Labor Advocate Online

God Bless the Dixie Chicks!
And All the Other Artists With the Courage To Speak Out
by Bill Onasch

I like lots of different types of music. For example, I’ve always been partial to what has become known as Old Country—in contrast to trendy Cross Over. The Dixie Chicks, a group that toiled long in C&Ws minor leagues before hitting the big time a couple of years ago, is one of the better contemporary representatives of this genre.

But these classy, sassy gals are in big trouble. It seems they made some disparaging remarks about a former governor of Texas in the context of expressing concern about the threatened war on Iraq.

That’s verboten in the New Country establishment. They expect all who come before them to be "patriotic" and God-fearing. Confessions of adultery and drunken debauchery are okay but questioning the Commander-In-Chief may be too much to expect Christians to forgive. More than a few of the self-styled good ol’ boys who spin platters on country stations—their only other connection with country is generally their local country club—want to "nuke the towel heads and get it over with."

Kansas City country stations have the dubious distinction of leading a vicious attack on the Chicks. They not only stopped playing their music; they also set up trash barrels for their cultural constituency to dispose of contaminated Chicks CDs. (Some, but not all, quickly relented and started playing again.)

Should we care about this? Darned tootin’ we should. It’s not only a question of fair play—something most real country folk usually respect. Nor is it a concern about the denial of the fan’s right to hear artists of their choice—though that is a valid issue as well.

American artists have been on the cutting edge of opposition to war. When popular musicians and actors visibly protest it encourages people to speak our minds. This inspiration frightens and enrages the jingoists who thirst for retribution.

The fact is that 61 Country, Q104, and the other small (not French) fry, are doing their part to try to silence artists—and the rest of us. Their game plan is simple enough for even a country jock to understand—If popular artists can be bullied the rest of us will think twice about voicing dissent.

There are rumblings in Hollywood as well about reviving the odious tradition of the blacklist. According to newspaper reports the organizers of the Oscar awards have been given a list of celebrities who are persona non grata for their war views and will not be allowed on stage. Among those mentioned are: Meryl Streep, Sean Penn, Vanessa Redgrave, Dustin Hoffman, and Spike Lee. (Their worst nightmare may still come true if, as most critics think, Michael Moore wins an Oscar.)

Martin Sheen, and most of the West Wing ensemble, are rumored to be in trouble with sponsors and may go the way of the Lou Grant show.

The last major Hollywood blacklist coincided with McCarthyism’s attacks on civil liberties which had big repercussions on the labor and civil rights movements as well. Homeland Security has a lot more muscle than McCarthy ever had access to.

The America I was taught to honor and cherish defends artistic expression, expression for all of us. We should fight every threat by every two-bit jingoist disc jockey or talking head trying to silence us.

I say (pardon the expression) God Bless the Dixie Chicks!

March 15, 2003