Music by “Problematic” Artists: Enjoy or Destroy?

On Twitter I had an interesting (to say the least) exchange about Harry Potter – a childhood favourite of many Millennials and Zoomers. If you’re out of the loop on what happened with JK Rowling, basically, she said a lot of things that are prejudiced against trans people and there’s been a pattern of behaviours and prejudiced beliefs. Ouch! It definitely hurts when someone you used to respect or even idolise doesn’t respect all people equally. Many people are torn on what to do. Enjoy the old works while recognising the creator is not so great or destroy them and pretend they don’t exist? To the memory hole it goes?

This debate isn’t cut-and-dried and there are no simple answers. There are compelling arguments for each side and what I want to do here is explore the issue in my usual side by coming up with questions about it and answering them giving my perspective. I think that’s something that’s missing in Twitter. Because it’s so short form and rapid fire, a lot of nuance gets lost in the character limits and knee jerk reactions and people misunderstand each other, sometimes on purpose to make the other look bad, but other times it’s genuine misunderstandings. I think the internet breeds a culture of knee jerk reactions, black and white thinking, and hug-boxes and that’s only been made worse by the current political climate. Makes me think of that Safe Space song from South Park.

These analyses are so much fun to write and one of my long time online friends praised me on how while I’m very opinionated, I allow people their own opinions and encourage them to think for themselves. Don’t take what I have to say as gospel. I’m not god nor would I want to be put on a pedestal. I’m just a woman who writes all about classic rock. That sums up this blog’s mission: it’s a non-judgemental, respectful place to explore issues and learn from each other. I encourage you to disagree and I won’t demonise you for it as long as you’re good faith and respectful. Everyone’s life is different and who you are and what your life experiences are will shape what you think of the world and how you see it.

Some pictures I took at the Harry Potter Park and the Harry Potter studio tour

Harry Potter is so near and dear to many of us. I know it was to me when I was a child, always looking forward to the next book and the next movie and dressing up as the characters and role playing as them. Being a kid who suffered from depression, anxiety, and OCD, I needed an escape and that universe in Harry Potter was my little escape! Oh how I wish I got my Hogwarts acceptance letter when I was 11! I have fond memories of going to the Harry Potter park in Universal Orlando pretty much right when it opened and it was amazing! I even went on the Harry Potter studio tour just outside of London. I don’t have any regrets about going there or enjoying the books and movies. I didn’t know that JK Rowling held such views. Don’t ever kick yourself because someone whose work you (once) enjoyed turns out to be a not so great person. Always remember to be kind to yourself, learn and grow from past mistakes.

On both the left and right, you’ll see people who burn products because the owner or the brand said something that they don’t like. Although it’s for totally different reasons, some better than others. Hannity fans destroying Keurig coffee machines because they pulled ads, petty and dumb! Blue Lives Matter destroying Nike products because they work with Colin Kaepernick, kind of a racist flex. Left wingers burning Harry Potter books because JK Rowling is transphobic, a good reasoning but I don’t see how burning a book will own JKR. I really don’t get people who buy products just to destroy them or own the brand, like the recent thing with Dr Seuss that right wingers are really obsessed with. Historical example being the Disco Demolition Night in 1979. I really don’t understand that. Let’s buy and burn disco albums to own the disco fans! Yeah, but your putting money in their pockets and looking like a wanker in the process.

To go off on another tangent, I watched a video by Shoe0nHead who went to Washington DC who asked one simple question to right wingers who were at the 6 January demonstration that turned into a diet coup for Trump, “Should flag burning be illegal?” Americans like to think they’re freedom lovers, especially the Republicans who think that Democrats hate freedom and Republicans are all about small government (hint hint they’re really not, they want to ban abortion). Like a lot of things in America, this “freedom” is performative and many of these Trump supporters believed there should be a punishment for flag burning with some even believing that you should be executed for it! Not surprising considering their opinions on Kaepernick. The right have an obsession with symbolism and the culture war and it makes them look dumb. You can check out the video below. Really eye opening. If your biggest problem is the culture war, I suggest you go outside and get some perspective on what real issues are.

Is that censorship? If it’s on an individual level, no. As a firm believer in free speech and private property rights, people can do what they want with the things they own and there’s nothing you can do about it besides express your disagreement. They’re using their free speech to express anger at a person or brand by destroying an item and you’re using your free speech to disagree. Free speech is a two way street – other people have free speech and so do you.

