Friday, May 23, 2003

They’re still all riled up: A well-heeled audience booed the Dixie Chicks plenty during the country music’s biggest night of the year Wednesday — proof that patriotism continues to run deep through America.

The girl group was booed every time their name was mentioned during the Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony, broadcast live on CBS from a swank hotel in Las Vegas. The Dixie Chicks were nominated in three categories, but won nothing.

“It was a pretty big negative response. I don’t think it’s over,” host Reba McEntire told reporters afterwards.

It’s yet another scene from an ongoing national morality play with a looming moral: Even celebrities can’t mess with respect for country and national unity.

The play itself is almost 3 months old.

On March 10, just days before the war in Iraq began, Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience, “Just so you’ll know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”

Those 11 words have since haunted the Chicks. They have been boycotted by fans, banned from radio station playlists and included in South Carolina state legislation that called for them to apologize for the remark. One offended group ran over Dixie Chicks CDs with a tractor down in Louisiana.

Miss Maines did issue an apology of sorts, first at the group’s Web site and then during an April 24 interview on ABC in which she said she regretted her “nonchoice” of words, but not her decision to speak her mind.

The entire group posed nude on the April 28 cover of Entertainment Weekly magazine, their limbs printed with mottos such as “Saddam’s angels,” “traitors” and “proud Americans.”

During a performance for the awards show, Miss Maines wore a T-shirt with an acronym that many attendees felt was a coded obscene insult to country superstar Toby Keith, who was nominated for eight awards.

He was named entertainer of the year, based in part on his defiant hit, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” written to honor U.S. troops, the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism.

Mr. Keith recently showed up unannounced in Valley Center, Kan., for the homecoming of Army Pfc. Patrick Miller, who was taken prisoner in Iraq and often sang Mr. Keith’s song to annoy his captors. Star and soldier sang an impromptu duet on the town’s football field before astonished citizens.

Mr. Keith gave his red, white and blue guitar to Pfc. Miller and spent the day with him, just “talking guy stuff,” according to an account in the Wichita Eagle.

Meanwhile, the Dixie Chicks have some high-profile defenders, including Bruce Springsteen and British singer Elvis Costello.

“We all live in fairly dangerous times in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” Mr. Costello told a Los Angeles audience this week. “A lot of the songwriters that I’ve admired and learned from … are people who spoke in matters of conscience as well as matters of the heart. I think that it’s essential that we defend that right.”

Other celebrities have gotten a few boos recently as well.

MCI terminated a spokesman agreement with Danny Glover after the actor signed an ad supporting Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, which ran in Granma, the country’s state-controlled newspaper.

Mr. Glover’s decision was discussed with ferocity on MSNBC, finally prompting the phone giant to announce they “are moving to a new creative which is more closely tied to our new MCI corporate branding campaign in terms of its look and feel.”

Former MSNBC host Phil Donahue was booed at North Carolina State University on Saturday by students demanding that he get off the stage. Some walked out.

Mr. Donahue, who was explaining “what liberals believe” to new graduates, had also told them, “No one in authority should tell you ‘shush,’” later adding, “Take a liberal to lunch. Take a Dixie Chick to lunch.”

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