Tonight I watched Shut Up & Sing, the new documentary about the fallout from the country radio gestapo campaign launched against the Dixie Chicks in 2003. As you'll recall, on the eve of our illegal war in Iraq lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience that she was ashamed that President Bush was from her home state of Texas.
By that point in time, President Bush had conjured up weapons of mass destruction and Colin Powell had lied about them before the United Nations. Shame seems appropriate.
After Maines's comment Dixie Chicks CDs were stomped to smithereens all across red America. Righteous flag wavers called them the Dixie Twits, and a man in Dallas threatened Maines with death.
Free speech doesn't mean anything "in a time of war," you see. Just shut up and sing, you silly women.
The "time of war" argument is a shameful way to suppress dissent. If President Bush had his way, we'd be in a time of war forever so that he could keep pulling the wool over the nation's eyes. But three years after the Iraq invasion, most of America knows that Maines was right. Nevertheless the Dixie Chicks still have trouble selling out their tours. Maines is in no mood to let bygones be bygones just yet, because she feels betrayed by the country fans she entertained for years. I hope she can come to peace with this eventually, but right now I love her fighting spirit.
Timing is everything, perhaps. The nation, and certainly not the country radio public, simply wasn't ready to listen to dissenting voices in 2003. But that's what makes Maines's statement so brave, and the reaction so reprehensible. She knew that the war was wrong at the time, and had the courage to say so. Yes, it was before a friendly London audience. That doesn't make her viewpoint any less valid, or diminish in any way her right to express it.
I try hard to guard against New York snobbery. I wasn't born here, and know that the city can be an insular and haughty place. But when I watch a movie like Shut Up & Sing, I remember why New York is home.