Speak Out: How Far Is Too Far When Musicians Talk Politics?

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Imagine this: You go to a concert to see one of your favorite artists. Suddenly, mid-show, he or she starts spewing political rhetoric. You disagree with his or her ideas, so you and many others leave.

Free speech is something we claim to value in this country, but we are biased against opposing viewpoints. Rarely do we show favor towards those who hold a different point of view.

This happens often with artists regarding their fans: Should they speak their political opinions and risk losing their audience? Is the potential backlash worth their right to free speech?

In March 2003, when Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience "we're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas" just before the Iraq war, country music fans were outraged. They held rallies to destroy the band's paraphernalia, and country stations nationwide banned their music. The Chicks also received death threats.

Maines' comments looked even worse because she said them in another country. Some people even thought what she said was treasonous. Perhaps instead of using loaded words like "ashamed," she could have said, "just so you know, we're on the good side with y'all, and we don't want this war in Iraq." It might have have fared better with conservative-leaning country listeners.

Conservative musicians can also use some pretty inflammatory words. Rocker Ted Nugent has repeatedly threatened democratic candidates and President Obama, among others. In one case, he told them to "suck on my machine gun."

As a nation, we have an understandable tendency to gravitate to like-minded people. The same goes for celebrities. Liberals watch MSNBC and CNN. Conservatives watch Fox News and read The National Review.

But if musicians are going to voice their political opinions, they should do so in a tasteful manner. Granted, some people will get offended no matter what, but that's the risk public figures take when they speak their mind.

Recently, Go-Go's lead vocalist Belinda Carlisle tweeted her support of President Obama but didn't call anyone offensive names. Carlisle simply ended her tweet with "GO OBAMA!", making her a perfect example of what a musician should do when talking politics.

B-52's front man Fred Schneider has gone as far as referring to Republicans as "ratpublicans" and "traitors" on his Twitter page. Regardless of a party's actions, it's destructive to refer to the opposing party this way. There are good and bad people in both parties, and Schneider's tweet hurts conservative-leaning B-52's fans.

That's not to say that musicians shouldn't speak out on certain issues. They can talk about whatever they want to, but that doesn't mean fans should always support their stances. Someone's political viewpoint should be based on the facts and his or her own beliefs, not what some pundit or celebrity says.

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