God and Country Music: The Politics of The Dixie Chicks & American Christianity
Each week in God and Country Music, Nick Rynerson gives country music a chance and examines the world of Americana, folk, alt-country, and popular country music.
Personally, I try to stay out of politics. I’m not registered to vote, I do not watch the news during election years and when people start talking politics with me, my favorite thing is to throw them a red herring (example, a few weeks ago I had a woman completely convinced that I was a fascist … it was great). But American culture is a political landmine, ready to go off whenever tripped. The news networks have long been turning shootings, disasters, events and even sports into platforms for heated, comically trivial political arguments.
The world of popular country music is no different, except it may be even more brutal. Underlying the world of Nashville country music is a sleeping giant of American political “culture-war” conservatism. Which is fine. Realistically, this conservatism does in fact represent a large majority of the American population. Many of the subjects commonly talked about in country songs such as patriotism, rural life, family and religion originate in American conservative values. But the problem occurs when disagreement comes along. For example, when most people think of the Dixie Chicks they don’t first think of a lovely country group with a host of charming and well written songs. Instead they think about that… remember?
There was an eruption within the Country Music world that was beyond comprehension to folks like me. The Dixie Chicks were literally blacklisted, McCarthy style, from almost every country radio station in the country. All for making a political statement counter to the “Country Music standard”. It did not make the Dixie Chicks “less country” or less talented but by the reaction of the American public, one would certainly think so. And it was all over something completely unrelated to their music, it’s not like they are singing a bunch of Dylan-style protest songs…
Within this reaction to the Dixie Chicks and subsequent events, I see a very deep and important national flaw that should not be overlooked: the inability to dialogue well. Dialogue in the public area is so often reduced to cliché rhetoric (things like comparing political opponents to nazis). This goes back a long time in American history to the common school movement, where disagreements in theology and politics were smoothed over in an attempt to bring people together but ended up superficially burying issues that would erupt in divisiveness and anger later on.
Nashville country music over the years has picked up some political baggage in its underbelly and remains a politically shaped entity to a degree. American evangelical Christianity has picked up some similar cultural and political tendencies, making goings-on in the country music world important to understand for the American Christian. Evangelicalism in America has attached to much of it a fiscal, moral and political conservatism that often gets directly glued to orthodox theology and has a tendency to be seen as just as important (not to mention the ethnocentrism that underling much of the American church that also often gets confused with conservative theology). I have had plenty of conversations about politics with well-meaning fellow Christians where my lack of political affiliation and my skepticism towards the policies of Ronald Regan were seen as lack of spiritual maturity. It is so important for Christians to work through the relationship between politics and faith because if we do not, we run the risk of doing to the gospel what the Judiazers did 2000 years ago. It does not matter a lick what cause, party, legalism, or idea we do this with and it has disastrous consequences.
Regardless of political beliefs, we need to discuss, dialogue and ask questions instead of blacklisting. If we are to live in a politically polarized world we must 1.) remember the transcendence and importance of our Savior above all politics and 2.) have a sense of humor. If anything can be learned from the Dixie Chicks disaster it is that politics can bring war. And only Jesus brings lasting peace from the war of American politics. And through the security found in Jesus can politics be engaged in both boldness and graciousness because, eternally, there is nothing at stake. This great gospel also frees you up to convince people you are a fascist for a few laughs if you want (maybe, that last point is debateable).
While there is somewhat of a “marriage” between Nashville and conservative politics/values, the fact remains that the Dixie Chicks sank the Dixie Chicks. Right or wrong, Natalie Maines’ remark was an insult to the very people who had helped make her and her band rich and famous. You NEVER bite the hand that feeds you. They did and arguably got what they deserved.
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