Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Commentary: Linda Ronstadt, Fascist Target

Given Linda Ronstadt’s close family ties to Tucson (her family has been in Tucson for several generations, and Linda lives here with her two adopted children) it is not surprising that over 200 people wrote to the local newspaper about the recent incident at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, in which Linda praised and thanked Michael Moore for what he has done for the political debate in this country. What is surprising are the content of those opinions. Before that though, let’s take a closer look at the incident.

She was dedicating her final song, "Desperado" to Mr. Moore, when some in the crowd got angry; one person apparently threw their drink at a concert poster, and some ripped down Linda’s concert posters as they left the venue. An unspecified number of people requested refunds, whether this was due to Linda’s comments, or because of the disruption of the end of the concert isn’t clear.

Most reports, taken from the AP wire report and apparently based upon the statement of Sarah Gorgon, Aladdin’s spokesperson, say that of an audience of about 4,500 people, perhaps a quarter walked out. Aladdin's PR department now says about half walked out and that Linda was asked to leave "to diffuse the situation." The Guardian, with plenty of time for fact checking, indicates only dozens walked out of an audience of 1,300. There is no clear picture of how much mayhem there really was. Early AP stories are unspecific as to the number of ‘protesters’. I'm inclined to trust the number closest to the event, but also to suspect that the number of walk-out during the performance was much less than is now indicated.

Beyond some boos, Linda says she was not aware that there was any more reaction than is normal for her controversial dedications, and a newscaster in attendance at the concert was not even aware that there was any controversy at all. One would think that a newscaster with a nose for news would have noticed something afoot if there were any major disturbance inside the concert hall. I surmise that there was little commotion inside the hall. It think most of a churlish behavior occurred outside the venue where most were not even aware of it.

Linda had been making these dedications since the beginning of summer when she began her current tour, though she often got adverse reactions from some audience members (she says she consciously chose to make these statements toward the end of a concert because of the disruptions it could cause), she had never experienced such strong repercussions before. That is not to say she wasn’t expecting something like this, however. Before the concert, in an interview with the Las Vegas Review Journal, she said "I keep hoping that if I'm annoying enough to them, they won't hire me back."

According to Linda, the general pattern has been that if there were to be any controversy, the crowd would divide roughly in two and begin arguing amongst themselves, disrupting the concert. This time, however, a particularly fascist faction in the audience decided to make real asses out of themselves, and to make uncomfortable demands on the hotel. My guess is that some Bush supporter(s) who are particularly influential in Vegas made a few threats which outweighed the substantial income Linda was creating for the hotel.

If one carefully examines the news coverage, one see that this incident owes much less to an out-of-control audience, than it does to an over-the-barrel hotel management. I don’t think Linda is crying over this particular cup of spilled milk, though, this has turned into a veritable tanker truck of spilled ink, spreading her message around the world.

What is obvious, to the world, if not to Americans, is that this is another instance of an emerging pattern of economic punishment against high-profile media figures who speak critically of the government, especially Bush. What better way to publicize the consequences of dissent than to target the already famous for their political views? Clearly, the purpose of these reprisals on media figures is not so much to harm the celebrities themselves (the damage done to their economic well-being is trivial, and likely more than compensated by their cause-celebre status on the left) but to very publicly warn the average person of what might happen to him if he fails to keep his mouth shut. Linda’s case seems to be the next step in the oppression. She did not criticize Bush or the Administration, she only spoke favorably of Michael Moore, the right’s current Goldstein.

I called Fred Ronstadt, the Vice-Mayor and Councilman for Ward VI, for comment, but he is out of town on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment on the controversy surrounding his first cousin. I’m sure he’ll have something to say about it when he returns. Unlike Linda, Fred is a very conservative Republican, and his comments should be interesting. I’m sure Fred is kicking himself a little over the State-wide and national notoriety he is missing out on with this story. If he supported the fascists over his cousin, I sure he would score big points in certain circles; the sort of circles that one would want to be known in if one had political ambitions beyond the Naked Pueblo.