That’s enough about what got me into this rabbit hole on political correctness and cancel culture, now it’s time to explore the issue by looking at what’s considered problematic, who is problematic, what to do with problematic media, and my thoughts on cancel culture. In this post I’ll hold my self accountable and share a few of my favourite works made by not so great people, rock stars or not.

What’s “problematic”? Who’s “problematic”?

We live in a world where everything is offensive to someone. If it exists, someone out there is offended by it. That’s life. Everyone has their own ideas of what “problematic” is and everyone has to decide that for themselves. Of course there are some things that we well adjusted people of sound mind know are bad. In life a lot of things fall into the grey area and people generally fall into the grey area. No one is 100% perfect. Bad people do good things sometimes. Good people do bad things sometimes. People that you disagree with politically can be good friends or good people, you just don’t like their opinions. Some things we know are generally bad, but bad enough to cancel? That’s where a debate starts.

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times that is a confession from the person who created the infamous Tumblr blog Your Fave is Problematic (YFIP). If you don’t have the time to read the whole article, in a nutshell the person who created it was a teenager and was going through a difficult time in their life dealing with the loss of their sister. They were anonymous the whole time, but years later felt some regret and found their creation and curation of that blog to be vindictive, petty, and overall not making the world a better place because of this whole obsession with purity. YFIP got a lot of fans over the years, but there were a lot of people who didn’t like it because they found it to be wokescold, holier than thou, and not nuanced. Some people were normal and healthy in their disagreement, but some people sent threats to the blog creator, which is never ok. Many things listed as problematic were tongue in cheek remarks or taken out of context or things that happened long ago and that the celebrity apologised for. I don’t know what more a celebrity can do besides apologise and do better.

What are some things that are generally considered bad, but maybe not bad enough to cancel and are common things that famous people do? Cheating on their spouses/partners, ripping off other people’s work, having political views you may not agree with, making off colour jokes, using outdated language, slut shaming, body shaming, or dressing up in stereotypical costumes. Just a few examples, but there are many other things.

Thinking about it from the classic rock angle, I can think of a lot of examples of classic rockers who many would find problematic. Almost all of them cheated on a spouse or partner – the better question is who didn’t cheat on their partner/spouse? Many of them had outbursts while drunk or high and may have hit or slapped their partners out of anger, like John Lennon. Ike abused Tina Turner. Led Zeppelin ripped off a lot of musicians. Roger Daltrey is an outspoken Brexit supporter. Keith Moon would wear Nazi costumes for fun. Bob Dylan wrote “The Mighty Quinn” as “Quinn The Eskimo”. Lou Reed’s “Walk On the Wild Side” uses the phrases “and then he was a she” and “coloured girls”. Stevie Nicks had a song called “Gypsy”, and a lot of classic rockers used the word “gypsy” in their music. Members of The Sweet performed in stereotypical Native American headdresses (which is very disrespectful, as headdresses are sacred). Eric Clapton said really racist things in the 70s (still I love Disraeli Gears and man “White Room” slaps). Recently, Van Morrison came out as anti-lockdown, some people might have an issue with that because they might have known someone who died of covid and a lot of these deaths could have been prevented if governments took action sooner (still, why are “Gloria” and “Domino” such bangers?). If we completely cancelled musicians for these sorts of things, there wouldn’t be any acceptable music to listen to and life would become boring. Culture changes and is it fair to hold works and people of the past to today’s standards? Will we have to cancel ourselves in 50 years?

A lot of these musicians did really good things. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend raised money for kids and teens with cancer. Bob Dylan performed at the March on Washington. Lou Reed was one of a few openly bisexual musicians and his androgynous style inspired many LGBT people to be themselves. I still enjoy all these musicians, but recognise they aren’t perfect and I don’t put them on a pedestal. Isn’t that what the point of Tommy was? Never glorify people. Cults of personality are bad.

Am I evil for enjoying works by “problematic” people?

Short answer, no. As long as we live in a capitalist system, everything we do in this world is exploitative to someone. If something is cheap, there’s always a catch: someone somewhere along the line was exploited: fast fashion clothes exploiting underpaid garment workers, cheap flights exploiting our planet, even the music you listen to – are you sure that the musicians are getting their royalties? What about session musicians who are merely seen as hired hands and just paid a once off fee for their work? Movies sometimes use unpaid interns, should we stop watching them?

