In 2003, the Dixie Chicks performed at a concert in London. Right before they sang their beautiful song “Travelin’ Soldier”, Natalie Maines told the English crowd, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
And the U.S. promptly exploded.
I was 12 years old and I remember the fury. The local country radio station (the one I listened to religiously) refused to play any Dixie Chicks songs. There were a bunch of record stores that stopped stocking their CDs, people called them a variety of creative monikers: Saddam’s Angels, Dixie Sluts, Texas Traitors were some of the more creative ones. I remember my father growling that they should “shut up and sing”. He wasn’t the only one to say this.
At the time, I was mad too. How dare they criticize George W. Bush! How could they not see that we were fighting against terrorism, that we were standing up for our country? I was glad that country radio stations were boycotting them and pleased that people were speaking out against them. They were being unpatriotic, which, in my tiny 12-year-old brain, amounted to the worst kind of evil. I felt incredibly righteous when the Dixie Chicks took a hit that they never quite recovered from–which just goes to show what happens when women speak out. (You’ll recall Green Day released an entire album calling Bush an assortment of insults and that BOOSTED their career–though I recognize the genre of rock has a vastly different demographic than country music).
In 2006, the Dixie Chicks responded with the song, “Not Ready to Make Nice”. Everyone knew what this song was about, though country music largely ignored it. I remember listening to it quietly, feeling ashamed of how much I liked it. I couldn’t help it, it was so intensely powerful and poignant–I just tried to ignore the fact that it was a direct response to the controversy. These lyrics haunted me:
“Made my bed and I sleep like a baby, with no regrets and I don’t mind saying, it’s a sad sad story that a mother will teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger/And how in the world can the words that I’ve said, send somebody so over the edge, that they write me a letter/Saying that I better, SHUT UP AND SING or my life will be over?!”
That’s the thing about the “Shut up and sing” shutdown–Natalie and the rest of the Dixie Chicks got death threats from people saying that. Because they didn’t like the Iraq war, because they criticized Bush, that meant they deserved for people to threaten their lives? If people become artists, if people decide to become entertainers–that means they forfeit their right to have an opinion about politics?
Ted Nugent disgusts me for a variety of reasons, like calling black people on MTV “big uneducated greasy black mongrels” , calling Sarah Brady and Janet Reno “dirty whores” because they advocate gun reform, but he has certain unalienable rights to campaign for Trump and support him. I can criticize him and tell him that “Stranglehold” is possibly the saddest blight on classic rock history and that his singing voice sounds like a drugged walrus that had a bad night in Reno–but my opinion of him doesn’t mean he doesn’t get to speak in support for the NRA. Just because I don’t like what he’s saying, doesn’t mean he can’t say it.
So yes. Meryl Streep has every right to use her acceptance speech as a platform to condemn our President-elect’s disgusting bullying of a disabled reporter. She gets to do this. Just like Marlon Brando used his Oscar acceptance to allow Sacheen Littlefeather to advocate for Native American rights. Just like Bruce Springsteen gets to withdraw from playing in North Carolina because of their discriminatory bathroom bill.
Artists and actresses getting political is nothing new. People are not mad because “it wasn’t an appropriate time or place” because there is no appropriate time or place. People are just mad because Meryl Streep reminded them that our President-elect is a raging egomaniac and an intolerable bully. There have been so many things to be disgusted with Trump about–almost so many that we forget. Meryl Streep does not forget and I’m frankly proud to be a fan of hers today.