It’s awards season here in Hollywood and I guess I am being swept up in it all. You see, last night I had the most amazing dream. I was really famous. I had lots of famous friends, too, who told me things they had learned about the world from other famous people, and I was compelled to listen to them and agree with them, because they were really famous, and that made them fascinating, intelligent, and right. I was fascinating, too, of course, and everyone wanted to know what I was wearing, even my perfume! They cheered me on the red carpet as I was interviewed on every topic. I graciously volunteered my opinions on any subject matter. I was famous, clearly brilliant, and everyone cared what I thought about everything. It was wonderful!
Then I woke up, and discovered I wasn’t a Dixie Chick.
Three years ago Natalie Maines was hurt and baffled by the uproar over her comment, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas,” referring to President Bush and our war in Iraq. It was an enormous shock to all the Dixie Chicks that their fan base would abandon them because of a political comment: freedom of speech, and all. Stations stopped playing their songs, record sales plummeted. A virtual boycott was in effect. What the Dixie Chicks failed to appreciate was that the fans were also only exercising their own freedoms, in choosing not to buy albums. Radio stations were exercising their business freedom in choosing not to play songs that outraged their listeners and repelled their advertisers.
It seemed difficult for Maines to comprehend that there were people (most of her then fan base) who disagreed with her political opinions, were vocal about it, and were willing to articulate that view with their wallets. This surprised her no end. In a sense, her surprise is understandable: Many Hollywood celebrities — Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Sean Penn, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Alec Baldwin — make loud and foolish political statements, and usually face no repercussions.
Natalie Maines is married to an actor, and, like many in the Hollywood community, she lives in a sheltered “no-dissent zone,” surrounded by people with like views. Any ideas that differ from accepted points of view are immediately denounced. It’s quite boring, as everybody agrees all the time.
In the music industry, though, radio plays a huge part in the success or failure of a release. So when radio stations pulled the Dixie Chicks from their playlists, reacting to pressure from listeners and revenue sources alike, Maines found she had a problem. It’s the capitalist’s rule number one: know your customers (and don’t insult them).
After assessing the situation, most reasonable, intelligent people might conclude that they had said the wrong thing, and figure out a way to explain it, excuse it, or even apologize for it. This Maines could not do: Remember that in her protected zone of infallibility, she was right and everyone else was wrong (to not purchase her album).
The fans never insulted Maines by questioning her talent, but–true to the liberal method of turning everything upside down–the song that tipped the Chicks’ Grammy nods goes, “Forgive, sounds good; forget, I don’t think I could.” Which is bizarre — after all, it isn’t for Maines to forgive us: She insulted us. (I counted myself among her fans back then.) After winning for Record of the Year, Maines said, à la The Simpsons, “Hah-hah.”
Actually, not so much.
Academy voting members are all involved in the creative and technical processes of recording. The fact that fewer than 5,000 voters, who live in the same bubble with her, voted for her doesn’t make her right, noble — or even popular with the general public. Still, Maines has an extraordinary ability to see only what she wants to see; at her final acceptance opportunity on stage she spouted that people were “using their freedom of speech.” Sadly, nobody will remind her that these weren’t the People’s Choice Awards. Five Grammies and the corresponding misinterpretation of their significance are certain to encourage Maines (and others) in political silliness. With the support of everyone in Hollywood, she will undoubtedly identify herself as an intellectual: a discerning person of integrity with well-considered, valuable opinions. At the final Grammy acceptance, feigning modesty, Maines said, “I got nothing clever, now.” She believes herself to be very clever, and nobody she knows will dare to disagree.
– Anna Nimouse is a nom de cyber for an actress and mother living in Hollywood.