthyism. She's been blackballed.

UPDATE II: There's always more than one way to skin a cat. Coalition of the Swilling gives the Dixie Chicks less credit than I do.

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