Separating Art from the Artist: Drawing Lines When Your Favorite Fucks Up
While not intrinsically linked to metal, the Louis C.K. allegations and subsequent self-aggrandizing bullshit apology have affected a lot of people, including many who’ve easily drawn the parallels between disavowing the comedian’s work and how we’re often faced with doing the same to metal musicians we know and love who’ve perpetrated similar crimes. While the shock I’m seeing is exhausting (we’ve been telling you this shit about men for… ever), I understand that even many well-meaning folks might not know where to draw the line between art and the artist.
Now, being a sensitive SJW and all, I’d like to put a trigger warning on this for anyone who is easily upset by people not applauding them for saying “but the riffs, man!” The same goes for any frequent readers who might be upset by a woman being paid to write for a site on which they spend several hours a day commenting for free, and any man who’s been asked to reconsider his Dissection tattoo or his use of the tired-ass Reichsadler for a band logo. I have sensitivity for you guys, too, and I certainly don’t want anyone having a panic attack because they feel personally victimized by call-out culture or like, being asked to be decent.
We all have a band or two in our repertoire who’ve proven themselves to be less-than-respectable, so I’m not here to get on a morally narcissistic high horse and chide you for being un-woke — it’s the task of consuming thoughtfully with which I challenge. After all, Filosofem was my first favorite black metal album, too.
So, some things I’ve heard recently, from metal and mainstream friends alike:
“Man, I know this is kind of sketchy but it CHANGED MY LIFE!”
“I’m so shocked! I can’t believe someone I love so much could be so scummy.”
“Where do I draw the line? Can I still watch his TV show or does that make me a bad person?”
“This is turning into a witch hunt! When will it end? He didn’t do anything THAT bad.”
Frankly, I’m fucking tired of all these statements. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the problem is not only widespread now, it HAS been forever, but people love to pretend like they have no idea despite women and trans/nobinary folx speaking out on these abuses for years and years. This is a deep-seated facet of an insidious culture that has allowed the status quo to become increasingly toxic and powerful throughout history, particularly in America. For the hopeful, these are growing pains, a rough patch in history on our way to becoming a more progressive society. For many of us who have abandoned that hope, it is emblematic of our personal experiences and the only retribution in sight is knowing some good people will see the light and stop supporting the worst of the trash. So — how do we do that?
This. Is. CRUCIAL. For those not familiar with this term, it means literally what it looks like: if your first question when you heard about the Louis C.K. exposé or the Decapitated case is “Oh my god, how can I justify my love for this??” (p.s. I was previously a fan of both), then you’ve already shifted the focus away from the victim in a selfish way, and you probably didn’t even realize it! I’ve done this before, and I was lucky enough to have someone point it out when I made a crime about me and my emotions so I’m trying to pass on that thought process.
The truth is the crime has nothing to do with you, but if you possess the basic principles of empathy surely you can see why you should be putting yourself in the victim’s shoes. If you were the victim of a crime, would you want people to continue to throw money at your attacker because “man, they just make good music”? If the answer is no, congratulations — you’re seeing it from the majority of victims’ point of view. If not, fine! You’re probably not going to be disowned by your friends, but you are passively participating in the continued success of someone who maybe hurt people and got away with it.
There’s something we do to victims — generally women/non-dudes — where we expect them to be the Perfect Victim. Similar to victim-shaming (“Did you see what she was wearing? She was asking for it”), we seek out any reason to discredit the victim’s story. This is especially true when we’re hearing stories about our favorite artists, because becoming attached to someone for work they make that deeply affects you is important! Relating to a song or album can be life-changing, and disavowing that art when you realize it was made by a monster can be excruciating.
You’ll look for subtle signs the accuser is lying, like “Who is this girl anyway? Does she drink a lot? Is she trying to promote her own art right now and using this for attention?”
Stop it. People almost NEVER come forward with sexual assault for many reasons which you’ve heard over and over, I’m sure. It’s humiliating. It can ruin your career, your reputation, your personal relationships, and your credibility if you step forward and nothing comes of it. This doesn’t even factor in the reality of harassment by angry fans who don’t want to hear awful stories about their heroes. And let’s not forget the psychological stress of seeing your story discredited by strangers!
Nobody is getting rich or popular for being a person who got raped, so stop assuming coming forward is beneficial to the victim.
Think Crucially About the Apology
…or lack thereof. Louis C.K.’s apology hit a lot of the points that make it appear almost-believable on the surface, but he never actually says “sorry” and is self-congratulatory throughout. That contrasts starkly with Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey’s rambling string of sorries that takes full ownership of what he’s done. But considering how long this went on and that it didn’t end until these men got caught, are they truly sorry for what they did or simply sorry they got caught? My personal view falls toward the latter, but that’s going to be a decision you make for yourself based on your own level of faith and trust. If the statement includes a flat-out denial, is defensive, or in any way smears the victim, think twice before you automatically accept it as truth.
Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is
Musicians and artists get shafted all the fucking time. The creative industry (especially stateside) is not particularly lucrative, but women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ artists are still getting the short end of the stick. Subcultures tend to mimic mainstream culture despite vocal protest of doing such. None of us can escape the socialization with which we were raised, but if it comes down to a choice between giving $40 to a touring band actively harboring a rapist or sketchy racist asshole versus $15 for local show in your hometown with a lineup of solid folks… well.
And not just solid folks — consider buying an extra patch or sticker from the “girl” band or actively seeking out more diverse music in your day-to-day life. No one is asking you to disavow your new favorite death metal act because they’re all straight white dudes; buy their shit, too! But understand that, when viewing the opportunity ladder, those dudes are starting a couple of rungs up by grace of birth alone.
What to do if you HAVE given money to sketchy people and are feeling kind of shitty about it? While I think guilt is overrated and does little for progress in society, amends are sometimes in order. I once spent a hefty chunk of change on an R. Kelly show some years ago before fully reading into the horrendous shit he’s done to young black women and felt remorse once I educated myself. While I can’t take it back, I can make an effort to donate what I can to applicable charities that support causes like the empowerment and protection of black women (“The most disrespected person in America,” as Malcom X once accurately said). If you’ve supported shitty bands in the past and then felt like you could have done better, maybe look into giving $10 to, say, a women’s shelter if you supported a domestic abuser; Planned Parenthood if you supported a sexist prick; the NAACP if you supported a band espousing racist ideology.
Anyway! All this aside, do what thou wilt and all that. I think it’s important to listen to people with different experiences than you and give your money and attention to those who have less access to a fair fight, especially victims of senseless, gross crimes like sexual misconduct and assault by those in power. False accusations, statistically and anecdotally, are far less common than a lot of folks want to believe. You don’t have to burn your favorite records, but if you sincerely look at the art and practice real empathy for the victims of the artist, you might find your relationship with the music, writing, etc. is not what it used to be. You can’t stop your faves from fucking up, but you can choose to listen and respect the voices of those they’ve hurt.