The Dixie Chicks are at it again, and not just by trekking across the country and playing sold-out shows to throngs of supporters in arenas and amphitheaters, but through getting political on our asses with recent imagery used in their shows as a world tour enters its United States leg. You would think (and maybe hope) they would leave well enough alone. But over the weekend the image of the female trio playing in front of a huge backdrop of Donald Trump sporting devil horns and an evil Spock goatee has ripped open scabs, and stirred the country music pot anew. Once again you can’t just have a conversation about the Dixie Chicks’ music and not have it turn into a political ruckus, and at the worst possible time since the United States Presidential election is entering the home stretch and folks are as politically geeked up as ever.
First off, a little context is needed for how the Donald Trump image was used in their presentation. The Dixie Chicks are not playing a 25-song concert set with Donald Trump’s mug altered with devils horns comprising the sole backdrop. The image only appears on the backdrop for a few seconds during the Dixie Chicks’ song “Goodbye Earl,” which is about a woman killing her abusive husband. This is a fact that has been glossed over by many outlets looking to make hay over the contentious image.
During the song, numerous images are displayed on the stage backdrop. It happened to be that a Getty Images photographer was in the right place at the right time to snap the perfect image that has now been shared across the internet thousands of times (and is copyrighted, which is the reason it doesn’t appear here), making it seem like the Dixie Chicks’ new show is nothing more than a political tirade instead of furtively slipping in a playful jab at a polarizing figure that only lasts for a few seconds.
In fairness, apparently other political images have been used on the overseas leg of the tour, showing all of the Republican Presidential nominees in a caricaturist rendition. There are also reports that the Chicks’ altered the other political image recently to include some Democrat Presidential candidates, but so far that image has yet to materialize or find viral legs like the Trump one.
“In a bit of non-partisan commentary, the Dixie Chicks accompanied ‘Ready to Run’ with a political cartoon that not too subtly panned candidates from both sides of the divide as clowns,” says Billboard, “while red, white and blue confetti filled the pavilion.”
So perhaps the Dixie Chicks’ commentary is just as much about the political process as it is zeroing in on any one personality.
But the underlying problem still remains that the Dixie Chicks have personally and purposefully decided to dip their toes once again into the political fray, as opposed to sticking to what people come to their concerts for and what they do best: music. When Natalie Maines made her now notorious comments about President Bush in 2003 that resulted in the biggest blackballing in the history of country music, the comment seemed almost inadvertent, was said in passing, and was unfairly blown out of proportion by overcharged patriots looking to burn a sacred cow to show their loyalty to God and country. It wasn’t the seriousness of what Maines said. It was how it was easy for the Dixie Chicks to become the symbolic poster girls for the anti-Iraq War movement.
It’s not hard to conclude that the Dixie Chicks were treated unfairly, or at least too harshly, but today even asserting this has become a political statement because of the politicization of the Dixie Chicks. The way musical pundits could justify any political concerns about the band and their new tour was to say that politics should have no involvement in music, and the two realms should be isolated. Music is supposed to be for everyone, and regardless of the Dixie Chicks’ political stripes, they were one of the most traditional, and most successful country bands of their time, and their music should be judged on its own merit. The Dixie Chicks wrote their own songs, played their own instruments, and were an important female outfit in country.
But however fleeting the image of Donald Trump is in the presentation, the Dixie Chicks have now opened themselves up to the old tired political arguments that precede and permeate their decidedly non political music. If you go to a concert for Michael Franti, Tom Morello, or even Todd Snider, you know what you’re getting involved in. You know these artists are going to indoctrinate the audience with their political ideologies, and the people who attend these concerts, or listen to the music are prepared for this. In the case of the Dixie Chicks, their music crosses the political divide. That is why it was so polarizing when the anti-Bush comments came to light, while outfits like Green Day could make entire rock operas upon their anti-Bush stance, and skate by with barely any criticism.
The question for the Dixie Chicks is, why? Here well-minded country music fans and critics have been pleading with folks to put their political differences aside and just listen to the music, and for some reason the Chicks’ decide to broach the topic themselves. This has nothing to do with Trump, aside from on the surface. It has to do with mixing politics and music unnecessarily. Obviously Trump supporters aren’t happy with the image, but you can be a staunch anti-Trump person, and still not see the value of using a stenciled-over image of Trump in a musical presentation.
Frankly, the Trump image shows the idiocy of today’s political environment. Has anyone ever changed their political opinions about President Obama just because someone drew him with a Hitler mustache or wearing a turban? No, it’s simply a childish way to vent anger. Flashing an unflattering image of Trump on a screen is not punditry, it’s immature baiting, and arguably unhelpful to your cause. If the Dixie Chicks want to champion certain political issues, that is their prerogative, and protected by the 1st Amendment (even if it offers no protection against public backlash). But their approach here plays right into the hands of their critics, while accomplishing nothing politically. Nobody is questioning the right of the Dixie Chicks to put whatever they want on the backdrop of the stage, but there seems to be little wisdom in giving into their anger with the Trump image.
The divisive, and disrespectful environment in American politics is the reason the two most unpopular candidates are the ones who won the two parties’ respective nominations, including Donald Trump. If the Dixie Chicks want to try and help end the anger and ignorance that pervades the American political system and that gave rise to a candidate like Donald Trump, instead of mocking him, they would use music as an opportunity to unite individuals of different ideologies. With the Trump image and other political images, they’re using their platform to divide individuals even further.
The people who just want to focus on the Dixie Chicks’ music will be the most fulfilled music fans facing this issue. But unfortunately, the Dixie Chicks, by their own hand, have just made that dramatically more difficult to do. And it’s a shame, because country music could use a band like the Dixie Chicks right now.
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