Friday, March 02, 2007

Mr. Robinson Speaks

by Sara

Mr. Robinson was, in fact, our original family blogger. His Mischievous Ramblings actually probably pre-date Orcinus, which is getting back there pretty far in blog years. He doesn't post often, and his readership mostly consists of fellow geeks who really care about arcane computer hacks and techno-toys and software engineering and management issues (oh, and Kipling: Mr R. will Kipple at considerable length if you ask -- and too often, if you don't); and his readership is generally low except for those rare occasions when he gets Slashdotted.

Last night, though, he put up one that I thought belonged here.

Late to the Party

"Forgive. Sounds Good.
Forget. I'm Not Sure I Could."

The experience of the Dixie Chicks says a lot about America. Not only are they a rags-to-riches story in the best country-western music tradition, they're also a great example of "sticking to your guns" in the face of tremendous pressure to change fundamental beliefs.

"I've paid a price, and I'll keep payin' "

Natalie Maines never tried to blame anyone else for the firestorm of criticism that hit the band after her off-the-cuff remark in London. Her partners (Emily Robison and Martie Maguire) never blamed Natalie for their being booted from country radio. The Chicks accepted responsibility for Natalie's remark, clarified their support of the troops (just not of Mr. Bush) and moved on.

In contrast, all of their detractors blamed the Chicks for everything from supporting al-Qaida to how badly the war in Iraq was going. And as the war news worsened, it seems as though the "country right" blamed the girls more and more. Even now, when the dismal results of Bush's policy of preemptive war are obvious, country music can't acknowledge that Natalie was right: George Bush is an embarrassment to the State of Texas and to the United States of America.

Instead, country music is claiming that the Grammys don't represent country music, that the Chicks aren't country anymore, and that the intelligentsia of the left have subverted the awards process.

The contrast is overwhelming. The Chicks accepted responsibility for their actions and worked hard to find themselves another (more tolerant of freethinking) audience. Country music pushed responsibility for failure in Iraq onto the shoulders of three "Chicks" from Texas instead of back onto the slumping shoulders of Mr. Bush.

Natalie was magnanimous at the Grammys when she said "I'm ready to make nice." She was remarkably adult about it, considering that the country right acted like six-year olds throughout the ordeal.

"It's a sad, sad story when a mother will teach her
daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger"

"that they'd write me a letter sayin' I better
shut up and sing or my life will be over"

The eliminationist Right stood up and said that the Chicks should be killed for expressing their opinion about the pResident. The country music establishment backed dollars over free speech, and if country listeners had a tenth of the patriotism they claim to, they'd boycott every company advertising on a radio station that stopped playing the Chicks.

But it's not a surprise that country listeners didn't. Country listeners are overwhelmingly rural and largely Southern. According to [David Hackett Fischer's book] Albion's Seed, the American South (and much of the rural west) was largely settled by the Cavalier and Borderer waves of English immigration. The Cavalier concept of freedom is a bit different from the rest of us. Specifically, freedom is something that depends upon your social class (higher classes have more freedom).

Yeah, that's right. Freedom is not something everybody gets -- it's something of which the lowest classes have a little (at the sufferance of their "betters") and of which the upper classes (the wealthy, members of the legislature, lawyers, etc.) have a great deal.

Kinda puts that whole slavery thing into perspective, doesn't it? Reinforced by the natural xenophobia of the Borderers, the classism of the Cavaliers has descended from the 1600s to the present day south lock, stock, barrel, racism, and "y'all ain't from around heah?"

As women the Chicks are automatically lower on the class order. As economically lower class women (as they all were before they hit big), they're even lower on the class order. As such, their freedom of speech is less important to the country listeners and establishment. And to the Right in general.

"I'm not ready to make nice. I'm not ready to back down.
I'm still mad as hell and I don't have time to go round and round and round."

This song isn't just the Chicks talking about their experience. It's not just a source of strength for everyone who's ever been domestically abused (as part of that group, I find it incredibly powerful). It's not just a liberal anthem, or a Democratic anthem against the war or the Right. It's a small-d democratic anthem reminding us that the south and the Right were both late to the democracy and freedom parties.

If we want to keep those parties going, we have to outnumber the south and the Right, and work hard to bring as many of them as possible to the democracy party.

I've been reading Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America over the past couple weeks, and we've been having some lively discussions around the house about it. Fischer's research illuminates the ways in which the Yankee North and Dixie came to have very different cultural beliefs about freedom, rights, class, power, and tolerance -- some of which have their roots in English history going all the way back to the Middle Ages -- and how those attitudes clashed and blended to create the nation we ultimately became. I'm going to to blog at greater length on the book's premises and their implications for American authoritarianism over the next several days; but the saga of the Chicks is, as Mr. R. notes, yet another shouting match in an ancient and ongoing dialogue.

I can't recall the last time I left the house and got back without hearing Not Ready To Make Nice playing somewhere. And I take it as a good sign. We're due for a liberal anthem -- one that reminds us (every 20 minutes on the radio) that, after all the extremist right has put us all through over the past 25 years, we have well and truly earned the fury we feel. We are nowhere near being ready to make nice, and probably won't be for a long time to come.

Apologies first. Restitution next. And then, perhaps, we'll be ready to discuss forgiveness.

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