By the time you read this, the media hype will have drifted into oblivion, but it should be noted that for a brief period in late spring and early summer of 2006, the media became obsessed with yet another celebrity, and collectively forced it down America’s throats for about a month.
This time, it was the Dixie Chicks, who were releasing a new album, and had been ordained American heroes by the media for their bravery in opposing the Iraq War. News organizations trumpeted the band, and, if you believed the stories, you would think the country music listening world was waiting with great anticipation for the new CD to drop.
In truth, the “hype” was generated not by fan interest, but by legendary publicist Ken Sunshine, who found the Iraq War angle a winning formula to make the “return” of the Dixie Chicks a media event. Sunshine himself stated that there was a new found respect for the Dixie Chicks because they had the “cojones” to stand against the Iraq War, and President Bush in particular, when it was “unpopular to do so.” On the contrary, there was always a pronounced opposition to the war among some celebrities. “‘Cojones’ is a Yiddish term,” Sunshine proudly announced as he relayed a story about the Chicks’ bravery in the face of death threats. We can forgive Sunshine’s error over the derivation of ‘cojones’ (it’s a Spanish term, not Yiddish by a long shot), but overplaying the death threat card is shameful. There was only one death threat, and in the entertainment industry death threats are very common, and are largely neutered by the security in place in most concert venues.
You could not pick up a magazine or turn on a TV without getting a reminder of the band’s return. Time Magazine featured the Dixie Chicks on their cover. Entertainment news shows like Entertainment Tonight proclaimed their “comeback.” While the media was falling in love with the Dixie Chicks again, country music fans couldn’t care less. At the time of release, at the height of the hype, the new Dixie Chicks album did not make the top 25 Billboard albums. It didn’t even make the top 25 country albums on Billboard’s charts. The best the Dixie Chicks can claim is that their CD hit #1 on Amazon’s sales chart for a few days. Of course, Amazon only accounts for a small percentage of CDs sold.
Rather than reflect the trends set by the buying public, the media attempted to create a false hype by giving the Dixie Chicks an enormous amount of exposure, on just about every morning news show, talk show, and primetime news show. Not only did they create “hype’ that didn’t exist, they made subtle political statements that only widened the divide between the media and the mainstream viewing public. News stories about the Dixie Chicks painted those fans and radio stations who opposed them as intolerant. It seemed it was heroic for the Dixie Chicks to voice their beliefs, but when fans opposed their stance and supported President Bush, and when radio stations chose to exercise their right not to play their music, they were painted as mindless buffoons.
It would appear the secular media is religious after all: they seem to be practicing members of the cult of celebrity. Before the fascination with the Dixie Chicks, there was Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Remember Prince’s “comeback” of a few years ago? Do you know anyone who bought his last CD? When Demi Moore appeared in a small role in Charlie’s Angels 2, it was hailed as her comeback role for weeks, at least until the movie opened. Her bionic body aside, her wooden performance was so bad, it reminded us why we stopped watching her in the first place.
The sickening way entertainment news shows worship celebrities today should not only insult your intelligence, it should make you wonder why more people seem to watch them so loyally. Is it a means of escape? The result of true fandom? Why do we as the viewing public continue to listen to the media if we do not support their “darlings” of the moment? Perhaps the cult of celebrity has gained a few more converts.