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Non-cents-ical

Posted: March 23, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau, Commander-in-Chief

As I write this, we are at war. The United States is now a good few days into its invasion of Iraq, and it's going just about the way everyone expected it would. To put it in prison terms, the U.S. -- with the help of Britain and a few other countries -- is making Iraq its bitch. If Saddam Hussein, a man we can all agree we'd like to see vanquished, is indeed hiding weapons -- capable of mass destruction or otherwise -- we sure aren't seeing too many of them being employed in Iraq's defense. In classic schoolyard bully fashion, we've pushed Hussein onto the ground, taken his lunch money, bloodied his nose, given him a painful wedgie, and are now playing a spirited game of "Keep Away" with at least one of his shoes. In fact, as of this writing, you kind of have to wonder just what it is about this country that's supposed to be so threatening. Unless, of course, this conflict -- and let's be clear on the terms, because it takes Congress to declare actual, capital-W War -- is about other things besides safeguarding freedom against a clear and present danger.

Now, you and I might be on different sides of the fence on this issue. You might think we're entirely justified in taking the law into our own hands, so to speak, in storming into Iraq to do what the United Nations won't. I'm of a different opinion, myself. But we're not here to debate the rightness or wrongness of this conflict; there are countless other, more appropriate forums for that debate. But the point is, as members of a civilized society, you and I should be able to agree to disagree, right?

Well, maybe and maybe not. Because as a society, we also seem to be at war with ourselves -- our better natures, and our common sense. Call it the Second Civil War, because we are once again a people divided, and once again the enemy, for some of us, hails from the land of Dixie. The Dixie Chicks, to be precise. For those tuning in late: During a concert overseas last week, Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines made a disparaging statement about President George W. Bush, expressing shame that he came from her home state of Texas. American country music fans, being by and large a knee-jerk, politically conservative lot, have not reacted well to Maines's outburst. Country stations across the nation have stopped playing Dixie Chicks songs, bowing to pressure from hordes of angry fans. This is understandable, of course: Radio stations exist to make their listeners happy, and if the listeners don't want any more Dixie Chicks, then radio stations aren't going to play them. Advertisers aren't going to spend their money on a station that falls out of favor with listeners. That's just business. (Luckily, the decreased airplay doesn't seem to be hurting the Chicks' sales, and their most recent release, Home, appears to be making inroads with the older, more politically tolerant demographic that made the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack a worldwide phenomenon. So they may just have the last laugh.)

But it's important to note the outcry from country music listeners, many of whom have taken to throwing away all of their Dixie Chicks CDs, sometimes into garbage bins the stations have provided for that very purpose. Now, voting with your pocketbook is as American a tradition as there is, and these conservative country fans have every right to decide to turn their back on the Chicks, if that's how they feel.

But why would you feel this way? Why is it suddenly so wrong to exercise freedom of speech? Because again, let's be clear about what's going on here. These country fans aren't simply exercising their right to boycott an artist with whom they disagree. This is punishment, pure and simple. Because in today's world of right-wing hate radio, there is no such thing as gentlemanly disagreement when it comes to politics. More than ever before, the conservative right in America is caught in a rigid "If you're not with us, you're against us" mindset, and Maines is paying the price for going against the amber waves of grain.

Travis Tritt, appearing on that bastion of "fair and balanced" reporting, Fox News, called Maines's original comments "cowardly." Excuse me? You want to talk cowardly? What about the craven pandering of the radio stations providing the abovementioned bins for listeners to throw their Dixie Chicks CDs into? Obsequiously going along with the crowd in a pathetic game of "Kick 'Em While They're Down" -- now that's cowardly. Stifling voices of dissent, adopting a "go along to get along" mentality -- that's as cowardly as it gets, folks. Because if you believe only your side has the right to be heard, then you must be afraid of what the other side has to say.

But that's par for the course for this society, which holds "Don't fuck with me getting mine" as its credo. Witness the white-hot career of rapper 50 Cent, celebrated in the press for his real-life gangsta bona fides as much as for his music. Rolling Stone, which appears incapable of letting a single issue go by without some mention of this thuggish Eminem protégé, has made great hay over 50 Cent's past as a crack dealer. The fact that Mr. Cent (born Curtis Jackson) was shot nine times as part of a gangland-style feud, and now wears a bulletproof vest everywhere he goes, is already the stuff of legend. In the magazine's April 3rd cover story, Jackson's drug-related past is revealed in more detail, including the fact that he used to employ people he'd met in prison to rob rival dealers. And then there's this telling passage:

50's not proud of having sold drugs, but he feels no guilt about it, either. "Guilt?" he asks, a little annoyed. "Hell, no. Guilt for how? Try tellin' a kid that's twelve years old, 'If you do good in school for eight more years, you can have a car.' And let a kid's curiosity lead him through his neighborhood and find somebody who got it in six months on that strip. It don't seem like one of the options, it seems like the only option. I provide for myself by any means. I don't care about how anybody feels about it. 'Cause when I'm doin' it, I really don't have intentions to hurt nobody. I don't expect people to understand. But there's people that's from where I'm from that understand."

