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Elton John Attacks ‘Censorship’ in US

BBC – Elton attacks ‘censorship’ in US

Elton John has said stars are scared to speak out against war in Iraq because of “bullying tactics” used by the US government to hinder free speech. “There’s an atmosphere of fear in America right now that is deadly. Everyone is too career-conscious,” he told New York magazine, Interview. Sir Elton said performers could be “frightened by the current administration’s bullying tactics.” The singer likened the current “fear factor” to McCarthyism in the 1950s. “There was a moment about a year ago when you couldn’t say a word about anything in this country for fear of your career being shot down by people saying you are un-American,” he told the magazine.

The singer said things were different in the 1960s. “People like Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, The Beatles and Pete Seeger were constantly writing and talking about what was going on. “That’s not happening now. As of this spring, there have been virtually no anti-war concerts – or anti-war songs that catch on, for that matter,” he said.

Largely because Vietnam had dragged on for years and there was a draft on. It’s harder to muster as much enthusiasm with a volunteer force. Still, it’s not as if pop culture stars aren’t speaking out against the war on a regular basis.

He voiced concern that it appeared acceptable to speak out if you were pro-Bush, using the example of country singer Toby Keith, but not if you were critical of the President, as in the case of country rock band, the Dixie Chicks. “On the one hand, you have someone like Toby Keith, who has come out and been very supportive of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq – which is OK because America is a democracy and Toby Keith is entitled to say what he thinks and feels. “But, on the other hand, the Dixie Chicks got shot down in flames last year for criticising the president. They were treated like they were being un-American, when in fact they have every right to say whatever they want about him because he’s freely elected, and therefore accountable.”

But that’s not a function of government censorship or bullying tactics by the Bush administration but rather that American music consumers, especially country music fans, are exercising their right of free expression. I think Toby Keith is a yahoo, making a mint wrapping himself in the flag and extolling the warrior spirit even though he’s never served. Still, he clearly captured a sentiment that appeals to his core constituency. The Dixie Chicks? Not so much.

Sheryl Crow, whose music appeals to a different demographic, is doing quite fine, so far as I’m aware.

Update (1942): The Telegraph’s editorial board apparently isn’t amused.

Elton John’s witch-hunt

There are many complaints that may be levelled against the current US administration. The institutional persecution of free-thinking artistes is not one of them.

A trio of country singers, the Dixie Chicks, were rude about President Bush last year. Several local radio stations temporarily refused to play their records, and their album sold only six million copies. The comedienne Whoopi Goldberg was deprived of a lucrative sideline endorsing Slim-Fast diet products after making a crass joke punning on the pudendal connotations of the President’s surname. Our sympathies are with both.

But the blacklisting of Communists in 1950s Hollywood – with the institutional support of the studios and the Screen Actors Guild – destroyed careers. To invoke it now is the purest fatuity.

Quite.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Steven says:

    Not to mention that the net effect of the Dixie Chicks brouhaha was a PR boon for them, and their sales went up, not down.

    And I don’t recall the hue and cry when Limbaugh was dropped at the Florida Orange Juice spokemans, because he was considered too controversial.

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  2. 1MaNLan says:

    I think Rush was dropped because of remarks construed as potentially racist regarding black football players, and because of the oxycontin scandal. On those counts I can see where a company would consider him too controversial. Add to that his reprehensible defense of torture as GI’s “blowing off steam” and “having fun” and, well…I wouldn’t want MY orange juice company to be represented by him.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    The orange juice thing happened ten years ago, long before any of those events.

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  4. Dave T says:

    UK Daily Telegraph today (Leader)
    Elton John’s witch-hunt
    (Filed: 17/07/2004)

    First, they came for the Communists, to paraphrase Martin Niemöller, and I didn’t speak up, because I was not a Communist. Then, they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew. Then, they came for the short, stout blokes from Watford with unconvincing wigs and enormous egos, and I did not speak up, because…

    Forgive us for giggling. Sir Elton John, reflecting on the shortage of successful pop songs condemning the invasion of Iraq, tells Interview magazine: “There’s an atmosphere of fear in America right now that is deadly. Everyone is too career-conscious. They’re all too scared… Things have changed. I don’t know if there’s been a time when the fear factor has played such an important role in America since McCarthyism in the 1950s as it does right now.”

