Vinman thinks the Dixie Chicks have been making themselves look foolish.
I still don’t understand this quote from Natalie Maines :
“I feel regret for, you know, the choice of words. Or the non-choice of words . . . Am I sorry that I asked questions and that I don’t just follow? No.”
Let’s look again at what Maines actually said from the concert stage in London:
Just so you know, we’re ashamed that the president of United States is from Texas.
How is that statement a question? How does it say, “I don’t just follow”? It is nothing but an insult with no evidence of rational thought.
My objection to the statement isn’t that Maines was expressing opposition to the war, or that she is putting herself in political opposition to the president. She’s free to do both. My objection is that the statement was so utterly stupid and meaningless.
It is stupid because she had to know it would be a career wrecker (Eminem making the similar statement would have enhanced his career, maybe … but the Chicks have a different audience … one that is a little more conservative). And it was meaningless because it contributes nothing to the debate over the war.
As ignorant as I think Janeanne Garofalo is, at least she made some effort to be informed and speak from an informed point of view. There is nothing informed about Maines’ POV.
Eugene Volokh has been discussing the legality of boycotts against entertainers who take up public political positions. As he correctly points out, the First Amendment does not prohibit private individuals and institutions from calling for boycotts against who exercise free speech rights. But there is an ethical question, a question of respecting the spirit of an open society, that suggests we should not support such boycotts.
Organized boycotts can have a chilling effect on speech. And this is not a good thing.
But I also believe in free markets, and entertainers who enter into the realm of politics need to recognize that they are risking the dilution of their entertainment value. Their value is as a singer or actor, not a politician. If my favorite brand of peanut butter starts adding onions to the mix, I may not like the taste, and if I don’t like the taste, I’ll stop buying it. If I don’t like the Dixie Chick’s politics, I may stop listening to their music. I have no guilt about enacting my own personal economic sanctions against the Dixie Chicks. What little respect I had for them went out the window when Maines made what I consider an utterly stupid statement. And I think they’ve added stupidity on top of stupidity with their Entertainment Weekly cover.
I’m sorry, but I can’t enjoy music from artists I don’t respect.
And if the rest of America feels the same way, I’m not going to wring my hands over it for the Chicks. If their careers are ruined, they got what they deserved. But in a way, I hope they survive, because it will show America is basically a generous and forgiving country. So far, however, I don’t think the Chicks have tapped into that vein of forgiveness, which requires some real contrition.
The last point I want to touch on is the ethical issue of entertainers using their fame as a pulpit to preach their personal biases, and the media that allows them to do it.
Over the last several months, Andrew DIMN and I have had some pretty heated war-related discussions. We’re both pretty intelligent, articulate and well informed. We vehemently disagree and this has made for some intense banter. Imagine if we were invited on CNN’s Crossfire. It could make for some good, informative television, I think. But we’ll never appear on Crossfire. Why? Because nobody knows who the hell we are. It doesn’t matter how informed our positions, not many people want to hear what we have to say.
But lots of people know who Garafolo is, or Mike Farrell, or Sean Penn. When these people make political statements, the public pays attention. I think that’s fine, but I also think it puts an ethical burden on the celebrity to be well informed. One reason I never get upset with Bono, even when I might disagree with him, is because he never opens his yap unless he has something intelligent to say. That same can’t be said for any other entertainer mentioned so far in this post. Yes, Garafolo is better informed than most actors, but she still said some really stupid things on Crossfire and elsewhere. Precisely because celebrates get the opportunity to speak to a wider audience, and potentially influence that audience, they have an obligation, I think, to make informed, intelligent statements.
Many of the actors who opposed the war, including Garafolo, get some points for at least being marginally informed. There is nothing about Maines statement that suggests she really understood what the hell she was talking about. It is just an insult hurled out to the world, and that’s all it is. For that ethical transgression, I think Maines deserves a little bit more opprobrium than many other entertainers.
Finally, I want to address the ethics of a big media that gives such a large stage to politically minded entertainers — this, too, is unethical. Entertainers are not professional foreign policy experts, military experts, political experts or humanitarian experts. They may have some knowledge, but the wisdom they can actually contribute to a well-informed and incisive debate is limited at best (except, maybe, for Bono talking about Africa). I’m not saying entertainers shouldn’t get some political screen time, if they want it. I’m saying their shouldn’t crowd out better informed pundits. There were a number of liberal thinkers who could have provided a much more intelligent anti-war argument than Garafolo or Farrell who got little or no air time. And I can’t say that keeping the smarter people off the air served our democracy very well.
I should add, I’m not saying Andrew and I are better informed than the entertainers, or that we should appear in their place. I’m saying that the blogosphere demonstrates, there are thousands and thousands of well informed people in the world. Being famous doesn’t make you an expert in anything, but too often it seems as if teevee producers think fame is the only qualification needed to enter into the debate. Just because you have an opinion, doesn’t mean you are entitled to a platform; some of that needs to be earned. How did Martin Sheen earn his platform?
So, I think I’ve made some good points. Too bad I never appeared on a sitcom or wrote a hit song — otherwise, more than just a handful of people might actually read this post and hear my opinion.