Shut Up & Sing is a fine example of the truth behind the First Amendment – you can say what you want, but be prepared for the consequences.
The Dixie Chicks are a three-piece country group – a phenomenon in their native US. Juggling diamond discs (two and counting), babies and international stadium tours, they epitomise the modern American woman, and challenge the stereotypes of their redneck roots.
But in 2003 they committed the ultimate example of show-biz perfidy – the Chicks’ lead-singer, Natalie Maines, proclaimed (unwittingly) to the world via a London audience, "Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas".
This throw-away comment during the burgeoning Iraq conflict proved more costly than the threesome could imagine: words so cataclysmic that the fabric of the band was called into question.
Though simple in remit, Shut Up & Sing is a well-executed documentary that charts the Chicks’ fall from grace – from a Texan DJ’s Dixie Chick ban and public CD crushing, to their return to the American media circus.
But however much it captures the essence of the Chicks’ beliefs, at its core is one major issue which the film never directly addresses. We live in a world obsessed by celebrity, where every ghostwritten biography is an instant best seller, and every interview is a breathless exclusive.
This is a world of stage-managed access and pre-planned controversy, but occasionally a simple truth slips through the safety net of public relations. It’s these ad-libs and public comments that expose the real power of celebrity, but it’s that power that the film fails to explore.
Unplanned and uncensored, for the Dixie Chicks, Maines’ comment had an impact much more telling than any lyrical attack tucked away in the middle of an LP. Yes, they’re musicians, not politicians, but they speak to millions of people in a language they understand, and, what’s more, no one can do anything about it. Nor can you dismiss them lightly.
Much like the Nixon Administration lashed out at John Lennon, George W Bush is visibly flustered by the band’s comments, recognising, no doubt, the extent of the influence the Dixie Chicks have in their home country – if not on policy then at least on hearts and minds.
Their unity, spirit, determination and continued success are testament to the kind of girl power Posh and co. only dreamed of. Directors Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck might have delved deeper into the political implications of Maines’ comments and the power of popular culture, but Shut Up & Sing is a fine example of the truth behind the First Amendment – you can say what you want, but be prepared for the consequences.
More Girl Power than the Spice Girls.
Powerful voices are voices of power.