The Art is Not The Artist: On Holding Abusers Accountable & Enjoying Problematic Media

There are a lot of people who argue that you should always divorce the artist, as a flawed human, from their work. Indeed, it’s a tenet of our culture; no one ever argues that John Lennon’s abuse of this first wife Cynthia precludes The Beatles from being regarded as the greatest band of all time.

I’m not arguing that we need to set Guernica on fire because Picasso was a controlling, abusive womanizer who threatened to throw Francoise Gilot in the Seine and burned her face with a cigarette. I’m not saying you’re a horrible person if you occasionally nod along to Ignition – Remix. However, more critical thought is required before we defend art produced by abusive people, and in many cases, continued support of their career is unjustifiable.

This is the thought process I go through when I’m considering the creative output of a horrible individual, and the questions I ask myself about whether I can consume the work in good conscience.

Does this artist benefit, financially or otherwise, from me consuming their work?

I have an old James Brown record that was originally sold before I was born. The only person who made money off me buying it was the owner of a kitschy record store in Palm Springs; when I play it in my house, it makes no one any money at all. While I honestly wouldn’t mind money going to the many children he never acknowledged during his lifetime, if I occasionally put aside the knowledge that he was a real piece of work aside and throw on Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag while I vacuum, no one is hurt and no one benefits. And if I threw it into a fire in some grand gesture, again, no one would benefit.

Does the art have anything to do with the abuser’s crime?

People argued a lot about “separating the art from the artist” when Woody Allen’s molestation of his daughter became impossible to ignore. However, here’s the thing: almost all of Woody Allen’s work is about a thinly guised version of him. A lot of it is about some old weird creep having a sexual relationship with a younger, beautiful woman under a clear imbalance of power. How the hell am I supposed to separate the art from the artist?

I have no desire to see Woody Allen make a movie about a professor entering a relationship with his student. I have no desire to hear R. Kelly sing about sex. It’s disgusting. It’s them describing their loathesome crimes through art.

Could I be promoting/boosting/enjoying/supporting the work of a marginalized, ignored genius instead of this widely recognized talent who happens to be a piece of garbage?

Like, I could go see Woody Allen’s new movie. Or I could go see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I could listen to Modest Mouse, whose lead singer is accused of rape; or I could listen to In School, a feminist hardcore band who openly talks about injustice and abuse.

I mean, I’m not saying those examples have anything to do with each other. But a big part of continuing to enjoy the work of abusers depends on complacency. I’m not going to find any new bands to listen to because I can’t be bothered. I’m not going to care that this artist did horrible things because I can’t be bothered.

I paraphrase this sentiment on Twitter a lot: you guys know there are bands with no members who killed someone while driving drunk or committed rape, right? You know you can just go find bands that didn’t do those things and listen to them instead, right?

How are other survivors of abuse affected by my support of this artist?

Imagine you’re on a third date with someone who you’re really hitting it off with, and you launch into a long-winded defense of Woody Allen and separating the art from the artist. It’s just conversation, right? You guys keep dating, and now you’re a serious item. How long do you think it takes them to trust you enough to confide in you that they were molested? Do they ever trust you enough?

How do you think survivors of abuse (and believe me, you know PLENTY, even if you don’t know it) feel when you defend abusers on Facebook? Are you contributing to the culture that told them “there isn’t enough proof, that you can’t ruin your abuser’s life like this, you should forget about it and move on”? How does their opinion of you change?

Could I be spending the time I’m spending defending an abusive person/project on supporting victims of abuse, fighting against the type of abuse they perpetrated, or boosting marginalized groups instead?

I enjoy Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I also think their use of the t-word, and their subsequent non-apology, is BS. I would like to keep watching the show; however, I have absolutely zero interest in defending their use of the slur, their “right” to use it, telling activists calling for the end of the use of the slur that they’re overly sensitive, etc.

Instead, I use that precious time and energy to tell people I hear using that word in public that it’s inappropriate and hurtful and not the correct word to use. I write emails to companies producing adult entertainment that uses harmful slurs to describe their performers, asking them to start promoting their products differently and explaining why it matters so much, not only to the performers but also to the consumers. I also tell all my friends about queer media I enjoy that is empowering to transgender performers, rather than insulting.

I donate to and help promote Trans Tech, Project Fierce, and Chicago House, which are all charities local to me that help transgender people find employment and housing. I try my best to be sensitive in my own speech and own it when I make a mistake.

None of this is intended as a sort of “carbon offset” to make up for the fact I watch Drag Race; it’s just an issue I care about deeply. But you have to ask yourself, am I doing more to perpetuate and support a culture where these sort of abuses are seen as ok and forgivable, or am I working to make the world a better place?

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Weekly Agenda: December 16th – 20th: Bail me out, here

Ezra Rabin, of the Bay Area queercore band The Younger Lovers, has been released from jail! He was arrested December 13, 2014 during an anti-police demonstration in Oakland, CA. Known throughout the community for his work with Food Not Bombs and mural artwork, he drew lots of support for his bail fund and is back in the arms of friends.

If you’d like to support the bail funds of folks closer to home here in Chicago, please consider donating to free David “Iggy” Rucker, Alfredo Reyes, and Derrick Wince. Iggy and Alfredo were arrested at the #MillionMarchChi demonstration on Saturday Dec. 13; Iggy was badly beaten by police. Derrick was arrested and beaten after the police broke up a memorial vigil for Desean Pittman, a Chatham youth who was fatally shot by CPD.

dumpster tapes

In other, more trivial news: Dumpster Tapes is dropping a new compilation of the best local punk, garage, psych and surf. 25 tracks of homegrown rock’n’roll weirdness on your favorite lofi format in their largest run ever, a whopping 250 tapes.