Music and movies bring a lot of joy to people and put a lot of colour into an otherwise grey and humdrum life. Harry Potter was my escape when I was a kid. The Beatles were my escape when I was a teenager. Can’t we let kids enjoy movies and music of yesteryear? Our feelings may change about things we used to enjoy, but it’s complicated and not easy to give up what you used to enjoy, if you do at all! Life is all about compromise. When it comes to movies, a lot of people work hard to make it possible. It’s not just the screenwriter, director, and starring actors.

I remember watching The Cosby Show with my family. Now I can’t bear to watch it and it sucks for all the other hard working actors and crew who made that show possible. One movie I have a lot of memories of watching growing up is Annie Hall. My dad was trying to teach me all about old comedy movies and this was one of his favourites. Woody Allen is a creep, no doubt, but I can’t take the brilliance that was Annie Hall away from him – he did write it after all even though he’s a horrible person. That scene in the cinema was brilliant and relatable. Don’t you wish you could magically bring in an expert to shut some know-it-all up? The honest subtitles scene is another favourite of mine. I liked the movie 21, guess who’s in that movie? Kevin Spacey. He’s a creepy person, but it really sucks for all the other people in the movie who worked so hard. That movie isn’t just him. Why give him all the credit? Hundreds of people make a movie possible. Let’s talk about classic rock. Bohemian Rhapsody, guess who directed it? Bryan Singer. It sucks that he directed the movie, but I can’t deny that the Live Aid scene was so well done and the actors did a good job too: I really loved Rami Malek as Freddie and Gwilym Lee as Brian.

Here’s a recent controversy. I loved The Joker, such a relatable movie with a message about classism. People talk about how economic inequality turned them into The Joker. One of the most iconic and polarising scenes in that movie is the scene with the Joker all dressed up in his red and yellow suit dancing to Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part 2)”. How many times have you heard that song at a sporting event? Now it’s not played anymore and for good reason, Gary Glitter is a piece of shit nonce who can rot for what he did. That scene though was so iconic and the song is fitting (even though I wish they went with something else in the first place to avoid the controversy). There definitely would be other fitting songs or maybe they could have gotten a new song with that same vibe composed for the film.

One of these days I do want to write a blog post about the history of glam rock. He is a part of that history, or is he? I think we all know about that song, but I think I want to treat him like we treat R. Kelly. Mute him. Make him irrelevant. All his songs sound the same anyway and there are way more talented glam rockers to celebrate! You’re not missing out by me skipping over him.

This all brings up the question… What happens to the royalties for Gary Glitter’s songs? According to this Guardian article, Gary Glitter won’t be receiving any royalties because Snapper Music and Universal Music Publishing Group own his catalogue and they don’t pay him. Apparently he sold his rights a while back. I think any royalties from his songs should go to the victims and their families.

A work of art isn’t an action, you can’t blame a work of art for things it didn’t do. “Rock and Roll (Part 2)” doesn’t have lyrics in it besides “Hey!”, there’s no message in it. The point of boycotting the song is to vote with your money and make sure horrible people don’t get money. But what happens if they don’t get money anymore from it? Can you enjoy “Rock and Roll (Part 2)” guilt free? I guess that’s up to you to decide. Don’t ignore reality and keep in mind the context.

Here’s another controversial song. I remember hanging out with one of my friends and he played me this song called “Look At Your Game Girl”, sounds like a great song… Well guess what? It’s by Charles Manson. Turns out that officially he couldn’t get royalties for his music or use of his image. Rather, it’s the descendants of Wojciech Frykowski who get the royalties. Is it possible to acknowledge that the worst people can make good songs? It’s definitely not comfortable to think about that’s for sure. This song has nothing to do with murder. Liking this song doesn’t endorse everything he did.

Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe have called out JK Rowling for her transphobia and I respect them a lot for that. They were kids when they starred in Harry Potter and it’s not their fault that the creator of that franchise is so horrible. They had no control over that. As I said above, it really sucks for the innocent people in these movies who did nothing wrong.

I could spend all day writing a whole blog post answering the questions: What about Michael Jackson? What about Phil Spector? It’s really complicated.

Burn? Give Away? What to do?

