Do I have a dog in this fight?
Scanning the NYT this morning, I spotted this article from Kelefa Sanneh about the Dixie Chicks' new album and its predictable reception from the country music establishment. Now, I should say up front that (like Sanneh, I've gathered from reading him for some time now) I don't listen to a lot of country music. This is true despite the fact that I grew up with it in a lower middle class suburb of Atlanta. Therefore, I'm not sure if the current conflict between the Chicks and country's stars/industry/fans is really any of my business.
If Sanneh can express an opinion, though, I guess I can. First, I like the Dixie Chicks. My wife has several of their albums (including the new one, purchased for full retail price in a departure from our standard practice of buying music used) and plays them occasionally. It was a welcome relief to hear what I considered their genuinely country sound in contrast to the faux-country mall-pop confections of Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and Toby Keith (he recorded a song with Sting, of all people).
Still, none of that matters. What irritates me about Sanneh's article is the implicit assertion that country music fans (read Southerners) can't understand the dimensions of this argument. It starts with Sanneh's claim that "some former fans" thought Maines was insulting Texas in her statement about Bush. I saw no evidence of this when the controversy initially blew up. Everybody knew what she said and what it meant, even "country fans", whom Sanneh seems to think can't understand plain English.
Even as he accuses the Dixie Chicks of conflating "politics and culture" (typical critic-speak for something he doesn't want to describe clearly), Sanneh conflates the country music establishment and industry with its fans, and its fans with the South, who mistakenly believed they were being insulted personally. I remember the public outcry over Maines' comments just before the invasion of Iraq, and everybody knew that the conflict was over her failure to support the president. Sanneh offers no evidence to the contrary, merely assumption.
Sanneh is right that Nashville isn't politically monolithic (although it's a big difference to criticize the president for Katrina-related failings when his ratings are in the toilet than just before a disastrous and immoral, but widely popular, foreign invasion) and neither are country music fans. Those who responded angrily to the Chicks did so because they didn't like what she actually said, not because they misinterpreted Maines' statement as a slap at country fans or Southerners in general.
Now, it does appear that the Dixie Chicks are taking shots at some country fans for their reaction, but again, the ones they are dissing know who they are. To suggest otherwise is condescension. CMT and the country establishment are bound to be driven by what they consider the central tendency in country fans, who are likely to be conservative and Southern, so naturally they'll be hostile. Whether fans will desert them entirely is a different matter.
As someone raised in the South (and a genuine Cracker, having been born in the Cracker State), but with significant ties elsewhere, I get pissed off when I read and hear others from outside fail to acknowledge the heterogeneity and sophistication of Southerners. That said, there are also rednecks (meaning ignorant backward assholes, which you can find everywhere, even though "redneck" can have a positive connotation) in the South, and if the Dixie Chicks want to insult them, I'm all for it. Believe me, I knew a bunch of rednecks growing up, and I hated them.
In conclusion, I just want to stress that Southerners, and country fans in general I'm sure, are quite capable of understanding just who the Dixie Chicks are trying to defy and who they aren't. If they aren't fighting for some of their former fans, as Sanneh suggests, it's probably because they don't want or need them.