Tim McGraw and Sandy Hook

Written by Greta Hyland

I remember when Natalie Maines told fans at a concert in England that she was ashamed to be from Texas, referring to being from the same state as then President Bush. I was a hard core republican at the time and found her comment to be annoying, but didn’t think much beyond that until people start driving over her CDs with tractors in protest of her comment.

I chuckled and thought, “There’s a price to pay for the words we speak.” She may have the right to express herself but people had the right to stop buying her albums; and they did. Her career seemed to come to a screeching halt. The Dixie Chicks split up and Natalie was embraced by a more liberal fan base after that.

But she never apologized for her comments. She didn’t compromise. She stood by her comment and took the lumps that came with it. Like her or not, she didn’t cave in to the pressure and cater to her fans despite getting death threats and comments like, “Shut up and sing.”

Apparently we like our celebrities to stay two dimensional people with no opinions, character, or depth beyond what they can provide for us. But funny enough, we lament how shallow our celebrities are and wonder what happened to the men and women who used to be more than their talent, beauty, or allure. And then we annihilate those who try.

The latest addition in the country music world to step out of line is Tim McGraw, another entertainer who dared to take a stand on something in a genre with arguably the highest concentration of right-wing conservatives in the fan base. He dared to take a cautious and mature approach to gun use. He dared to engage in the conversation about guns that has been dominated by two black and white arguments: pro-gun or gun control. Both of which leave no room for debate, for reasonable answers to gun violence, and where the sides are so divided that there is seemingly endless argument and no real solutions.

And what happened? His fans, right-wing gun advocates, threw a fit. Never mind that he was performing a charity concert for the parents and community of Sandy Hook who were the victims of gun violence – you know, the people who lost loved ones to a mentally deranged man with a gun.  

What this asinine response reveals is that these people conveniently ignore the good he is trying to do for fear the benefit concert will embolden gun control advocates. It’s absurd. We live in an ass-backwards, ridiculous time when a man can’t ask for responsible gun use after children have been killed in a school shooting. And furthermore, that we can’t give victims of a heinous crime the sympathy and dignity of listening to them is appalling. I’m certain that losing a child to a school shooter would shake anyone’s stance on gun use and access. If the NRA can ban guns at their conventions, why is it so egregious to call for responsible gun ownership?

Did Tim McGraw cave when his support of families of gun violence caused a major uproar? Nope. He plans on doing the concert. But don’t worry, there is another country star willing to just “shut up and sing.” Billy Currington, who was going to do the benefit concert with McGraw bowed out saying, “I’ve never been one to take on controversial issues – I’m a singer.” How convenient for him. I bet the community of Sand Hook would have liked to avoid the controversial issue they became a part of too. If only it were that simple. 

So there you have it, the celebrity that learned probably from people like Natalie Maines, just to shut up and sing. A celebrity that won’t take a stand, that isn’t admirable, and that quite frankly looks like a coward. But that’s what we want from our celebrities right? Just sing dude, don’t have a conscience, don’t think about anything too controversial, and sure as hell don’t have principles worth standing on; oh, and don’t even think about talking about gun violence because you’re a country singer and country singers are pro-gun.

It is a sad state of affairs when we condemn someone for doing something for survivors of a tragedy like Sandy Hook, when we care more about our guns than the people killed by them. But it’s this mentality that is to blame. While all of these tragedies were perpetrated by mentally ill people and we can easily point our fingers at them, the real culprits in the onslaught of gun violence are second amendment, gun-rights advocates who can’t be reasonable and won’t let any voices that don’t match their own be heard. The real violence is shutting people up, shutting them down, and shaming them into silence for having a different voice.

But having a conscience and standing for something comes with a price. It’s often bad business for celebrities. Sometimes principles and business do not go hand-in-hand. Sometimes you have to choose which is more important. If Natalie Maines had been more concerned with her business, she would have apologized for her comment and retracted it. Obviously her principles mattered more. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that business means more to Bill Currington than taking a stand on something – and staying out of the fray on gun violence is a smart business move; but it doesn’t speak much to his conviction or character.

I am sure Tim McGraw will pay a price for taking this stand, but I bet he will also earn some respect as well. I don’t know for sure, but I think he owns guns (and uses them), and I know he has children. The things he said are common sense. And the fact that he is willing to do a benefit concert for people who have been devastated by tragedy shows that he is an empathetic and caring human being. 

I, for one, am glad that there are still celebrities willing to take a stand and come out of the two-dimensional world we box them in, who can show that there is more substance to them than the glitz and glam of Hollywood. Tim McGraw has earned some points in my book for having a backbone, a conscience, and the stamina to keep his word not only to the people he is trying to help, but to himself. Because at the end of the day, if you can’t look yourself in the eye, what does it say about how you look at others?

Greta Hyland has a Masters degree in Environmental Policy & Management and has worked for the BLM and the NPS as well as for non-profit organizations. She is a regular contributor to the Utah Adventure Journal and is the Copy Editor at the Independent. She writes regularly on her blog about environmental policy issues affecting the southwest, as well as personal narratives about outdoor recreation and simple living. Her blog can be found at www.thesouthwestjournal.wordpress.com  A Utah native, Greta is a consummate desert rat and loves exploring the southwest. She can be reached at [email protected]