Dixie Chicking’: Post-9/11 Blacklisting in the Entertainment Industry
The HUAC/McCarthy era and Hollywood blacklist may be over, but the not-so-grand inquisitors are still among us. On March 31, 2007, activist/actor Mike Farrell, who co-starred in TV’s “M*A*S*H” and co-founded Artists United to Win Without War, told Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting’s “CounterSpin” radio program, “There’s a price to be paid for speaking out, and some have paid a fairly serious price.” Around that same time, at a March 24, 2007, anti-war Oakland town meeting called by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, actor Sean Penn stated: “we are encouraged to self-censor any words that might be perceived as inflammatory—if our belief is that this war should stop today. We cower as you point fingers telling us to ‘support our troops.’ ”
There are other examples of creative people suffering the consequences of their outspokenness since 9/11, but none are as compelling as the saga of the Dixie Chicks, the top-selling “girl group” of all time. Indeed, the red, white and bluegrass band’s name became a verb meaning censoring and punishing dissenters: “Dixie Chicking.” The Chicks’ story was turned into a documentary by two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple (1976’s “Harlan County USA” and 1990’s “American Dream") and Cecilia Peck. Cecilia’s father, Gregory Peck, won the Oscar for portraying the screen’s archetypal fighting liberal, Atticus Finch, in 1962’s anti-racist “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and produced the 1972 anti-Vietnam-War film “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine,” about the Berrigan brothers’ anti-draft activities. (In August 2007, Tim Robbins’ L.A.-based Actors Gang troupe presented a reading of the “Catonsville Nine” drama as a fundraiser.)
“Shut Up & Sing” was presented on March 23, 2007, at Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center as part of the West Hollywood Women’s Leadership Conference, along with a post-screening panel discussion moderated by radio host Stephanie Miller that included Cecilia Peck and Chicks member Natalie Maines. During the Dixie Chicks’ 2003 “Top of the World” tour, it was Maines who set off the firestorm on the eve of “shock and awe” when she told British concertgoers: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
As “Shut Up and Sing” demonstrated, all hell broke loose after Maines’ on-stage comment made the media rounds. The Chicks lost most of their airtime on right-leaning country-western radio; CD and concert ticket sales plummeted. Encouraged by reactionary FreeRepublic.com bloggers and DJs, ex-fans destroyed Chicks CDs en masse during the ensuing “Dixie Chicks Destruction” campaign. Concerts were picketed by Red-baiters who called the Chicks “traitors” and “communists,” although the group’s fans were divided, with many remaining loyal. Worst of all, bomb-sniffing dogs and metal detectors were deployed at Dixie Chicks concerts. Under heavy security, the Texas trio confronted a 2003 death threat at a Dallas performance, after a letter threatened to shoot Maines in the same city where John F. Kennedy had been gunned down 40 years earlier. For his part, President Bush appeared to egg on the Chicks’ persecutors, saying: “They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records.”
Sixty years after the beginning of the Hollywood blacklist, “Shut Up & Sing” raises the issue of modern-day censorship. Onscreen, Maines reacts to the group’s loss of airtime, angrily demanding to know, “How is [this] not a boycott? They haven’t been playing our music for a few weeks.” Paul Beane, general manager of the Lubbock, Texas, radio station KRBL, declared: “We’re not going to play them anymore. It’d simply be financial suicide.” At a 2004 Senate hearing, in one of his finer moments, Sen. John McCain mocked Clear Channel’s denial that the media conglomerate was ordering its radio stations to ban the Chicks from its corporate airwaves.
(In 2004, CNN quoted Howard Stern as saying that the San Antonio-based Clear Channel is “very tied to the Bush administration.” In the CNN report, Stern says: “Clear Channel for years has been defending me. ... I criticize Bush and then I’m fired. ... They acted out of politics.")
During the panel following the March 2007 “Shut Up and Sing” screening, Stephanie Miller, host of the nationally syndicated “Stephanie Miller Show,” noted that, ironically, Clear Channel was a co-sponsor of the screening. Despite Clear Channel’s apparent support of that event, Miller said, “There’s a concerted effort to shut down progressive talk. [Conservative] Christians are buying radio stations.” Miller, whose father was Barry Goldwater’s Republican running mate in 1964, claimed that progressive stations were even being taken off the air in markets where they were No. 1 in the ratings. Ed Schultz, whose nationally syndicated program is also heard on Air America, similarly complained of blacklisting in Ohio markets.
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[url=http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/20071008_remembering_the_hollywood_ten/]Remembering the Hollywood 10
Stars on the march: Silver-screen luminaries Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart lead the way
during a protest against HUAC
during the height of the Hollywood Blacklist controversy