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Getting Dixie Chicked

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dixie chicks 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.

Good point.

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.

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About Howard Owens

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Howard,

    I didn’t have any trouble understanding what Maines was trying to say with her statement.

    The statement:

    “Just so you know, we’re ashamed that the president of United States is from Texas.”

    It’s pretty simple, really: We’re from Texas. So is the President. And we’re embarrassed that people think Texans are people like George Bush.

    Call it what you like, but I hardly think the statement is “stupid” or “meaningless.” I don’t think it shows “no evidence of rational thought.”

    The rational thought is this: Bush is a hateful man who is deservedly seen as a menace to the world, and people all over the world therefore characterize him as a Texas “cowboy.” But not everyone in Texas is like that. As a Texan, I am ashamed of President Bush, and ashamed that people associate him with our fine state.

    It would be like an American saying, “I’m ashamed that Natalie Maines is out there representing America to the world.”

    If someone said that, I think I’d understand what they were trying to communicate (that is, “Not all Americans think like that shameful Natalie Maines”), so I wouldn’t call it meaningless. And as for “stupid”…well, I would disagree with it (I’m happy that people in the world are getting messages from Maines and Michael Moore–I don’t want them to hate all of us), but it wouldn’t be a “stupid” statement.

    As far as their EW cover, I don’t see why it is “stupid.” Is this just an all-purpose word for “I disagree with their political views”?

  • John Wilkinson

    I just saw the Primetime report on ABC about the Dixie Chicks. Let me just say that what I saw was three prideful women begging the public to restore their image and buy their albums and play their music.
    I saw no apology on this interview from Maines. She has far too much pride to just say “I’m sorry for what I said. Please forgive me.”
    I also don’t think the statement itself was stupid. I think it was really bad timing to say something disrespectful about our president. If you recall, it was just before we sent our troops into Iraq. Our country had mixed feelings about the war and I think we just needed to find assurance about this war. And Maines did not give us that assurance. (Not that it’s her job)
    Bottom line: I’m not falling for this brainwashing from the media. The Dixie Chicks did not apologized for their remarks and having them naked on the cover of Entertainment Weekly isn’t going to change my mind about them.
    Shame on them and I hope America continues to boycott them.

  • http://podbaydoor.com randy

    I have no problem with what Maines said. I have a problem with all those on the right who paints anyone who disagrees with the warmonger Bush as an unpatriotic American, not supporting the troops, blah blah blah. Hey, your troops are all volunteers, and they didn’t ask to fight in this war.

    There is no left-wing dominated media in your country – it’s all Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter and Robert Novak and Pat Buchanan. And God forbid anyone speak out against the war, or against Bush. “The land of the free”? Are you kidding us in the rest of the world?

    Good for Maines, good for Garofalo.

  • Julie Nelson

    Brian,

    I have to agree with Howard. If Maines meant to communicate that not all Texans share the same beliefs and views as President Bush, then she should have chosen different words. Period. What she literally said, in fact, was… well… stupid and meaningless.

    The Chicks had the chance to “clear up” the comment that was made in the interview on tv tonight. Although I really would like to believe your rational explanation, I didn’t hear them explain “the comment” that way. It would have been nice if Maines could have offered more insight as to what the heck she was getting at when she made her statement in London last month. Because she didn’t offer an explanation of any real substance, I tend to feel that the Chicks look even more stupid now than they did when the whole incident occurred.

    As much as I like their music, I have to admit that it’s not the same listening to it anymore. I guess that like Howard, I don’t enjoy listening music from artists that I don’t respect.

    I am from Texas. So are the Dixie Chicks. And I’m embarrassed that people MIGHT EVEN think Texans are people like the Dixie Chicks. I guess it goes both ways.

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    I think people are missing the real problem with the Dixie Chicks: they weren’t brave enough to air their feelings here in America and instead did so in front of a sympathetic crowd in London. I think Maines knew full-well what she was doing, revelling in the approval of anti-war London audiences. I have a feeling that were the Chicks unable to tour outside the US, they would have never voiced this criticism in public.

    People have a right to say what they want, I firmly stand behind that. I also firmly stand behind the belief that if you say something and it hurts others or just plain pisses others off, you have the right to suffer the backlash. The Dixie Chicks have as much right to voice their disapproval as their fans who decide to voice their disapproval of the Chicks’ statement. If you want to jump all over Clear Channel for suggesting a ban on their music, do so knowing that it is in response to the fans. I have a friend who works at Clear Channel here in Phoenix and she said that their phone lines are jammed every time they play a Chicks song with people berating them for playing their music. If everything else in the world can be exploited, such as celebrities jumping on a hot topic such as the war for publicity they are starving for, why can’t Clear Channel jump the other way and appease the very people who bring in the advertising dollars?

