Monday, August 13, 2007

Young: Look who avails Chicks' controversial film in Waco

Cox News Service
Tuesday, August 07, 2007

WACO, Texas — In the Bible, the vision of a burning bush causes Moses to put down everything he's doing and to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

The charge of which I now speak is not so consuming. Still ...

Though I had earthly chores aplenty, I felt the call to stop everything and open a video rental store in Waco.

The store wouldn't be big. In fact, it would have only one section. Only one film, actually, and one copy of it. Low overhead.

That film: The Dixie Chicks' "Shut Up and Sing."

I was ready to rent it to you and yours.

Because, otherwise you wouldn't be able to rent it in Waco.

I'm not a big Dixie Chicks fan. Never purchased one of their CDs. But on PBS I saw the Chicks perform pieces from their latest album, "Taking the Long Way," and knew why the CD won five Grammy awards. I also knew why it won zero County Music Association Awards.

We all know what this is about: The Chicks' unapologetic opposition to the invasion of Iraq. The tempest that ensued, including radio station boycotts and death threats.

That's what "Shut Up and Sing" is about. The subtitle says, "Freedom of speech is fine, as long as you don't do it in public."

The firestorm started when, with the group performing in London on the eve of the invasion, lead singer Natalie Maines said, "We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas."

You all argue among yourselves about that 'un.

My concern was seeing what all the fuss was about, and without plunking down $19.95 for a DVD.

I kept waiting for "Shut Up and Sing" to pop up on the "new releases" marquee at the video rental I patronize. When I asked, an employee told me that the store had abstained because of the film's controversial theme.

I tried to confirm this assertion with a regional manager. I found that getting ahold of someone who would confirm or deny this assertion was like asking to interview Dick Cheney without Fox News credentials.

So, I started calling a succession of Waco's video stores, mostly chains. No "Shut Up" for rental. Hmmm. I did find two copies for purchase at separate retailers. That's the $19.95 I had no intention of surrendering. What to do?

One problem is that I no longer knew how to contact my friend Jerry. He's the one-time convenience-store employee who supplied for me a copy of Martin Scorcese's "Last Temptation of Christ," in a brown envelope, back in 1988.

That controversial film was stopped at every port in our landlocked city — not shown in theaters; couldn't rent it; couldn't buy it; the cable company blocked it on Showtime.

Three summers ago when Waco theaters weren't showing "Fahrenheit 9/11," I tried to hook Michael Moore up with Jerry so that we in Waco could see what all the fuss was about. Moore liked my idea but took my middle man out of the equation. Sorry, Jerry. He sent the film to peace groups who cued it up in the Crawford High School football stadium parking lot before some 3,000 people.

Now here we are in 2007 with a similar problem, and no Jerry to facilitate. So deeply did I feel about the right of people in our community to decide for themselves on matters like "Shut Up and Sing" that I said to myself, "OK. I'm going into video rental."

I would buy the video for $19.95, and then would rent it to you and yours to recoup my investment.

I'm so happy to tell you I didn't have to do that. I didn't because I made one more call. I should have thought about it first:

The public library.

The Waco-McLennan County Library has a copy of "Shut Up and Sing." It will loan you that copy for free if you have a library card. This means I won't have to rent it to you. That's a relief. I already had enough on my hands leading various tribes out of the wilderness.

I told reference librarian Sean Sutcliffe about my problems renting the video. We speculated that this might be a problem elsewhere in America's heartland. Then he did a computer search for the title in other libraries in the country. Publicly supported beacons of free inquiry popped up on his screen by the hundreds.

What a country.

John Young is Opinion Page editor of the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald.

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