SXSW Panel: Artists & Homeland Security
By Richard Whittaker, 9:17PM, Sat. Mar. 15
Cognitive dissonance is a terrible affliction, especially this deep into a festival. So after a SXSW that saw Julian Assange and Edward Snowden Skyping in to talk about freedom, it was a 540 spin when Homeland Security Committee Chair Mike McCaul turned up to talk music.
When McCaul talked artist immigration, there were a lot of nodding heads. After all, a performer visa can take up to six months to go through, so McCaul has sponsored a bill that would provide an expedited process. If the application isn’t processed in that first 14 days, it must be pushed through in the next 15.
Then there’s the cap on performer visas, which McCaul equated to the damage of the cap on HB2 technical and engineering visas. It’s not really just about music appreciation. When a foreign band has a good time in America, he said, "They become ambassadors for the U.S."
When the conversation turned from practicals to policy, there was queasy tension in the air. Such as Lady Gaga’s refusal to play in Russia because of institutionalized homophobia.
"No matter were you stand on the issue, it was a protest against oppression," stated McCaul.
That opening qualifier, about standing on the issue, was awkward coming from a Texas Republican with an abysmal record on those same gay rights issues in the U.S. Or take another issue McCaul raised: Saudi Arabia. Wouldn’t it be great, he mused, if an artist wrote a song about how women are not allowed to drive?
Yet, as McCaul noted, music is “soft power” and “drum strikes are not going to kill an ideology.” Wouldn’t it be far more effective, Mr. Chairman, if Congress made those statements instead?