THE PUBLICIST: Dixie Chicks and Pearl Jam call for radically different PR tunes

The flap over the Dixie Chicks' anti-Bush statements and Pearl Jam's controversial on-stage roughhousing of Dubya's make-believe head have respective publicists scrambling to spin the story, but each in much different directions. The Chicks' reps have been busy apologizing and clearing up "misunderstandings." They are operating under an emergency state of alert to calm the storm before it sinks the entire operation. People have been smashing the Chicks' records and boycotting their concerts, for goodness sakes. This is serious! Money is being lost.

The flap over the Dixie Chicks' anti-Bush statements and Pearl Jam's controversial on-stage roughhousing of Dubya's make-believe head have respective publicists scrambling to spin the story, but each in much different directions. The Chicks' reps have been busy apologizing and clearing up "misunderstandings." They are operating under an emergency state of alert to calm the storm before it sinks the entire operation. People have been smashing the Chicks' records and boycotting their concerts, for goodness sakes. This is serious! Money is being lost.

Meanwhile, Pearl Jam's organization is in an enviable position to exploit the controversy. "Hell, yeah Eddie [Vedder, the lead singer] did that. And you ain't seen nothing yet!" is their publicity battle cry. He is, after all, a rebellious sort, granted a license - some would say a responsibility - to bash the establishment. It comes with the well-soiled turf. These opposing tactical PR responses to similar actions reflect stark contrasts in the groups' fan bases. The Chicks' country-music following is predominantly from the conservative South, where they fly little American flags on cars and vocally support the war. They take anti-Bush statements personally and seriously - like they do college football. Pearl Jam, on the other hand, has an international fan base, to be sure, but they're primarily concentrated in the urban areas of the West Coast - liberal, tolerant, and chilly. Certainly one can identify the Chicks and Pearl Jam's disparate followings as representative of the US' politically polarized population. Frankly, we tree-hugging, tofu-eating, SUV-driving-but-never-go-off-road Hollywood lefties view the South's reaction to the Dixie Chicks with shock and awe. Southern states rarely get favorable publicity here on the left coast. The refusal of Augusta National to admit women, the lingering support of the Confederate flag, pro wrestling's popularity, and the copious amount of sugar in the iced tea are all dumfounding. And what about this recent marriage of a 14-year-old boy to a 42-year-old woman in Louisiana? But I digress. The point is that in today's climate, stars must be wary of the publicity their views might generate among their core fans. That goes for condiments, too. French's looked totally panicked in its rush to say its mustard has no ties whatsoever to France. Whatever. I prefer ketchup on my freedom fries.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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