Today, it seems like political scandals have become commonplace, and media and entertainment personalities have no qualms about speaking out against the problematic and harmful decisions being made by our current administration. Oprah, Beyoncé, Meryl Streep, and so many others have come forward to denounce Trump and his policies, and the Women’s March saw an outpouring of celebs participating in the protests. However, it’s easy to forget that at one point, critiquing the office of the President in this way was far less common and could have landed you in a bit of trouble.
Back in 2003, when country music group the Dixie Chicks were at the height of their fame, they suddenly found themselves in some hot water after making comments against then President Bush’s policies in Iraq. The Dixie Chicks were performing in London for their Top of the World tour, during which time everyone was talking about a possible United States invasion into Iraq. At one point during the concert, lead singer Natalie Maines began to speak, saying, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
Little did they know at the time that those two sentences would lead to the biggest scandal of their careers. Before long, artists and fans alike were voicing their thoughts about the Dixie Chicks, and the band began to see some serious consequences for those remarks. Country stations pulled the Dixie Chicks from their music lineups as a result of listeners calling in to criticize the band for their “unpatriotic” sentiments. According to a 2003 article on CNN, “One station in Kansas City, Missouri held a Dixie ‘chicken toss’ party … where Chick critics were encouraged to dump the group’s tapes, CDs and concert tickets into trash cans.”
As outrageous as the Dixie Chicks' career-pausing criticism of George Bush seems, the story is not so different from some of the craziness happening today. Even though celebrities and media personalities are much more political and outspoken than they have been in the past, they can still face backlash for their comments. Remember, for instance, the Sean Hannity, Roy Moore, Keurig fiasco back in November? For those that are unaware, the coffee maker company Keurig announced that it had pulled its advertisements from Hannity’s show after he “defended Moore against allegations that he initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32 years old and that he dated other high school-age girls in his 30s.” As a result, the hashtag #BoycottKeurig began trending on Twitter, and Hannity supporters started destroying their Keurig machines. At one point, videos of people throwing Keurigs out the window began to circulate.
In this instance, both Hannity and, arguably, Keurig faced consequences, though one could also say that destroying coffee machines that you’ve already paid for in support of an accused child molester is hurting no one but the disgruntled consumer. Kuerig, after all, had already collected its profit.
This is not the only instance of people facing consequences for what they’ve publicly said. Alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos came under fire recently when it was found that he made comments that “seemed to condone sex between men and boys.” As a result, Simon & Schuster cancelled his book deal, and he argued that his free speech was being infringed upon.
What Yiannopoulos failed to understand, though, is that while we live in a country where free speech is protected, there are always consequences to that speech. People like Sean Hannity and Milo Yiannopoulos are free to say what they want, but in the end, the people and the market can respond in any way that they like. Keurig didn’t want to be associated with someone who would defend an accused child molester, and Simon & Schuster didn’t want to be associated with someone who “seemed to condone” pedophilia (and let’s not forget Yiannopoulos’s casual racism and homophobia on top of that). These companies risked losing money as a result of the media personalities’ controversial statements, and so they did what they thought was best for them financially.
Thinking back on the Dixie Chicks’ case today, the response seems extreme. Their careers plummeted after the comments critiquing Bush and his policies. However, radio stations were simply responding to the outcries of their listeners in order to keep those listeners and essentially stay in business. And so, looking back 15 years at the Dixie Chicks' career-pausing criticism of George Bush, alongside recent political events, it seems that free speech, ironically, comes at a price.