“So now the fascists want to remove ‘Dixie’ from the Dixie Chicks,” ranted blowhard Bill O’Reilly via Twitter.
It speaks to just how debased the American right has become that O’Reilly is still a thing. You may recall that he was hustled out of Fox News, where he’d been the network’s number one star, in the wake of a torrent of bad publicity generated by multiple sexual harassment lawsuits.
The renamed Chicks didn’t seem minded to listen, understandably enough given O’Reilly once declared that they should be “slapped around” for their public criticism of George W Bush in London on the eve of the Iraq War.
“We want to meet this moment,” they said on their website, before dropping March March, an overtly political tune featuring images from protests over women’s rights, gay rights, environmental rights and, of course, Black Lives Matter.
The video really should have carried a warning. Conservative Snowflake Advisory: This song may trigger you.
This, too, just as they were making a tentative return to conservative country radio, from which they had been banished since those Bush comments. Their first inroads were made on the coat-tails of Taylor Swift (she still gets airplay despite her recent political statements and departure for the richer pastures of pop). But more recently their single Gaslighter, a more trad country fable about a bad boyfriend/husband, has been heard on some stations.
March March would have been jarring performed by the Dixie Chicks, given the association of “Dixie” with a sanitised view of the slavery-era South.
Let’s be honest, the old name had been jarring for a while.
But it isn’t just country prodigals like the Chicks, who cannily first sought the permission of the original Chicks, a duo from New Zealand active in the 1960s (they were a little taken aback at first but described it as “an awesome wonderful decision”).
The more solidly mainstream Lady Antebellum now ply their trade as Lady A because of the latter part of their old moniker’s association with a romanticised view of the pre-civil war South.
That one didn’t go so smoothly given there is a black blues singer in Seattle who’s been using the name for years. Anita Hill was understandably less than impressed with its appropriation, as no one asked her first. Giant white country artist takes name of much smaller black singer. Not a good look.
Peace seems to have been restored with both now talking about “co-existence” but others contemplating a similar step take note: There’s this thing called Google. And it owns this thing called YouTube.
All this is bad news for the Republican Party. At this rate it’s going to be left with Ted Nugent, Kid Rock and a bunch of people no one’s heard of because they’re just not very good.
The timing speaks volumes. That a solidly mainstream country artist like Lady, erm, A, is doing this now – while other monuments glorifying an era of slavery are being torn down - signifies that maybe, just maybe, this time it really is different, and the recent protests will lead to progress in race relations. (I’m good with this)
It bears repeating that the changing of these bands’ names has nothing to do with denying “heritage”, as commentators like O'Reilly might suggest. Ditto the removal of offensive statues glorifying slave owners.
It is rather about the reconstruction of an historical truth: There was a great evil at the heart of the slavery era South and its tendrils have for too long been allowed to extend into today, to the extent that they are literally stopping African Americans from breathing.
It’s notable that the MAGA-hatted defenders of slavery-era totems are frequently accompanied by actual fascists, as opposed to those who O'Reilly would accuse of being so (so anyone to the left of Joe Biden). Indeed, many feel the word “fascist” is an appropriate description for an authoritarian President Trump, who recently tweeted a supporter bellowing “white power” (since removed) and had previously claimed there were “good people” among the self-declared fascists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It would be to the South’s benefit if this time it is different and the rednecks are in retreat.
The modern South has more to offer than racism, reactionary politics and fundamentalist religion.
It has food (fattening and not terribly healthy but it tastes great), it has football (the American kind), it has world class hospitality wherever you go. If only its white part would extend that to its black part.
It also has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to world class music from multiple genres. I’m not here talking about stuff that’s bland enough not to offend mainstream country radio.
That’s the sort of heritage it could stand to show off if it could just come to terms with its history.