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Dixie Chicks: censorship or the cost of free speech?
Is the negative national backlash to the Dixie Chicks an example of free speech or censorship? Left-leaning Diane Glass contends the singers were blacklisted; right-leaning Shaunti Feldhahn calls the backlash a legitimate protest.
Dixie Chicks' lead singer Natalie Maines may as well have burned the flag on Memorial Day. Radio station disc jockeys nationwide carried on like conservative talk show hosts after she voiced her disdain for President Bush in front of a British audience in 2003. Suddenly, I no longer heard my favorite songs on the radio en route to work. They were banned, censured, blacklisted.
But was the public's reaction democracy in action or McCarthyism revisited?
According to statistical analysis by UCLA assistant professor of sociology Gabriel Rossman, the Dixie Chicks radio ban was an example of "extreme intolerance," but no laws were broken. The on-air protest was a grassroots reaction of conservative country fans, primarily in red states, he says. "By the time Cumulus (Broadcasting) banned Dixie Chicks songs, almost every independently owned country station had already done so."
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh agrees: "The law today doesn't bar radio networks from choosing whose songs to broadcast based on the singers' political speech. It seems quite legitimate for consumers to withdraw their support of entertainers and to use their economic power to pressure others to withdraw their support."
But I'll have to agree to disagree with the experts. I only wish conservatives had chosen to simply disagree with Maines instead of launching into a censorship campaign. Yes, no laws were broken, but there is a very thin line between personal boycotts and public blacklists, and I think it was crossed here.
It's not that I haven't boycotted an artist myself. I stopped viewing Woody Allen films after he slept with his girlfriend's daughter, but I never demanded that media companies keep his work from the rest of the viewing public.
My personal beliefs are just that. Banning art from the airwaves, TV or museums is censorship, even if a protest is grassroots. There was a time when just admitting you knew a communist was evidence enough to have your career ruined. The conservative backlash here has the same stench of intolerance. For me, there is a huge difference between deciding that you don't like an artist because of her political leanings and demanding that media companies ban her work.
While blacklisting the Dixie Chicks may not be illegal, it is intolerant. And intolerance of legal free speech has always been un-American.
Harvard-educated Diane Glass (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and freethinker with a B.A. and M.A. in comparative religion.
2006, Diane Glass