Shut Up and Sing!
A commentary By Dave Schwartz  

It seems like the story that wouldn't die. Just when you think we've placed the bad feelings behind us, we are once again reminded of the precarious tightrope of public opinion placed beneath our beloved celebrities. The Dixie Chicks were on TV recently lamenting the public response to statements made during a March 10th London concert. Since her comments, lead singer Natalie Maines has found herself making repeated apologies in an effort to fend off the public outcry. Suffering declining album sales, removal from rotation on several prominent radio stations, vandalized personal property and death threats, the trio has continued to plead their case to a generally unimpressed bipartisan audience.

In their most recent plea for forgiveness, the Dixie Chicks attempted a two-prong attack appearing on ABC's "Primetime Thursday with Diane Sawyer" and in Entertainment Weekly in a "hail Mary" attempt to save their careers. Time will tell if weepy excuses and the tacky self-exploitation witnessed on the cover of Entertainment Weekly's May 2nd issue (the women appear nude, their bodies covered with a variety of epithets -- both favorable and negative -- that have been tossed their way during the past several weeks) will be enough. The women were quick to point out that the magazine cover was their idea. Entertainment Weekly quotes Maines as saying, "We don't want people to think that we're trying to be provocative." Maines adds. "It's not about the nakedness. It's that the clothes got in the way of the labels. We're not defined by who we are anymore. Other people are doing that for us."

Okay, let me get this straight. This uproar isn't about their original statement; it's about what people are saying about their statement. I understand. But isn't it possible that it's also about a publicist suggesting that if they gave America something else to talk about, like say the women being naked on the cover of a national publication, then perhaps the public would begin to forget about their disrespectful comments and start buying records again. Yes, I think we all understand.

I suspect the former poster children of liberal whining, celebrities Tim Robbins and his life-mate Susan Sarandon are breathing a collective sigh of relief. Both have been outspoken critics of current political policy and it was Robbins that flew to Baghdad to meet with Saddam only a few short weeks before the start of the war. Despite ill-timed travel plans in an opportunistic attempt to embarrass the President, the two have managed to avoid the same negative attention that has rained on other celebrities. As with so many others that have stepped forward, perhaps Robbins and Sarandon's greatest sin is that they just cannot fathom why anyone whose intentions are as pure and noble as theirs should ever be made to pay a price for their words.

At some point, I suspect that many of you reading this commentary will come to the conclusion that I'm just some right-wing zealot grinding my axe on some easy prey. To the contrary, there is a long list of Republicans equally qualified to receive a fair share of the public's wrath too. But I'll remind you, this isn't about politics. This is about social accountability and the willingness to except the responsibility for one's actions. We live in a country that values freedom of speech, as it's our most prize possession, and that is why it is important to remind each of us, actors and musicians alike, that if they feel a need to step forward and have their voices heard, they are welcome.

But ultimately there are several lessons to be learned here. If you are the Dixie Chicks, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon or even that fictional Oscar winner Michael Moore and have somehow managed to survive the hailstorm of public criticism you all so richly deserve, please try to remember these basic points.

First of all, Americans will always rally around their President during times of crisis. You will win no favor by trying to take advantage of a tense situation.

Secondly, if you are loved by America, then it is because of your art, not your politics. America placed you on a pedestal, not a soapbox. Your moment of celebrity, and in most cases it will only be a moment, is not a passport that allows you any greater wisdom or right to opinion than anyone else in this great nation. If anything, you have a greater responsibility to yourself and your fans to just shut up. Whereas your commentary will always ring with the weak-minded, the Hollywood elite and the liberal press, most Americans will find your insistence to try and influence American politics distasteful.

And finally, as the Dixie Chicks can tell you firsthand, being a celebrity means that when it comes to public commentary you are just as accountable and far more vulnerable as any other American. Your ability to make a living is almost completely in the hands of a fickle public. It's not in your best interest to disrespect anyone, much less the President of the United States. If you find that you must open your mouth, then take my advice -- Shut Up and Sing!

Return to DaBelly