    We need to set Sir Elton’s remarks in context. He is speaking out – risking, he seems to suggest, his career – at a time when Michael Moore’s polemical anti-war film Fahrenheit 9/11 is the highest-grossing documentary of all time. He is bravely breaking the wall of silence, at a time when the Left-wing writer Al Franken is basking in the success of a book called Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.

    There are many complaints that may be levelled against the current US administration. The institutional persecution of free-thinking artistes is not one of them.

    A trio of country singers, the Dixie Chicks, were rude about President Bush last year. Several local radio stations temporarily refused to play their records, and their album sold only six million copies. The comedienne Whoopi Goldberg was deprived of a lucrative sideline endorsing Slim-Fast diet products after making a crass joke punning on the pudendal connotations of the President’s surname.
    But the blacklisting of Communists in 1950s Hollywood – with the institutional support of the studios and the Screen Actors Guild – destroyed careers. To invoke it now is the purest fatuity.

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  5. Brian J. says:

    I think the last line is missing from the article:

      Elton John’s comments, made in New York, were quickly suppressed by officials, who detained John for questioning at an undisclosed location.

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  6. Joseph Marshall says:

    No, what has happened to the Dixie Chicks, to Michael Moore, or to Whoopi Goldberg is not “censorship”. It’s something much smaller and more contemptible.

    It’s a purely American deal with a purely American odor of skunk. If you want to see it for what it is, I suggest re-reading Huckleberry Finn, specifically the passage where Colonel Sherburn faces down the lynch mob in daylight and makes it turn tail.

    As Mark Twain, through his robust Southern gentleman, said then, the average man is a coward and a brave man is safe among them, whatever they think, as long as its not dark and they’re not behind him.

    The sad thing about it is the degree to which certain men in important positions of corporate priviledge or political power make it their business to stir up the mean spite of the cowards they lead by the nose to attack celebrities who disagree with them.

    One would think if they were worthy of their stock options or their important office, they would have more important things to do.

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  7. Attila Girl says:

    I work in publishing/media. My husband works in the entertainment business. We’ve both lost jobs because we vote with the GOP.

    Those who complain about this putative suppression of free speech on the left have things neatly inverted: try to make a living in New York, SF, or LA as a conservative, and then come talk to me.

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  8. Joseph Marshall says:

    I must say, Attila Girl, I find what you say to be peculiar. My supervisors over the years in Ohio have never asked how I voted or tried to come into the booth with me to find out. But then I’m a Blue state sort of guy stuck in a Red state (soon to be Blue I hope). I didn’t know that the secret ballot had been abandoned in NY, SF, or LA.

    I do, of course, take the attitude when I’m on the job that I’m paid for my time or my skills and I should be busy using them and not talking politics. So generally my supervisors really don’t know about my politics unless they ask.

    I don’t think I’d call that “censorship” either. I’d call it “work ethic” & “tact”.

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  9. L-Shuffle says:

    Attila girl –

    I don’t believe you. Period. Fox is based in NYC, so is the Wall Street Journal. Murdoch owns the Post and Harper Collins, both based in NYC. ABC radio dominates drive times in NYC. Bloomberg is based in NYC. Bertlesman and Pearson too. And that’s off the top of my head.

    Anything you say here should be taken as fiction, no matter what name you use.

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  10. nepas says:

    yeah, pretty clear attila is playing the blame game. probably easier for a conservative rather a liberal or centrist to get a job in media. double standard everywhere now. check out http://www.mediamatters.org to see how the right controls the flow of information via media.

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