Movie Review: Shut Up And Sing
MrsDoF and I went to see Shut Up And Sing this evening, riding our bicycles downtown to the Historic Normal Theater. The movie tells the story of the US country band “Dixie Chicks” as they navigated the rough public-relations waters following an unpopular comment made by one of their band members. They faced almost total cessation of radio play, falling album sales, and even death threats. (Imagine stepping on stage in a packed arena after you’ve received a specific threat that you’d be shot dead, that night, on stage, and after the police inform you that there’s simply no way to be sure no one smuggled in a gun.)
Basically it’s a documentary band movie, not a genre that I usually go see unless there are other compelling issues folded in. The camera simply followed the band around during the period documented, and included footage of fans, protestors, and television pundits. (At one point, Bill O’Reilly opines; “They’re callow, foolish women, who deserve to be slapped around.”) Singer Toby Keith put out a CD with the Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines photoshopped in the arms of Saddam Hussein. (Natalie was not amused)
It’s an interesting story even just from the music-business perspective. After becoming the biggest-selling female band in US history, the Chicks had to completely reinvent themselves for a new audience after the country music fan base dumped them. It looks like they’ll be OK now.
I’m not a fan of the Chicks, but for a different reason than most. For some people the unforgivable sin is blasphemy; for me, it’s mangling Landslide. But never mind that. What happened to the Chicks is an example of mob mentality, a dynamic with a long and dishonorable history. From the crowd screaming; “crucify Him!” to the media frenzy over the Duke University LaCrosse players, it has always taken courage to say; “woah, slow down. Let’s think about this.” It’s all too easy to find yourself trudging up the hill to Golgotha alongside the one you’re defending.
I’ve had a lot of time to ponder this, watching our country torn apart by 9/11 and the Iraq war. People from both sides get positively angry when someone suggests any debate should begin with common ground, but for example I share a lot of ideas and values in common with even the most fervent Bush supporter. I love this country and feel our values are important to the world as a whole, and so do they. We both would like to see Osama come to a bad end. Neither one of us wants our country to make a serious mistake that would cost it prestige or power. So the debate isn’t over who loves America, who is against the terrorists, or who wants to see Osama hang; we agree on all those things. It’s over what that big mistake might be, over strategy, over the means to the ends we share. It’s high time we understood that about each other, appreciated that about each other, and focused on the real debate instead of ripping each other.
The Dixie Chicks aren’t political scientists, or even particularly smart (in one scene, Maines calls her astrologer). But as it happened they were right about the Iraq war. It didn’t make us more secure, and it hurt our country, and the president is responsible for that. Yet here’s this entertainment-industry story that grew out of it. It’s a little depressing to think that our artistic tastes might be nothing more than an extension of our politics but the movie gives some sad evidence that it could be true.