Article Overview:  What is the difference between the individual's right to protest and the duty to support one's nation?  It's a dilemma not easily defined, but one the Dixie Chicks, Madonna, Susan Sarandon, the Smothers Brothers and other star entertainers must face when they don political garb on or off the stage, and risk alienating their audiences.   When they exit their roles as entertainers, they often wake the Beast of Protest who turns on them and bites the hands that feed them.    Find out when individual rights and collective duties clash what the costs are and whether the price of admission is worth it.


Thursday--April 24, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 589
Dixie Chicks & Sarandon Terrorized By The "Beast Of Protest"

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZER0, NEW YORK, NY--Mixing politics and entertainment leads to a dead-end road, at least that's the case at hand for the Dixie Chicks, a three-woman country western singing group suffering the torment of Terrorism afflicting them after a March 10 comment to a British audience attacking President George Bush.

The Dixie Chicks

       The group is being Terrorized by the "Beast of Protest," an angry backlash to what many Americans view as a violation of mixing "business" and "politics."
       On the eve of the war against Iraq, lead singer Natalie Maines told her British audience at a London concert: 
"Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
        Her comment flamed headlines throughout the United States and the world, plummeting  the popular group's record sales and creating boycotts and even death threats.
        According to AP, the Chicks' song "Travelin' Soldier" was No. 1 on Billboard magazine's country music charts around the time Maines made the remark, but tumbled completely off the charts afterward.
        Numerous radio stations pulled the group's music.
        Tonight, Diane Sawyer will interview the group on ABC.  In addition to Maines, the all-woman singing team includes sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire --all from Texas.
        Following the flap, Maines posted an apology on the group's website.  She said her comments were taken out of context.  "I'm not truly embarrassed that, you know, President Bush is from my state, that's not really what I care about," Maines told Sawyer. "It was the wrong wording with genuine emotion and questions and concern behind it." Maines then asked, "Am I sorry that I asked questions and that I just don't follow? No."
        In Milwaukee, a major newspaper web poll asked readers if they intend to boycott the group or support it, 65 percent, a total of 89,474 respondents, said they would. Thirty-five percent, a total of 47,891, claimed support for the group. (link to survey and article)

Dixie Chicks perform a 'naked protest'

      This week, Entertainment Weekly hosts the country western trio on the cover.  The group is nude,  with various protest sayings painted on their naked bodies.  The words include epithets like "Traitors," "Saddam's Angels," "Peace" and "Boycott."  In the issue, the Dixie Chicks will reportedly take on their critics.
       In a similar case, famed singer Madonna altered her latest anti-war, anti-Bush albumen, "American Life."  The controversial video showed Iraqi children being blown to pieces.  In the early release of the video, the famed "Material Girl" threw a hand grenade at a likeness of President Bush.  Forbes magazine listed Madonna as the 17th most money-earning entertainer last year, accruing more than $42 million in earnings.

Madonna's "American Life" video was pulled and altered

       Madonna pulled the controversial video and altered it after initial flack about its grotesque nature.   She said she made the changes because it wasn't appropriate on the eve of war to release such a video, and calmed down some of the most objectionable scenes.
      In another case, well-known anti-war activist, Susan Sarandon, was given a slap in the face for her voicing protest against the Bush Administration and her anti-war statements by the Baseball Hall of Fame.   Officials cancelled a 15th anniversary celebration of the famed baseball movie, Bull Durham, as an anti-protest against Sarandon and her long-term partner, Tim Robbins', who vocalized their dissent against both the war and President Bush.
     Robbins, who starred as rookie 'Nuke' LaLoosh in Bull Durham, was reportedly "dismayed" by the decision to nix the celluloid celebration and drafted his own poison pen letter to Baseball's Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey, saying: "You belong with the cowards and ideologues in a hall of infamy and shame."

