Consumers Fight Political Stars With Dollars

The list of stars sounding off about politics is growing, but consumers are continuing to talk back with the almighty dollar.

Americans who aren't fans of politics-laced entertainment — the kind served up by the likes of Whoopi Goldberg (search), Linda Ronstadt (search) and the Dixie Chicks (search) — say they're responding the only way they know how: by boycotting, or threatening to boycott, products of celebs who speak out.

Whether they destroy an album, avoid a concert or vow to stop buying a star-endorsed brand, consumers upset with entertainers are making their unhappiness known.

"I definitely would not pay to see an artist that would use the show to share their political influence or beliefs unless I agreed with them," said Ken Thornton, 47, a mechanical designer from Iowa Park, Texas. "It's kind of like a dentist talking politics with his hands in your mouth. You can't talk back to him."

Celebrities like the Dixie Chicks, Ronstadt, Goldberg and Tim Robbins (search) have all felt the sting of consumer backlash after speaking out against the current administration.

Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines (search) caused an uproar shortly before the Iraq war began when she told a London audience she was "ashamed" President Bush was from the group's home state of Texas.

As a result of the comment, some radio stations stopped playing the country trio's music, with one in Kansas City hosting a "chicken toss" party where the group's CDs were destroyed by protesters.

On July 17, Ronstadt praised filmmaker Michael Moore's (search) anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" at a concert in Las Vegas. Some of those in attendance were disgusted by her remarks, and about 100 people reportedly called to request refunds for one of her upcoming shows.

Worry over a potential boycott led the diet aid company Slim-Fast to dump Goldberg as its spokeswoman last month after she made crude puns about Bush's last name at a Democratic fund-raiser.

And last year, Baseball Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey cancelled a 15th anniversary celebration of the movie "Bull Durham" because of anti-war comments made by the film's star, Tim Robbins.

Those in the know say the economic punch of a boycott is generally limited, but vows of a boycott are often enough to affect some companies.

"The fear of boycott seems to have a lot more impact than an actual boycott," said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television. "Actual boycotts tend to fizzle relatively quickly."

But some citizens like Thornton are glad to see outspoken celebs lose their income-generating deals.

"I think it's good that Whoopi Goldberg lost her commercials," Thornton said. He has no problem swearing off a product if he doesn't agree with the celebrity behind it. Though he likes the Dixie Chicks' music and bought the CDs, he threw them away once Maines criticized Bush.

"If they hadn't expressed their beliefs and I didn't know about them, I'd still be listening," he said.

Houston salesman Tony McFarland, 67, went a step further: He broke his Dixie Chicks CDs and said he'd do the same with Ronstadt's if he had any.

"If it's a product I'd really like to buy, it hurts, but … it's about the only thing we can do," McFarland said. "That's the power of the pocketbook, isn't it?"

Some experts doubt the flaps will have a lasting chilling effect on Hollywood.

"You can offend a lot of people in the country and still get a platinum record out of the deal," Thompson said. "Unless you do something absolutely outrageous, these things tend not to be career-breakers."

Of course, sometimes taking a political stand can haunt an entertainer for years. Case-in-point: Jane Fonda (search), whose anti-American antics and support of communism during the Vietnam War caused an ugly firestorm, earned her the nickname "Hanoi Jane" and have dogged her ever since.

But there are plenty of times a brouhaha gives a boost.

"The controversy that comes with these things amounts to getting these people in the public eye in a way they might not have," Thompson said.

Whatever the effects of boycotts or threats of boycotts, many consumers are glad to have the option.

"Even if it doesn't have an impact, it is still empowering that you have a choice on how you spend your money," Thornton said. "When people tell you their views, you can ‘tell' them whether you support them or not."