Meaningful Distinction:

Patrick S. Lasswell Look outward for something to accomplish, not inward for something to despise.
pslblog at gmail dot com
Friday, May 23, 2003
First Amendment and Product Placement

I like traditional Chilean music, the type that was banned from public performance during the Pinochet administration. In the 1970s, the Chilean band Illapu wanted to put on a concert of classical music played with traditional Mapuche tribal instruments and were prohibited from doing so by the Pinochet government. The band Inti Illimani was forced into exile by the simple expedient of refusing to readmit them into the country in 1973 after a European tour. That is suppression of free expression in music. That is a clear violation of the principles of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution that we hold dear. In fact, although the US supported the Pinochet administration, we welcomed exiled Chilean Folk bands into our country where they toured for many years of exile. Nobody in the US tried to lock up the Dixie Chicks, we did not refuse to readmit them into the country, and we did not prevent them from playing concerts.

For referance, this summer, the Dave Matthews Band will go on tour and will sell out arena venues, although if they go around spewing garbage about a popular president and a popular war, they may not sell out everywhere. Despite their strong differences with the current administration, they will play Home Depot Center and Coors Amphitheatre. This is not a matter of censorship, this is about product placement.

The First Amendment is a promise of freedom of speech, not a guarantee of popularity or entertainment industry sales. Say what you want, but if you are in the commercial arena you should be prepared to accept the financial consequences for doing so. I did not forfeit many of my rights while in the military to ensure that the entertainment industry would stay profitable regardless of what their idiot stars have to say. Defend the free world, yes; deliver fat bonus checks to record executives with mouthy singers, no.

This week, mouthpieces of the record industry decided it was time to start revising history. Rap and Rock Confidential published a concert report on the Dixie Chicks performance in South Carolina stating that the GOP was actively conspiring a boycott of their concerts and placing responsibility for the furor of the reaction against that group on the heads of the Republican Party. One of their quotes was courtesy of a former record industry executive. I suppose that music industry rags must accept the words of record industry executives as newsworthy; but no serious person should ever accept the class of person who brought us Milli Vanilli as source of factual information.

To the people in the record industry, South Carolina is slightly more distant and less relevant than geosynchronous orbit. It is neither LA nor NYC, so it doesn't matter. The notion that anybody in SC would deny this is a matter of transcendent unconcern to them. They think South Carolinians are all a bunch of ignorant hicks from flyover country. I'm not just saying this because I don't like arrogant Californians, New Yorkers, and entertainment industry types; although that is part of it.

On the other hand, why would somebody from the SC GOP headquarters _NOT_ want to organize a boycott of a product that was offensive to them? Why would it be bad for them to use their phone lines to do so? Why should their First Amendment rights to assemble peaceably be impeded because they espouse a conservative political view? Looked at it this way, the report is a more offensive assault on First Amendment rights than the original reaction to the Dixie Chicks product. A boycott of commercial products must be viewed as a peaceable assembly and therefore a protected activity under the auspices of the First Amendment. If the Republicans think they can gain political capital by boycotting the Dixie Chicks, that is a legitimate form of political organizing. Who knows, maybe it will result in tort reform and a real tax cut somewhere down the line.

As to accusations that the Republicans were using public funds and phone lines to organize a boycott, if dime one of tax money enters into the coffers of a political party, everybody associated with the transaction should go to jail. But the GOP and the Democratic Party are not directly supported by tax dollars. Political donations are not tax dollars. This is not quite as true in Illinois as it might be, but most other places this is mostly adhered to.

The way that tax dollars go to political flunkies is through a process called patronage where the politically faithful are employed in appointed positions. Nothing in the world is going to stop this. If people are calling from state offices and organizing a boycott, they are absolutely liable for incarceration for using public funds to support political activities. Al Gore got busted for this because he used a VP cell phone instead of Democratic Party cell phone to solicit donations in the 1996 election. As for turning the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House into Motel 6, that was another gross violation of the last administration. However, even that horrible article did not go so far as to accuse the Bush administration of organizing the boycott using government phone lines. The claim was that GOP phones were used to boycott an offensive product. This is equivalent to asserting that a political party was guilty of engaging in political activity using political funds. Next on Geraldo, businesses using advertising dollars to solicit sales!

Now if aides were accepting phone calls from constituents who had questions about a boycott, the subject starts gaining shades of grey. Without a letter actively organizing a boycott written on congressional letterhead signed by a congressman or some similar smoking gun, we do not have a vast and insidious Republican conspiracy. What we have is record industry flacks whining loudly to protect their profits. Now if the music industry was compelled to operate with even a fraction of the transparency of current politicians, it would be very interesting.

You see that is the hilarious irony of this situation. The music industry is beating its breast and tearing its hair out over the free speech of a group of people under a contract as similar to indentured servitude as to be indistinguishable. If we were serious about freedom of expression, record contracts would be transparently understandable and mutually revocable. Recording artists would be free to release material of their own choosing and ignore the dictates of their A&R men. I suppose that something could be said about the lingering freedoms of the most enslaved Americans, but that is mostly garbage.

The Dixie Chicks have consistently acted to make themselves more marketable, up to and including posing nude. The Dixie Chicks made a conscious decision to endear themselves to a particular concert audience and got caught being gauche on a matter of politics. This reduced the market value of their product because it alienated their primary customers. This is not about free speech, this is about product placement. Of course, appearing nude on the cover of a national entertainment magazine did quite a bit to recover the value of that product. Describing that behavior as a blow for liberty is a bit just not credible airbrushing of reality.
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