Tuesday, December 16th

Unmanned Ship Live Jam Recording Session
Maximum Pelt is going to be recording Unmanned Ship for a limited edition cassette that they’ll be releasing in conjunction with a new 7″. Come kick back with a six-pack and contribute to the live vibe. If you can’t make it, make sure to get your RSVP in for the 7″ release show with fellow Wally’s favorites Vamos! and AM Stations.
Wally’s World
7pm / Free / Bring some beers

Mac Blackout Band, Fake Surfers, Potatoes
Local weirdo jazz punks and two touring bands from Detroit, all in the Burlington’s stinky womb.
The Burlington Bar, 3425 W Fullerton Ave
9pm / 21+

Wednesday, December 17th

SlayerKitty, Deadbeat, Regular Fucked Up People
Everybody’s favorite twee doom two piece (ok, you caught us, they’re the only twee doom two piece) brings their pink-pawed sludge to the Mutiny.
The Mutiny, 2428 North Western Avenue
9pm / Free / 21+

Velocicopter, Rat Hammer, Jolly Korea
Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western Avenue
9pm / $5 / 21+

Friday, December 19th

Yoko & The Oh Nos, The Boxers, MTVGhosts, 521 Briar
All ages? Wowee Zowie.
Martyrs’, 3855 N Lincoln Ave
9pm / AA

Tinkerbelles, Space Blood, Game Genie, Bow&Spear
The Burlington Bar, 3425 W Fullerton Ave
9pm / 21+

The Sky We Scrape, Rapids, In Exile, Bagheera
Quenchers Saloon, 2401 North Western Avenue
9pm / 21+ / $8

JD’s Revenge, Foul Tip, Orbit’s Tears, McFabulous
Multikulti, 1000 North Milwaukee Avenue

Saturday, December 20th

MAMA, Haki, The Sueves, Mac Blackout
The legend continues as this DIY house throws a very special holiday party with a very secret guest.
Young Camelot

The Brokedowns, Meat Wave, Rad Payoff, The Usuals
Heads up – we usually only do show listings for Chicago, but this show takes place in Elgin, a city I’m mostly familar with due to it’s proximity to the fictional town Lanford on the show Roseanne.
Dutch Inn West Inc, 36W610 Foothill Rd, Elgin, Illinois
8pm / $6 / 21+

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Weekend Agenda: December 11th – December 14th: New Blizzard Babies Video

Local band Blizzard Babies (extremely local for me, since one of them is my roommate) have released a new video featuring a cameo from none other than their label mate Stephen Sowley of Fake Limbs as the most obnoxious customer ever.

Click through to the post to watch it. Put it on while you’re teasing your hair, putting on black lipgloss, and getting ready for a rad weekend of rock.

Thursday, December 11th

Swimsuit Addition (Cassette Release), Lil Tits, Donkey Hotel, The Burning Ponies
Fellow Store Brand Soda editor Emily and I will be there, proving we can indeed support local music in ways besides writing about it before falling asleep in front of a flickering Netflix screen.
Emporium Arcade Bar, 1366 North Milwaukee Avenue
8pm / Free / 21+

NONES, The Rubs, The Gold Web, La Cosa (ONO)
Skronky noise punks NONES and members of ONO promise a weird, disorientating, noisy night.
Door #3 (Double Door Basement), 1551 N Damen Ave
21+ / $5

Potions, Banal Anml, Videobug, Wadduppp Sonnn
Heavy Petting, 2840 N Warren
8pm / BYOB / Enter thru alley / Bring your bike inside

Friday, December 12th

Flesh Panthers, Mac Blackout Band, Legendary Wings, Gross Point
Show #20 for local DIY venue The Flowershop!
The Flowershop
8pm / $5 for touring band

Saturday, December 13th

Bugs and Rats, In Heat, Nubiles Instore
Permanent Records, 1914 West Chicago Avenue
6pm / AA / Free

Oozing Wound, Wishgift, DEN, Foul Tip
Things The Band Name “Foul Tip” Suggests to Me:
1. a virulent, untreated, crusty STI
2. illegal insider trading
3. a baseball coach telling his players how not to foul
4. when you break off pencil lead while sharpening a pencil and have to start all over
Cole’s Bar, 2338 N Milwaukee Ave
10pm / Free / 21+

Sunday, December 14th

Joust, MAMA, The Dumpster Babies
Singer/guitarist Kevin is back in town for this show, putting our chances of seeing him shirtless at some point in the evening at 200% percent.
Empty Bottle
1035 North Western Avenue
7pm / $5 / 21+

PeoplesTemple of America, Yeesh, Pink Bathrooms
Pink Bathrooms were the inspiration of the cover image for this post, which is actually Jayne Mansfield’s bathroom. I want to live in it.

Also, slightly topical: one time I did like three shots of Malört at Quenchers and threw up in a trashcan. I could have used a spotless, comforting pink bathroom right about then.
The Burlington Bar, 3425 W Fullerton Ave

Todayshits Christmas
James performing a two hour holiday themed set definitely promises some harrowing performance art with a slight possibility of holiday cheer.
The Whistler, 2421 N Milwaukee Ave
Free / 21+

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