Sarandon and Tim Robbins starred in "Bull Durham" - The Baseball Hall of Fame cancelled its 15th anniversary celebration

      A copy of  Petroskey's letter criticizing the actors was released in early April.  It read: "In a free country such as ours, every American has the right to his or her own opinions and to express them. Public figures, such as you, have platforms much larger than the average American's, which provides you an extraordinary opportunity to have your views heard--and an equally large obligation to act and speak responsibly.
     "We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important--and sensitive--time in our nation's history helps undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger. As an institution, we stand behind our president and our troops in this conflict," added Petroskey.
 The United Way in Florida also cancelled Sarandon's appearance at a major fund raiser.
      The legacy of the Beast of Protest's retaliation against actors who use their fame to flame other issues isn't limited to the current situation in Iraq.

The Smothers Brothers were fired by CBS for their anti-war protest comments

        Three decades ago another flap occurred that ended the career of two well known artists--the Smothers Brothers.  Tommy and Dick Smothers hosted a number one-ranked variety show in the late Sixties where top stars today such as Steve Martin, Bob Einstein and Rob Reiner cut their teeth.  The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour lasted 72 episodes and two-and-a-half years before CBS fired them in April 1969 for their war protest comments.    They took the case to the Supreme Court and in 1973 the ruling was issued that their First Amendment Rights had been violated, but the damage had been done.   Their careers fell like a JDAM toward one of Saddam Hussein's palaces.
      The Beast of Protest chewed them to pieces.
      And then, spat them out.
      Americans confused over the right of Free Speech often think it is wrong to punish those who speak their minds.   Most forget that nothing is ultimately "free."  There is a price for everything, and it isn't always profit.
      In the entertainment world, actors, singers and performers are elevated by the public upon pedestals not because of their political views, but because of their ability to act, to entertain, to stir the emotions of their audience with music or greatly delivered lines, or skits that take us away from the mundane world and thrust us into an ether, into a world of escape in which we either laugh or cry, applaud or boo.
      Entertainment is a vehicle that whisks us from reality.   It is a drug of sorts, anesthetizing reality for a moment or hour, so we can "forget" the tensions of life, the stress and strain of pushing the rock up the hill only to have it roll back down, waiting for us to shove our shoulder against it, grunt and shove it up again.
      When we pay money to escape--either at a theater or play, or buying a CD--we are buying a token on the Subway to Serenity, to escape the madding crowd into some niche of humor, drama, or music in which we can bathe our minds and untie the Gordian Knot of life's herniations.  

Steven Seagal attacked environment-mongers and his movie flopped

      Steven Segal violated his duty as a entertainer when he began to make non-action movies.   The "kick-butt" action hero leapt on a bandwagon of political commentary, and started to make his movies bully pulpits for his own causes.   He attacked the environment-mongers in "On Deadly Ground," and ended it with himself standing at a pulpit giving a discourse on how to protect the world from Exxon oil spills.  The audience booed.  They had come to see him crack bones and thump heads, not to listen to his politics.
      Perhaps the one survivor of the entertainment world impervious to political backlash for his protestations is Marlon Brando.   In support of the violation of Indian rights, he refused to accept an Academy Award.   He may be the only actor in Hollywood with Teflon skin, however.
      The issue for all of us is timing.   When it is time for us to stand up for what we believe?   And, when it is wrong to use a false platform for issuing our beliefs?
      The public holds the currency for these answers.

"Marlon Brando ... has asked me to tell you, in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently—because of time—but I will be glad to share with the press afterward, that he must... very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reason for this being... are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… excuse me… and on television in movie re-runs, and also the recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will, in the future…our hearts and our understanding will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of The GodfatherMarlon Brando."

