Do you hear the people sing?

We went to the Circle Cinema tonight to watch an indie documentary called Shut Up and Sing, about the way a handful of thoughtless reactionaries manipulated country radio (which was all too willing to be manipulated) in an attempt to torpedo the Dixie Chicks’ career after Natalie Maines made a comment that 72 percent of the American population apparently agrees with today.

The Circle is great. It’s an old movie theater that’s undergoing restoration. It has a gorgeous neon marquee out front and an artsy, countercultural vibe that reminds me of U. City’s wonderful Tivoli. It’s a great centerpiece for the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood, which is undergoing a revitalization effort kind of like the one they’re hoping to pull off here in Red Fork.

Regardless of your opinion of the war in Iraq, the current occupant of the White House, or the Dixie Chicks themselves, the film we watched tonight is alarming for one very important reason:

It demonstrates the enormous power of corporate America to control our access to information.

A handful of executives control the music that is played on the radio. In the film, the station owners claim their decision not to air the Chicks’ music was simply financial — they were supposedly being inundated with phone calls from angry listeners threatening to boycott the station if they played the band’s songs — but if you’ll recall, at the time, many of those stations’ DJs went to great lengths to trash the Chicks on-air, and some even went so far as to organize parties at which fans were encouraged to bring their Dixie Chicks CDs to be destroyed, either by burning or (in one notorious example) being backed over with a tractor.

Think about that a minute: Radio stations organized CD-crushing parties. That’s like a library hosting a book burning. The stations claimed they were simply responding to public demand. Nice try, but I don’t buy it. Quietly taking the Chicks off the playlist would have been a response to public demand. Holding a party at which guests were invited to participate in the most offensive form of censorship known to humanity is not responding to public demand. It is pandering to the lowest common denominator in a tasteless attempt to milk free publicity out of another’s misfortune. And I won’t even bother to comment on the subtext involved in taking a tool of the hardworking, resourceful American farmer and using it as the centerpiece of a tasteless display of ignorance and hate, except to note that the phrase “beating plowshares into swords” comes to mind.

In an odd coincidence, I came home from work this evening to find Ron watching a DVD called Independent America. It’s a documentary about a couple who spent 55 days on the road, visiting mom-and-pop businesses and researching the impact of corporations on the American culture and economy. I watched a few minutes of the film with Ron. What I saw was sobering and left me grateful for my experiment of a year ago — in which I spent an entire month shunning big-box stores (and didn’t miss them much) — and eager to turn it from an experiment to a permanent lifestyle choice.

I intend to watch the entire film in the next couple of days and will probably have a full review when I finish.

In the meantime, I’m sitting here listening to KDHX online and enjoying fond memories of afternoons spent in my neon instructor’s shop, listening to Fred Friction’s show above the purr of the blower and the occasional shrieks of the bombarder.

I think maybe I’ll send them a donation in honor of Ron’s birthday in a couple of months.

Emily

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