Them's Fightin' Words

The Angry AmericanWhat happens when you play a country song backwards?

Your wife comes back, your pickup starts up, your dog comes back to life and you get your job back. Now we can add a couple to the list. The Twin Towers are put back together, there's no reason to go to war, nobody's got a boot up their ass and free speech is alive and well.

Since September 11th, country artists have been cashing in on the fervent patriotism sweeping the country. Alan Jackson was first with "Where Were You? (When the world stopped turning)." Since then, however, the songs have gone from inward soul-searching, to outward support for the Bush Doctrine.

Toby Keith released "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)" shortly after 9-11, at a time when conservative knee-jerk reactions were the norm. But this song just won't die. Keith recently scored three CMT Flame-worthy Awards for the bully-ballad including video of the year, "cocky" video, and best male video.

"The Angry American" helped launch Keith's album "Unleashed" with lyrics like "You'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A. , 'cuz we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way." I hate to say it but he's right. We've been sticking boots in asses for years, but not always for the right reasons.

Keith wrote the song in honor of his father saying, "My dad was a GI...I wanted soldiers to know that any American that supported this song was behind them." This, of course, implies that if you don't support the song, you're not behind the troops. Keith makes the same mistake as the mainstream media, failing to realize one can be anti-war and pro-troops at the same time.

Keith isn't alone. In March, Darryl Worley released "Have You Forgotten?" The song begins, "I hear people saying we don't need this war, I say there's some things worth fighting for." In the chorus, it seems as though Worley is as determined to draw a connection to 9-11 and the current war as the Bush administration. "Have you forgotten how it felt that day to see your homeland under fire and her people blown away... And you say we shouldn't worry 'bout Bin Laden, Have you forgotten?" This is right out of the administration handbook: play on fears of September 11 to justify military action against unrelated, defenseless targets.

At a March 26th concert for the families of service men and women, the president thanked Keith and Worley for "providing their talents in support of our efforts to make the world a more peaceful place." Free from booted asses, I'm sure.

Clint Black is the latest addition to the bandwagon with "Iraq and Roll." Black belts the line, "We can't ignore the devil, he'll keep comin' back for more,"consistent with the "evil-doers" line used by the administration.

Black sings, "You can wave your signs in protest against America taking stands. The stands America's taken are the reason that you can." He's right. Everyone has a right to say or sing what he or she wants. But take a look at how freedom of speech works. In August 2001, Ari Fleischer remarked in response to Bill Maher's remarks on the show Politically Incorrect, "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is."

I'm not saying there's a country-conspiracy to support the war or the administration. These guys obviously feel strongly about their country. What these songs do is contribute to the mob-oriented patriotism we've seen for the past few months. The lyrics imply that "if you're not with us, you're against us."

Patriotism is so popular that to question anything is to seem un-American. Everyone likes to see a waving flag, but no one wants to think about what it means to see one on fire. Patriotism plays easier than dissent. Chanting patriotic slogans that mean nothing, drawing on fears of an attack at home and playing off post-September 11 patriotism not only sells records, it makes it easier for America to rule the world by force. Propaganda at its best.

Speaking what's on your mind works out great for Toby Keith, Darryl Worley and Clint Black, but not so well for Steve Earle or the Dixie Chicks. Natalie Maines speaks her mind and the Chicks' records are pulled off the shelves. So it seems that speech is free as long as it's popular. Maybe Ari's right -- when conservative is cool, you really do have to watch what you say.

Gerard Matthews, 22, is a Political Science major at the University of Central Arkansas.

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