Last night I went to a premier of Shut up and Sing, the documentary about the Dixie Chicks controversy and its effects on the three women of the group. Many people will shy away from this film because they believe it is about country music, others will go or not go because they believe it is about partisan politics; yet it is these reflex judgments and the effect they have on people which is the real theme of the film. A film I recommend all to see.
The statement which started the “incident” was in 2003 at a UK concert where the lead singer Natalie Maines, in mid song banter, days after the largest anti-war demonstration in UK history said, "Just so you know, I’m ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." The statement was met by overwhelming and prolonged applause. I was living in the UK during this time and trying to explain to Americans, even in emails or on forums, the feelings about their actions in the EU was universally met with “who cares, since you aren’t American” (oddly it was this very attitude which was alienating the EU member countries). The quote or concert was not run by US media, but by the UK paper, The Guardian, which over the days and weeks, was picked up and amplified, in the way only the US media seems able to do, to become THE story; a story which was now not just about a statement of personal feelings about a president but about betraying a country, not supporting a war, making political commentary and personally disheartening the US troops overseas by saying their struggle was in vain (what effect the statement had on the UK and other coalition troops was never considered....but then again, they aren’t American).
The title of the film came from a Country Music Times editorial written by the Director of CMT two weeks after the comment entitled, “Shut up and Sing?” In which he calls her stupid for speaking and lacking conviction and insincere for later apologizing. He states that the statement, regardless of apology, was a direct attack on Country Music, Country Music listeners, their values and their patriotism and condoned the banning of Dixie Chicks by hundreds of radio stations under corporate orders (praising it as “free speech”), and the demonstrations to publically destroy Dixie Chicks Albums before finishing with a direct message to Natalie Maines; “you have a message? Hey, put it in a song…But, otherwise -- shut up and sing.” An odd statement when “Traveling Soldier”, the number one Dixie Chick single at the time was considered so patriotic that it was rerecorded by other artists, so listeners could hear the pro-soldier message while still hating and banning the Dixie Chicks.
The footage of people with flags in their hands or around their necks stomping and burning all things to do with three women singers from Texas did have an uncanny resemblance to the “anti-US” demonstrations carried out by the “enemies of freedom” (usually seen on CNN with tones to indicate these are "bad" countries; countries likely to be invaded by the US in the future). The uniform lashing by all media brought to mind other singers like Paul Roberson who, after entertaining the troops during WWII, was banned from NBC in 1950 for speaking out against lynching of blacks (In parallel NBC in 2006 refused to run ads promoting the Documentary on the Dixie Chicks “Shut up and Sing”) and had his passport taken away in the same year by the US government because, "his frequent criticism of the treatment of blacks in the United States should not be aired in foreign countries”. Shut up and Sing Paul, because things sure have changed in 53 years.
Besides the overlooked feminist implications of a nation exploding because a woman expressing her opinion is against “country music values” the heart of film lies in the outcomes of social abuse. America has this strange and openly growing capacity to hate almost without thought or reason and then act on that hate (for example, in a recent survey 82% of Americans said that France was an enemy of the US – yet in asking around I could find no one who could remember WHY they hated France so much: France vetoed a UN resolution which the US pushed through to justify war; so the US went to war anyway and the country exploded into anti-French attitudes, and Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast were born). Watching the effects of the daily attacks and brutal abuse of women who had ALREADY APOLOGIZED, to the point that they believed (as did the FBI) that someone in Texas was going to kill them. Again, with bizarre irony, in 2003 the FBI did not reveal to the Dixie Chicks the full number of threats against them, they did however, using wiretapping of cell phones at Dixie Chicks concerts (On the basis that terrorists can use the noise of concerts to pass information – the first group they used this new plan on: The Dixie Chicks), help President Bush sue the Dixie Chicks on their recent tour for appearing on stage to the tune “Hail to the Chief”
As time went on the wary look and statements of the Chicks, particularly the lead singer Natalie were ones that Linda and I knew all too well. “They’ve become honorary gays” I whispered to Linda and she nodded back. For the Chicks there is the cycle of disbelief, the loss of hope, the inability to know who to trust; all chronicled on large screen as sponsors and fans drop from sight or distance themselves, as all incoming messages are negative and when the realization comes that it simply isn’t going to end, maybe ever. One band member wonders after a concert if this is last time they will ever play this big, or be able to play publicly at all. Indeed, their recent 2006 concert tour, while playing to sold out audiences in UK, Canada and Australia, has been banned by many southern states.
Together, two years later, with Natalie, living in LA, realizing they may never play a concert in Texas, their home state again, the Dixie Chicks work to reinvent themselves. It was not a choice of going back, because there was no where to go back to; the hate still lives on (as the many many public review sites where the film Shut up and Sing is getting 0 out of 10 ratings, yet unviewed, attests) – to buy a Dixie Chick record is now, for many Americans, a political impossibility. So yes, the Dixie Chicks start again, but as we see, individually scarred, individually beaten up and maimed. Being on the end of collective hated does bad things; just ask the filmmaker Arthur Dong, who needed 20 years from his gaybashing to cinematically deal with the subject. This film gives a little insight, a little connection, in showing how the wielding of indiscriminate hatred can affect you, regardless of social income or situation. The Chicks accept, like the so many minorities hated by Americans before them, that the only victory is in going on.
5 hours ago