The Center for American Progress last night hosted a screening and discussion of the film Shut Up And Sing, which chronicles the Dixie Chick’s political journey over the past three years. At a 2003 concert, the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines, made an offhand and lighthearted comment in opposition to American operation in Iraq. “We don’t want this violence, this war” she said. “And we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.”
These two sentences ignited a political firestorm, and the band came under a torrent of abuse from the right wing. The band members received death threats, were banned from country radio, and were rejected by many of their country music fans, but they did not apologize. Their courageous stance became a source of inspiration for progressives throughout the country.
The film Shut Up and Sing details the unfortunate events that followed the initial controversy. Conservative bloggers on the website FreeRepublic.com launched a cynical smear campaign against the members of the band. This message resonated with many country music fans, forcing the band to seek a new kind of audience. The band’s lyrics, unsurprisingly, began to take on a more political dimension.
Last night’s event panel explored the themes of the film, and included Barbara Kopple, Co-Director and Producer of Shut Up and Sing; Judd Legum, Research Director and Editor of ThinkProgress.org of the Center for American Progress; Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, Rural Strategist and co-author of Foxes in the Henhouse: How the Republicans Stole the South and the Heartland and What the Democrats Must Do to Run ’em Out; and impromptu guest Christian Taylor of FreeRepublic.com.
Barbara Kopple opened the discussion by praising the band members as brave “role models” who simply chose to exercise their constitutional right to free speech. She expressed hope that today’s women would assert themselves in an equally bold manner. Dave “Mudcat” Saunders agreed, bluntly stating that the Chicks “gave a lot of people courage.” He said that the film documented the “development of patriots” who care about the direction of their country passionately.
Calling the Dixie Chicks “heroes,” Saunders urged progressives and their political leaders to be just as principled and forthright. He said that the failure of progressives to embrace the kind of political language the Dixie Chicks used “is the reason we [progressives] continue to lose elections.” According to Saunders, straight-talking political discourse appeals to the Southerners that frequently feel alienated from the progressive movement.
Judd Legum, echoing Saunders’ remarks, warned progressives not to become too “polite” when confronting the right wing. Instead, he urged them to “do what they do better than them” by improving the progressive message. Although the war is now unpopular and the left has better methods of countering right wing rhetoric, he emphasized that conservative bloggers are still a force with which to be reckoned.
Christian Taylor disagreed with most of these remarks. He denounced what he called “the elitist attitudes” expressed by the band, arguing that their criticism of President Bush does not appeal to the average country music fan. He also denied that the band’s members received a disproportionate amount of criticism because of their gender. When his fellow bloggers were accused by audience members of bias, he said that “politics has been rough and nasty well before FreeRepublic.com.”