It’s entirely possible that the new Barbara Kopple documentary about the Dixie Chicks, Shut up and Sing, would have quietly opened, been seen by a few people but then, just as quietly, disappeared without incident. It would have been possible if the film were being released by any studio but The Weinstein Company.
You remember the name Weinstein, right? – Bob and Harvey, two Hollywood geniuses who turned Oscar campaigning into an art form back in the ‘80s and managed to get one movie a year nominated for Best Picture for a decade? Long after, their innovative company was bought by Disney and then sucked up by Disney, which then spit back out Bob and Harvey, who then launched their brand new studio, The Weinstein Company.
So it is with a grain of salt we must digest the news that networks NBC and CW refused to air the ad for the Dixie Chicks doc. According to both networks, they refused during “talks” which broke down but never resumed. There is some disagreement as to whether or not The Weinstein Company jumped the gun in going to the media to release the news. Both networks have said publicly that they did reject the airing of the spot. NBC said it regularly rejects ads that are that controversial, mainly that deal with the Iraq war or abortion. They also said President Bush hadn’t bought any opposing ads, as is usually the policy with partisan messages.
Harvey Weinstein said in an official statement: “It’s a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America. The idea that anyone should be penalized for criticizing the president is profoundly un-American.”
Turns out, though, whether intentionally or not, The Weinstein Company. got much more publicity for their film than they ever would have otherwise. Shut up and Sing became the top story over the weekend and will likely drum up business for those who are still feeling the burn from the whole Dixie Chicks debacle.
But here’s the thing. The two ways we should be looking at this are equally disturbing. The first is the mislabeling of this as “censorship.” Even blacklisting is a bit extreme. We live in an entitled generation where we grow up believing in equality and fairness. The capitalist system isn’t ruled by fairness but by commerce. If airing the Dixie Chicks is going to make them lose money, the multi-conglomerate Super Media empire can very well decide not to air the ad or play the song or put them on their magazine cover. It has nothing to do with government censorship but everything to do with making money.
Maybe some of us don’t like that about America, but that’s just the way it is. It wasn’t always that way. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, dissent was a welcome part of our media experience. Our comedians could say what they wanted, and we ate it up. Even our late night comedy shows had the courage to say and do things a lot more divisive than what we see today. Like it or not, the scales have tipped in this country towards a more conservative, more religious majority. Media, the giant animal it has now become, cannot be controlled by the left anymore. It’s about ratings, fashion and current taste.
The other important thing to take away from this is that if we turn to television for the majority of our information-gathering, we are sunk. True, we’re talking about advertising on television, not content itself, but it is worth remembering that others are deciding for us what is too controversial for us to see. That is frightening. Not in a big brother kind of way but in a “God, we’re going to get stupid if we keep trusting the idiot box” way.
NBC and CW were only trying to prevent the inevitable protests by the controlling majority. The Weinstein Company was probably hoping the networks would reject their ads so they could create a publicity magnet of controversy. The Dixie Chicks get the needed publicity and the film makes money. Everybody wins. The great thing is, in America we have choices. Who needs NBC or CW when we can watch the Dixie Chicks ad online?