Sacheen Littlefeather refusing Oscar for Marlon Brando

         In the case of the Dixie Chicks, they have built their fame and fortune in country music.  Country music fans are generally "red-necked Americans."  That is, they are mostly fundamentalists when it comes to patriotism, and while many on the left side of the fence accuse them of blind followings, they chose to support America--good or bad--on the principle that the overall strength of the nation supercedes its flaws, and that will of the people in the long-run is far more important than the whims and wiles of its critics.
     Conservatism, by nature, is long-range.  Radicalism is short-range.
     The Dixie Chicks big error was robbing their fans of their politics--stealing from their audience the muscle of America--the belief in the leader.
     Being ashamed of President Bush before a foreign audience was insult upon injury.  To many, it was a gutless act of seeking audience support, and totally unnecessary.   It was also slinging mud not only at the president and the nation, but at the core of the fans who supported the Dixie Chicks and their music on the way to the top.
     Now, in the fans' view, the Dixie Chicks turned on them.   Thus, the Beast of Protest was released.  Retaliation was necessary, if for no other reason than to pull back the currency that made the Dixie Chicks famous.
     Sarandon's violation was against a similar group--baseball lovers.  Sports and politics don't mix.   Like any entertainment, the more neutral the players, the greater the potential audience.  When you only invite Republicans or Democrats to a ball game, you cut the potential attendance in half, you divide and conquer.
      Baseball is neutral with one exception--it is the American Pie of sports.  Nothing is more patriotic in American legacy than going to a ballgame, saluting the flag, listening to the National Anthem being played.   It is a place where the red-white-and-blue shines.   Sarandon and Robbins desecrated that image, and while fully right in their ability to do it, they suffered the price of freedom--to be ostracized for doing it.
      The Beast of Protest ate them too.
      The same is true of the Smothers Brothers and Segal.  They stepped over the line.   Some might say that they were frequent in their use of the public.
      Famous stars don't climb the ladder of fame by protesting.
      They wait until they get to the top, and, once safe atop the roof, start shouting out their private politics assuming their past fame will form a safety net, protecting them.
      Madonna might be the only figure not to fit this formula.  Her fame has been based on controversy and confrontation.   Her rise to the top has been by attacking sanctuaries.
      But the Dixie Chicks, the Sarandon's, the Robbins', the Seagals, and Smothers Brothers used the fame platform to launch their "Weapons Of Mass Destruction" against the administration, the political heads.
      They basically forged their currency of fame into currency of protest.
      Now, they suffer.
      The Beast of Protest has taken a big bite out their buttocks.
      In a way, a star who uses the starlight to shine Terror on his or her fans is ultimately a Terrorist.   A child, for example, who loves the Dixie Chicks music, who is a member of the fan club, who cherishes their every word and follows them religiously based on their music and image, is suddenly faced with the fact they are "disgusted with their President."  The child now thinks, "well, should I be too?  Should I hate America too, if the Dixie Chicks do?"

Children saluting

      It's kind of like the anti-American war protestor who takes his kids to a ballgame and when the National Anthem is being played, refuses to stand up and salute the flag.   His children look around at 49,999 other people standing and putting their hands to their hearts and reciting the Pledge, and note how their father scowls and defiantly folds his hands across his chest.
      The father thinks he has a right to protest.   And, he does.  But he also has a duty to his fans--to his children.  That duty is to preserve the respect for their country--right or wrong--and, if considered wrong, to work to change the wrong rather than to defy the wrong.   To defy the wrong is nothing more than an act of cowardice, a childish, immature way of dropping your pants and exposing your backside at what you don't like.
       Instead of selfishly refusing to salute the flag, the father can rise and salute with his children for no other reason than reminding himself and his children the duty of selflessness is more important than the right of selfishness.
       The Dixie Chicks refused to salute the American Flag in London.   They dropped their trousers and exposed their backsides.   They showed disrespect for the most successful democracy in the world, successful not because it was perfect, but because it was flawed, and the flaws always have ironed themselves out.

Country music fans--America, more right than wrong

      The country music fans know America is more right than wrong, in the long run.   While the fans may not all agree with the President or the Flag on all issues, they do on them overall.
       That's the point all the entertainers who use their power to protest miss.
       They never talk about or support their "duty to respect" America first, and secondly, their right to protest its wrongs secondly.
        They miss the big picture.   The big picture is if they weren't in America, odds are they wouldn't have the rights they enjoy to dissent, and pay no respect to those.  Like the father who refuses to salute the flag in the presence of his children, he denies his children the right of respect for their right to protest.
         It might have been much better if the Dixie Chicks saluted the American Flag first, and the office of the President second, and then told the audience how disgusted they were that the President was from Texas.
        Had they done that, odds are the Beast of Protest would have just kept sleeping.

April 23--Ripping Terrorism From The Headlines

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