    Maines’ explanation comes across more like damage control than anything else. She tries to re-frame her statement so that it sounds like it had something thoughtful behind it. It did not, or it would not have just been blurted out like it was. She stood on that stage, looking out at a strongly anti-war crowd, and fed the crowd what it wanted to hear. In the process she fueled her ego with a weak and childish statement catered to a responsive crowd. She made a jab at the president and only the president, not at the war, and that is why this is such a profoundly and pointlessly stupid action on her behalf. But it got them lots of attention, so I guess in the end it still serves to fuel their egos.

    Their Enterainment Weekly cover is just part two of the Dixie Chicks’ effort to provide the world with cheap and, again, childish and weak responses, this time to criticism they fully deserve. Their clumsy handling of this situation is simply more proof that this is just a publicity stunt aimed at taking advantage of the attention they can get right now. What would have been responsible and adult would have been to simply let the issue fizzle on its own, instead they decided to add fuel to the fire by posing naked, branded with the labels that were given to them in the wake of Maines’ statement. Instead of asking for people to respect their statement, they just use it against everyone to grab that much more attention. What’s really sad and embarassing to see is a group with such a bright future stooping so low to grab up this fleeting and fickle attention. Enjoy it while you can, girls, your fifteen minutes may just about be up.

  • http://www.thevinman.com THE VINMAN

    Much of what Howard wrote was contained in my original post that is linked to in his article at the top of this page.

    There is also an UPDATE by The Vinman on VINMAN’s VERBOSITy after watching the interview with Dianne Sawyer on ABC last night …

    http://www.thevinman.com

  • a regular guy

    Look, Natalie is free to say whatever she wants. If the group’s ‘fans’ decide they don’t like it and choose not to purchase her albums, so be it. If it’s a result of her political views and their disagreement with them who’s to say that’s wrong. She used a forum granted to her visa vie her, and her group’s, popularity to broadcast a political view. If the public that supports that forum decides to stop purchasing her albums, that’s a choice they, the ‘fans’, made.

    It amazes me that a ‘celebrity’ thinks they can use their popular status to expose their views and beliefs and then claim mistreatment when people choose to show their displeasure by not supporting them by buying a ticket their movie or buying their album.

    Sure, they have the right to say whatever they want, but to cry and moan and complain that people are treating them poorly as a result is insulting. You want to remain popular, don’t insult the beliefs of your ‘fan’ base. If you do, be prepared for the consequences. Popularity is a fickle thing.

    Next time she’ll weigh the consequences to her economic future of what she chooses to say, what’s more important to her, her beliefs or her portfolio.

    – A simple guy

  • Dude

    Funny, I’m not from Texas, but I am still ashamed of the Commander in Thief.

  • http://coldfury.com/Sasha Andrew Ian Castel-Dodge

    People listen to the Chicks, who I kind of liked, for their music not their politics. Maines made her politics known and a lot of her fans decided they didn’t agree with her. Many no longer felt they could support her in her position.

    There is always a price for free speech. I, as a writer and author, know that my libertarian views affect whether or not I am published by certain publishers and outlets. Every time I express my opinion on any of the various blogs I write for, I risk losing readers for myself and the blog. That is the way life works.

    Maines made several tactical errors (in the minds of those who are most miffed) in her comments. 1. She should not have made them in the UK. 2. She should have made them as an individual not a member of the group (they were receiving an award as the group). 3. Her surprise at the reaction of country music fans show either stupidity, naivete or ignorance.

    Those who are boycotting the Dixie Chicks are in fact flexing their rights to free speech, association and choice.

    Howard good piece, I will blog it.

  • mark

    Jeez,
    2 commentaries on the Dixie Chicks on this site in the same day. I guess they are getting the exposure they were after. I saw the Chicks at the 20th Kerrville folk festival, and they were pretty good. Good musicians, but apparently not much common sense. Oh well, Barbra S. and Sean Penn don’t strike me as a particularly intelligent people, either.
    Folks, you have to admit, we’ve all been over this ground for the past couple of weeks, and let’s face it, entertainers are just not fonts of knowledge! GET OVER IT !!!
    Have fun,
    Mark