Shut Up & Sing

Shut Up & Sing is a documentary that centers on country music’s The Dixie Chicks and their nationwide vilification over an off-hand critical comment one of them made about President George W. Bush on the eve of the Iraq war during their introduction to their song “Travelin’ Soldier”. The song is a tale about a shy, lonesome, young American soldier who strikes up a conversation and later a correspondence with a high school girl during the Vietnam War era, and at the end the soldier has died unnoticed by any except the young girl, who he realized he had fallen in love with. During the introduction to this song “Travelin’ Soldier” on March 10, 2003, during a London concert, 9 days before the March 19, 2003 invasion of Iraq, lead vocalist Natalie Maines, who along with her band mates Robison and Maguire are all natives of Texas, told the London audience: “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas”. The positive reaction to this statement from the British audience contrasted with the negative reaction that ensued in the U.S., including boycotts. The band was assaulted by talk-show conservatives, and their albums were discarded in public protests. Subsequent U.S. publication of Maines’ comments caused some stations, including 42 owned by Cumulus Media, to drop the song from their playlists, causing it to fall from No. 1 on the country singles chart the following week, before disappearing from the charts entirely. So “Travelin’ Soldier” was the last single released by the Dixie Chicks to reach the top 20 on the country singles chart. The title of the movie, Shut Up and Sing, comes from a comment made by a detractor during the controversy, which was magnified by the fact that the band and their fans are from the politically conservative South. Over a three-year period, the singers went from darlings of the industry to political targets being demonized by the national media and denounced by some ex-fans. Country music stations refused to play their music from fear of losing listeners. This documentary joins the Dixie Chicks’ journey following ‘The Incident’, after which the Chicks were boycotted on country radio and even received death threats simply for voicing an opinion and standing up for freedom of speech. The film does a good job of documenting the effect that a single comment by a performer had on the group’s entire career. Raises the question: Is it unpatriotic to make a negative comment about the President? Ever or just in a time of armed conflict? The subject matter transcends country music. This doc is about two things: 1) free speech and its consequences and (2) how we as Americans view free speech. The fact that the right-wing was so up-in-arms about this single comment is now laughable in view of the fact that much of the country eventually turned against that war for oil and the lies about weapons of mass destruction. These singers were spot-on and ahead of other citizens when it came to the (deserved) criticism of the Bush doctrine. It’s scary to watch what happened just a few years ago in this freeze on free speech. It is refreshing to see these true artists hold onto their integrity, whatever you think of their politics.  It is shameful that an ordinary jab at the president, that was so innocuous, led to such a crazy witch hunt. This movie is a wonderful cautionary tale. Highly recommended! Wake up, America! Documentary 2006 R 93 minutes. Directed by Barbara Kopple (of Harlan County, U.S.A. fame)

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