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The Dixie Chicks and 15 words

Country Standard Time Editorial, May 2003

To say the Dixie Chicks have been the center of one of the greatest controversies in recent years in country is an understatement. The 15 words from the mouth of lead singer Natalie Maines at London concert in March, "Just so you know, I'm ashamed the president of the U.S. is from Texas," have resulted in the Chicks being on the hot seat with such actions as stations refusing to play their music and CDs being destroyed in Louisiana.

The Chicks gave confusing comments in the wake of the initial Maines comments, at least according to stories in the press. Did Maines mean to say it, or did it just pop out of her mouth?

The initial problem is that Maines did not show a whole lot of insight into what had been the subject of debate in the U.S. - whether to go after Saddam Hussein or not? No one could disagree that Hussein was a despot, who killed thousands of Iraq's citizens under horrendous conditions. Sure it was great to get rid of him and his cronies, but was it justified at this time? That's a matter of divergent opinion (at least prior to the start of combat).

Where Maines must be faulted is for her flip comment. Frankly, chances were extremely high that Hussein never heard of the Chicks, much less paid attention to the comments. He probably had better things to do.

If Maines truly wanted to engage in a dialogue about how she felt about the country's involvement in Iraq, that was fair game. President Bush himself certainly did not disagree with the right of citizens to oppose his actions. But taking a cheap shot, an easy one at that, doesn't take a whole lot of guts. Nor did it advance the debate either.

What the action did do is force the Chicks to engage in a meaningful discussion. They did apologize for the comments. They also may have felt they had little choice given the negativity surrounding the original statement.

They also didnot shy away from detailing their beliefs. That is fair, and every single American has the clear, absolute right to do so whether supportive of the military actions or not. It should be noted the Chicks expressly said they backed the troops. But there is a bit of a gnawing feeling about the Chicks as well. The cover of Entertainment Weekly shows the trio nude with words like "Dixie sluts" and "Saddam's Angels" on their bodies.

Once again, it seems to cheapen their views and message. Obviously, they are three attractive women who at least to some extent are playing the sexual card. Too bad.

Now as for radio stations not playing their songs, that smacks of censorship. Heck, the Chicks' "Travelin' Soldier," about a soldier coming home in a pine box, is one of the best songs out there in months. That song spoke far more loudly than Maines' ill-chosen 15 words.

This is not a country where people with opposing views shouldn't be given a right to speak out. Nor should music stations refuse to play the music of one of country's most popular and musically interesting acts in a long time. But the Chicks did not do themselves any favors either.