Still not ready to make nice: what does the Dixie Chicks saga tell us about freedom in America?
We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas. – Natalie Maines
I don’t even know the Dixie Chicks, but I find it an insult for all the men and women who fought and died in past wars when almost the majority of America jumped down their throats for voicing an opinion. It was like a verbal witch-hunt and lynching. – Merle Haggard
Last night over dinner the subject of The Dixie Chicks came up, and I got mad all over again. Which is unfortunate, because when you think about artists that talented the last thing on your mind ought to be anger. But still, it’s been six long years now since “the top of the world came crashing down,” and I can’t quite free myself of my rage at the staggering ignorance that led so many Americans to piss on the 1st Amendment by attempting to destroy the careers of Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robinson. Frankly, I don’t know how Natalie can make it through a performance of “The Long Way Around” or “Not Ready to Make Nice” because I can barely listen to the songs without wanting to take a folding chair to every goddamned corporate radio executive and program director in America responsible for driving them from the airwaves.
No doubt that this makes me a lesser man than I should be. I can’t imagine that the Chicks would approve of my violent impulses (which, I have to admit, are a little too literal for my own comfort), given the grace with which they have navigated the turbulence surrounding their lives in recent years. In truth, they haven’t taken the long way around so much as they have taken the high road, and I regret that I’m not quite worthy of the example they have set for those of us trying to lead civilized lives in the midst of so much willful ignorance.
In recognition of their willingness to risk their careers speaking truth to power and for their courage in facing the backlash (which included death threats, let’s remember) that’s all too frequently aimed at uppity women in the less advanced corners of our nation, Scholars & Rogues is proud to honor The Dixie Chicks as our latest Scrogues and accord them a place in our masthead of fame.
And, if it isn’t obvious, then I’ll apologize in advance for not being up to the standards that Natalie, Martie and Emily have set. They’re not to blame for my tribute to them.
What Did the War on The Dixie Chicks Teach Us About Our Freedoms?
Some time back I read a story in the international press about the rise of fundamentalist Islam in one of Europe’s leading nations – I believe it was the Netherlands, but can’t recall for certain. They’re apparently facing the prospect that one day this minority could grow to the point where it could go to the polls and, using the legitimate engines of the democratic system available to it, vote to eradicate the nation’s religious freedoms. A politician was asked what should be done in this case. His answer was that nothing should be done – it must be allowed, since it would be the result of a democratic process.
Quite a conundrum, that. What to do when democracy is used to dispose of democracy? Obviously America is under no immediate threat from organized Islamist voters, but we do have our own Christian Taliban problem, don’t we? What should we, here in the Land of the Free®, think about those who do not value actual freedom of religion? How many Americans would we send off to die to preserve the free speech rights of those who’d squelch the free speech rights of their fellow citizens? What should a true patriot do when confronted with the reality that the tools of liberty are being used against Lady Liberty herself?
My own code of ethics has always said that you cannot allow a barbarian to use your civilization as a weapon against you. A man who insists on fighting according to a set of honorable rules while his opponent is using a tire iron to liquefy his testicles deserves what happens to him. In my angrier moments I’ve said that no, you don’t fight fire with fire. You fight fire with a flamethrower.
But that’s just me, and you’ll recall from earlier that I’m perhaps not to be taken as a role model. Still, we do live in a nation with many who do not share our respect for Constitutional freedoms. Exactly how many I can’t say, but I feel comfortable with “millions and millions.” It’s certain that without such people we’d not have had to endure eight years of Bush/Cheney thuggery.
I’m Not Ready to Make Nice
I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don’t mind sayin’
It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over
I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should
This was the message – “shut up and sing.” You’re not being paid to think, you mouthy little bitches, you’re being paid to entertain us. Now dance, girlies. God Bless America.
History will validate, with a minimum of controversy, the sentiments Natalie Maines expressed at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre on March 10, 2003. Hopefully the record will point to our present moment and note that already the momentum had shifted and that within a generation people would have an impossible time imagining how such an affront to freedom was ever possible. Hopefully.
For the time being, “mad as hell” doesn’t begin to describe the indignation that those of us working to move this culture forward by promoting genuinely intelligent and pro-human values ought to feel, even now. I won’t tell you how to think and act, of course – you have a conscience and a brain, and you can be trusted to take in the information and perspectives around you and form an opinion that you can live by.
But for my part, I have a message for the “shut up and sing” crowd: I’m not ready to back down and I never will be. Your values are at odds with the principles upon which this nation was founded and true liberty cannot survive if your brand of flag-waving ignorance is allowed to thrive. You will not be allowed to use the freedoms that our founders fought for as weapons to stifle freedom for others.
You have declared a culture war, so here’s where the lines are drawn: I’m on the side of enlightenment, free and informed expression and the power of pro-humanist pursuits to produce a better society where we all enjoy the fruits of our shared accomplishments.
What side are you on?