A Family Feud in Dixie

The BI-LO Center is one of those multi-use public/private buildings that plays host to all things from tractor pulls to minor league hockey games. Its creation on the edge of Greenville, South Carolina’s progressive downtown was seen as a minor coup for the city. It would help build the forward-thinking downtown this city deserved. Greenville, after all, is a progressive oasis in a desert of often closed-minded mindsets.

In a little more than 24 hours, three young women who pop-shot to countryfolkpop stardom will take the BI-LO centers stage. The building will jangle as as oasis all its own. It will be surrounded by people who love their country, love their president, and hate three girls who have chicken feet tattooed on their own.

There’s no need to recount the arguments. Natalie Maines either spoke her mind in a way that didn’t well-serve her interests or she provided comfort to the enemy in a time of war. It has come to a point where it really doesn’t matter anymore.

There’s a lot to write on this subject…the effect of the controversy on a city that doesn’t deserve it (even if the surrounding county does), the concept of the consequences of free speech, and how fantastically attractive Natalie Maines is (that should serve as full disclosure that I’ve been infatuated with her for some time). However, the point of this is how 13 words can cause so much trouble.

The problem is two-fold. First, America goes in cycles where it cares what people say then doesn’t care what people say. We’re currently on a “care” swing. From Trent Lott to Natalie Maines, we don’t have much else going on, so we might as well pounce. After all, we’ve built homes for the homeless, cured AIDS, and put all the criminals in jail. We’re hurting for something to occupy ourselves.

Secondly, if it had been anybody other than Natalie Maines who uttered the 13 words, it wouldn’t have mattered. The infuriated won’t admit it, but the reason is simple. INFURIATED: SHE’S SUPPOSED TO BE ON OUR SIDE.

If the Flaming Lips had gone to Holland and said they were ashamed General Tommy Franks was from Oklahoma, nobody would’ve cared. Two reasons: It’s not because The Flaming Lips aren’t role models for little girls. It’s because The Infuriated don’t expect The Lips to be on their side. They expect The Lips to use Vaseline instead of jelly. They expect The Lips to dress in bunny costumes. But they don’t expect The Lips to be on their side.

Natalie, however–because she’s supposed to be a bumpkin–was supposed to be a flag-waver and she wasn’t. It’s like the little brother in a Vietnam-era household who heads for the nearest Canadian border while his brother grabs an M-16. The family is caught off guard and they don’t know how to handle it. Instead of responding with compassion and concern after the statement that was poorly-conceived and even less-expertly delivered, the rest of the family lashes out.

It doesn’t matter whether I agree with what she said. It doesn’t matter that I think I would’ve curtailed my public comments out of respect for my career and my bandmates careers. What matters is…in the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t really matter. Just like Trent Lott’s off the cuff comments didn’t really matter, neither does this.

Natalie Maines is still a fantastic musician with a voice that makes me melt. The way I see it, if you can watch Martin Sheen in “Wall St.” and Sean Penn in “Colors” and not throw up, the least you can do is cut a young girl some slack.

Because, as I remember it, life contains a bunch of stuff that matters a lot more.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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