Oh! Well, then. It's okay to sell crack to your own people, to keep them trapped in a cycle of poverty and addiction, because, you see, he doesn't mean to hurt nobody. Well, um, you see, the thing is, Curtis, that's not good enough. Let's revisit the key quote: "I provide for myself by any means. I don't care about how anybody feels about it." See, there's a word for that kind of outlook: That word is sociopath. The author of the article, the mono-monickered Toure, whose lips have never left a rapper's ass free of wet, sloppy smooches, declines to point this out to 50 Cent, to call him on it, and gets right back to glorifying this two-bit (okay, four-bit) hoodlum, to continue to sell to impressionable young kids the idea that slinging drugs and getting shot at can lead to a glamorous life as a top-selling rap star.

But I digress. The point is that in a world where a surly punk like 50 Cent can become a critical darling, we shouldn't be surprised when country music fans turn viciously on their own people, for the cardinal sin of not going along with the (Republican) party line. There's a very thin line between 50 Cent's unapologetic "Don't get in the way of me getting mine, and fuck you if you don't like it" stance, and the vitriol and intolerance directed at the Dixie Chicks. In both cases, there's no room for disagreement, for an opposing view. All that matters is being right, and getting what you want, whether it's money made on the backs of your addicted brothers and sisters, or a war against other brown-skinned people a world away. You don't have to give a rat's ass about the conflict in Iraq to know that this mindset is a historically dangerous one, or to hope and pray that whatever the outcome in Iraq, we manage to win this war against ourselves.

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Archived Editorials
December 03, 2006: Happy Feet
November 22, 2006: Half Decade Anniversary
October 07, 2006: Jessica Simpson
September 30, 2006: New Orleans and SNL
June 2, 2006: Dixie Chicks
May 7, 2006: Are Yahu Serious?
February 16, 2006: Bill O'Reilly & Brokeback Mountain
February 12, 2006: Totally '80s (Grammys)
January 31, 2006: Freyed Oprah
November 27, 2005: To Be Continued... (Bringing back movie serials)
November 21, 2005: Fourth Birthday
November 05, 2005: TV Remakes
August 13, 2005: Ten Commandments of Rock
July 05, 2005: Live 8
May 05, 2005: Term Limits (for Rock Stars)
April 29, 2005: Pearl Jam Redux
January 26, 2005: Oscar Grouching
October 31, 2004: Three More Years!
September 27, 2004: Cleaning Out My Closet
August 25, 2004: Shaking Through Mailbag
June 23, 2004: Summer Reading List
June 11, 2004: World Without Heroes (Bill Murray and Garfield)
April 23, 2004: Sold Out (Bob Dylan, Victoria's Secret, & Iraq)
April 08, 2004: The Day the Music Died (Kurt Cobain)
Mar. 17, 2004: Copping Out
Feb. 27, 2004: The Passion of Howard Stern
Jan. 30, 2004: Sex and the City
Nov. 17, 2003: California Über Alles
Nov. 7, 2003: Not-So-Terrible Twos
Sept. 19, 2003: Magic & Loss (Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon)
Aug. 17, 2003: Those '70s Shows
May 27, 2003: Patriot Games (Darryl Worley)
May 24, 2003: American Idol
Mar. 23, 2003: Non-cents-ical (Dixie Chicks-50 Cent)
Feb. 8, 2003: Where's the Love? (Pearl Jam)
Jan. 1, 2003: High Resolutions
Dec. 16, 2002: All I Want for Christmas
Nov. 27, 2002: Things to be Thankful For
Nov. 8, 2002: Near Wild Heaven (Nirvana)
Oct. 21, 2002: Happy Birthday to Us
Sept. 11, 2002: The Little Things
Aug. 20, 2002: King for a Day
July 9, 2002: Bill of Rights
Apr. 18, 2002: Celebrity Skim
Apr. 15, 2002: We Will Never Lie To You
Jan. 6, 2002: Something to Believe In
Nov. 3, 2001: Who We Are