Last night I watched a very interesting documentary called ‘Shut up and sing‘. It covers the lives of the Dixie Chicks for three years after Natalie Maines publicly criticised the George W. Bush administration for going to war against Iraq.

I was struck by the immense reactions to that one simple statement by members of the public and of the media; the Dixie Chicks went from being adored to being censured and hated, and their (at the time) number one single from “Travelin’ Soldier“, which had peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart quickly slid down the charts as the Chicks were targeted by the right wing group Free Republic; people boycotted their music, refused to buy their albums, and radio stations refused to play their songs.

But this was the least of their worries, as the documentary shows. There were some very real threats made against the Chicks and their families, and they, bemused at first by how quickly it got out of hand, banded together and rebelled against the treatment they were receiving. Free speech is all well and good, their critics were saying, as long as you don’t do it in public.

Movie Poster for 'Shut Up And Sing'.

Movie Poster for ‘Shut Up And Sing’.

The documentary is brilliant, and if you can watch it, you should. You will see real conversations between the Chicks, and you will see how they tried to keep their heads above water and focus on the important things, like their families and their music, but above all else you will see a very real, very powerful relationship between these three amazing women as they weathered a very trying storm.

After I finished watching the documentary, however, I had a thought. When did it become okay to start policing what artists say? ‘Shut up and sing’, is a statement taken from a letter that Natalie received. I’ve seen it leveled at other artists as well. Anne Rice, who is a liberal, often has people on her Facebook page telling her to stay out of the politics and just write. Regina Spektor, also a liberal, was attacked on her own page when she dared to make her thoughts about gun violence and gun ownership known. Regina was also told to ‘shut up and sing’.

Anne Rice at a book signing.

Anne Rice at a book signing.

Regina Spektor playing in concert.

Regina Spektor playing in concert.

So, basically, a lot of people want their favourite artists, musicians, actors, and writers to shut up and paint, shut up and sing, shut up and act, shut up and write. What I don’t understand is why. The reason we, as performers, as writers, as artists, have a voice, is because of our interactions with the world. It’s because of how we are influenced by the things that we see, hear, and experience, and by how we feel about those things, that we in turn influence. If we were to never have any opinions or any thoughts of our own, how could we possibly be the people that we are?

You see, unlike the people who tell other people to ‘shut up and sing’, I don’t think it is possible to separate the person from their work. It is objectionable to tell people to be their work, and nothing else. It is ridiculous to expect it. For instance, every word I write is inextricably linked to me; it is how I line my words up and make them dance that makes them MINE. How, then, is it even remotely practicable to tell me to be nothing BUT my words when my words are born from who I am, from what makes me ME? How hollow an expectation; how impossible!

This, however, is not a post asking people to just agree with other people blindly. By all means, disagree with someone all you like, and let them know that you disagree, if you must, but please, be respectful. Don’t try to shout over other people. Don’t diminish other people so much that they want to give up. Don’t be insulting; instead, choose to be polite. Engage in conversation; you’d be surprised at how much you may actually like someone and respect them, even if you don’t agree with them. But please, don’t ever tell someone else to ‘shut up and sing’.

Besides, it is technically impossible to shut up and sing. I just wanted to put that out there.