"I think people are paranoid" was how former Grateful Dead member Mickey Hart's comments to Reuters began. Hart was speaking about this year's Grammy Awards and the Dixie Chicks. Then he provided a sterling example of that very paranoia.
"I think that if they speak out, they think they're gonna get whacked by the government. It's pretty oppressive now. Look at the Dixie Chicks. They got whacked."
What? The government did nothing concerning The Dixie Chicks after they "spoke out" against President Bush while they were in concert in London. The singers were free to say whatever they wanted, just as the buying public was free to say whatever they wanted with respect to what the Dixie Chicks said.
There was public outcry, and indeed the Dixie Chicks lost fans and concertgoers. But they also garnered new fans, including fawning press. Their "naked" cover on Rolling Stone seems to have started a new fad: the Multimillionaire Artist As Suffering Figure of Persecution.
They would be followed in magazine-cover martyrdom by Kanye West, who nearly ruined a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser with his off-the-cuff remarks about Bush hating black people. His cover shot on Rolling Stone showed him wearing a crown of thorns.
Madonna, as is her wont, took the fad to its logical extremes; comparing Bush to Hitler and Osama bin Laden and then hanging herself on a crucifix.
But it's all vanity. Hart's comments, the "musical martyrs," the paranoia — it's just self-congratulatory hooey. Musicians aren't getting "whacked" by the Bush administration for "speaking out." But it's fun to believe it, because only then could the very mundane act of speaking out in this, the Land of the First Amendment, appear dangerous and brave instead of merely mercenary.
Perspective is sorely lacking when fabulously wealthy, celebrated recording artists somehow believe that the fabric of free speech in a community is in danger because they said something political and a bunch of folks replied in no uncertain terms that they didn't like what they said. They're seeing free speech at its most vibrant and they think it's in peril.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago provides countless examples of a government "whacking" an artist for speaking out. Compare these few lines, for example, to the worst of Dixie Chicks "whacking" anecdotes:
Tanya Khodkevich wrote:
You can pray freely
But just so God alone can hear.
(She received a ten-year sentence for these verses.)
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (www.thefire.org) provides numerous examples of Americans being "whacked" for speaking out in government schools. Just a perusal of the top items, one finds:
— San Francisco State University investigating the College Republicans for stepping on Hamas and Hezbollah flags during an anti-terrorism protest.
— A challenge to Michigan State University's "Student Accountability in Community" program that forces "mandatory ideological re-education" on students, at their own expense, if they are found to have "behaviors or attitudes [that] are considered unacceptable."
— The discovery that the University of Central Florida bars free-speech on campus except for a few "free speech zones."
— College administrators policing and punishing students for their entries on social-networking Internet sites such as Facebook.com and MySpace.com.
And then there are Americans under threat of government "whacking" for speaking out about global warming. Just ask ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson, who recently received an ominous missive from Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe. The letter tells Exxon to "end its dangerous support of the [global warming] 'deniers'" and "repudiate its climate change denial campaign and make public its funding history." Then Exxon, "one of the world's largest carbon emitters," should put those dollars toward "global remediation efforts" instead.
Or ask climatologist George Taylor in Oregon, where the governor, Theodore R. Kulongoski, wishes to strip him of the position of state climatologist because Taylor is skeptical of the origins of global warming. Other apostate climatologists, such as David Legates in Delaware and Patrick Michaels in Virginia, could also recount experiences from their principled refusal to toe the climate-change line that would leave the Dixie Chicks in a sniveling heap.
Now, it would be wonderful if popular recording artists put their faddish fear of being whacked by the government to good use — taking up the cause of free-speech victims on college campuses, for example, or supporting climate-change dissent. But of course that shouldn't be forced on them like some crazy Michigan ideological re-education plan. After all, it's a free country.