Now, it is the citizens of that Pueblo I would like to examine. The opinion letters the Star printed, assuming they are roughly representative of the whole, run strongly toward the view that entertainers should shut their traps, except to perform. Most writers convey some variant of "I paid for a concert; if they want to make a political speech, go to a rally." I find this both disturbing and comforting. Comforting in that it looks very much like many people were working off talking points. I’m quite sure some Republican organization sees this an opportunity. It is disturbing to the extent that I am wrong to take any comfort. What if this many people really think this way?

These people are dead wrong. An entertainer is a person too, and politics does not have ‘appropriate’ social ghettos to which it should be confined. Politics is applied democracy. Should people stop practicing democracy just because they are in a certain social setting? I don’t think so. What these people’s attitude reflects is either a sad disengagement from the democratic process, or simply a convenient cover for a desire to suppress speech they disagree with while retaining some semblance of a respectable cover-story. At least most of them still think they need a cover-story.

One ‘lady’ certainly isn’t hampered by that need. She writes:
I think most movie stars and Ronstadt need to sent out of the United States. France could be good. Especially Michael Moore. They are a disgrace to the public and should keep their mouths shut.
Viva Bolton

This is offensive in so very many ways. How to begin... how about, "Thanks for your honesty, and fuck you, Viva, you fascist pig." That this person is not morbidly embarrassed to express such views in public above her name just chills me. There is no reason that Viva’s opinion should be limited to entertainers. I think she clearly means that anyone who disagrees with her worldview, as dictated to her by the Administration no doubt, should not be considered members of our society, and should be stripped of their citizenship and First Amendment rights. This is clearly rather twisted and ignorant stuff that not many would openly avow or agree with - for now.

However, a view frighteningly akin to this is behind many letters such as this one:
I do not support Ronstadt. I support the casino. I didn’t support the Dixie Chicks. I don’t think that people should be allowed to spout their views at a musical event. If they want to do that, they should go to political conventions.
Leon Weatherly

On the surface it seems only slightly objectionable, and some might even find it reasonable, but the idea that people shouldn’t express their political views at a music concert, or any other commercial venue for that matter, is the thin edge of fascism. Recall that Mussolini did us no favor by obscuring the meaning of fascism with an overly Italianate name: he also called it Corporatism. Any time the economic and social power of corporations are welded to state authority, it can properly be termed fascism.

The government cannot abridge people’s Constitutional rights, but the Constitution does not apply to the actions of private persons, including corporations, except in a very limited set of circumstances, These letter writers all imply or assert a need for performers to be controlled or barred from speaking their minds during performances. Who will do the shutting up? Corporations. These people’s poorly reasoned and unexamined desire to stop the mouth of those who disagree with them hands the censor’s pen to corporations.

The ability to censor is the ability to discriminate based on viewpoint. In the current environment of highly concentrated media and an unhealthy enmeshment of government and corporate interests, those who control the government will have little trouble arranging for corporate interests to use that power to further their political views. Those who hold views similar to these letter writers are, perhaps unwittingly, setting the stage for a fascistic control of public debate.

Whoopi, the Dixie Chicks, and now Linda Ronstadt have all felt the indirect hand of the ruling party grasping for their vocal cords via their relationships with various corporations. The chilling effect of such corporate censorship and its political goals is widespread, and do not even have to be the personal conviction of the corporate officers involved.

Whoopi’s case is exemplary in this regard. Her contract with Slim-Fast was cancelled by a CEO who is not only a Democrat, but a major donor to progressive causes. Yet commercial realities, and his duty to protect the equity of his corporation, left him little choice but to bow to the pressure of those who wanted to see Whoopi sanctioned for her statements about the President.

The persecution of celebrities by corporate interests is a new modus operandi for the American fascists. They are important in their own right, but their real purpose is to chill debate and criticism in our workplaces. Theses high-level autos de fe instruct everyday citizens to fear for their own positions and economic security, and to think twice and look around carefully, before speaking out.


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