This all leads me to the next question. So you find out your favourite musician or actor is “problematic”, where do you go from there? I’ll give one more music example, this time not from classic rock, but they sound classic rock. Last year, it was revealed that The Growlers have a questionable, to say the least, past. They were allegedly involved in the notorious Burger Records scene in LA and there was a rape culture in that scene. A lot of bands involved in it were accused of assaulting, grooming, and just being creeps and perverts. Eventually, Burger Records shut down. One singer, Arrow De Wilde, accused The Growlers of hiring a male stripper who assaulted her. Since then, The Growlers didn’t release any new music. Not surprising. It’s so complicated. I’m a survivor myself and I’m disgusted at the band as people, but man I love their sound. Ugh, I have a bad feeling. I know I will never buy any of their records (new, that is – used is ok since no money goes to the band), go to any future shows, or buy any merch. But will I stream their songs? Yeah, at least they don’t get much money from that and I can separate the art from the artist. It’s the same as The Smiths, I love their music, but can’t stand Morrissey as a person. If you’re going to enjoy media by “problematic” creators, streaming is harm reduction since artists make more from purchases of physical copies and concert tickets and merch.

I’m against burning merch/books/CDs/vinyl, but at the end of the day, you have to decide what’s right for you and what you think will make the world a better place. I don’t think burning things is a good idea since you already gave the horrible person your money. It’s like me and my Jeffree Star makeup. I bought them already, might as well use them up and never repurchase. I spent the money, might as well get my money’s worth from it. If you’re going to destroy it, consider upcycling instead and keep it eco friendly! Lots of arts and crafts you can make from CDs and vinyl. You can even paint over the label!

For things that aren’t consumables, you can consider selling or giving away your vinyl, CDs, or band merch. If the band are still popular, there are people out there who want to get a good deal and if they know about their problematic behaviour but still want to collect the music, they can do so with less guilt. Plus you get a bit of your money back! Win-win! Here’s how I think about it: I’m a vegan, but I’ll buy secondhand leather because overall secondhand clothing is better for the environment and the cow has long since been killed, best for the leather jacket to go to a good home rather than be thrown in a dumpster. A lot of times leather products are more durable than their comparable vegan counterparts, I hate to admit it though. So if you’re buying leather, consider secondhand!

If you’re feeling charitable or find that no one wants to purchase it, give those things away. At the end of the day, what you do with your property is your choice and as a libertarian I can’t tell you what to do with your property. I don’t pay your bills.

The Cancelgoround: On Cancel Culture

Welcome to The Cancelgoround! Basically it’s the vicious non-stop cycle where pot meets kettle and we’re all cancelling each other, and for what! Both the left and the right are fond of the cancel, where they put someone under fire and knock them down from a pedestal. I talk all about cancel culture in this video you can watch here and I explore cancellings from all sides of the political spectrum. My concerns with cancel culture aren’t about the celebrities who have millions, but more about how it affects the average person. It started with the celebrities, but now it’s graduated to people going after private individuals to get revenge.

Celebrity culture is all about building up the person higher and higher until time comes to knock them down and everyone takes joy in their downfall, a little thing called schadenfreude. We saw it recently at TeenVogue where a 27 year old woman named Alexi McCammond was going to be promoted to editor-in-chief, that is until someone else uncovered that she tweeted some things when she was 17 years old that were prejudiced against Asians and demanded she be fired. This ends up backfiring on the woman, Christine Davitt, who drew attention to these tweets. Turns out she has her own history of throwing the n-word around online. Alexi happens to be part black, interestingly enough. Throwing stones from glass houses much? My take on this: no one should have been fired. An apology is sufficient. Someone shouldn’t have to lose their entire livelihood over stupid stuff from the past. This is the opposite of rehabilitation and more about punishment.

How does the Cancelgoround ride work?

  1. Someone tweets something long ago when the culture was different or when they were naive teenage edgelords. People forget about it.
  2. This person grows up and gets a decent job, things are looking up for them.
  3. Someone gets jealous and bitter and combs through their past with a fine toothed comb to find any tasteless jokes or no-no words in their past tweets.
  4. Person loses the job all because of petty BS from their past. They may feel bitterness or resentment because of the cancelling, which may even lead them to far right radicalisation, because the far right love to cling onto people who have been cancelled and use them for their agenda. The far right will say something like “It’s those damned [insert group here] who got you fired!”
  5. The world doesn’t become a better place. Everyone becomes more polarised. People are afraid to say what’s on their mind.

The problem with cancel culture is that it creates more cops and breaks down a sense of community and solidarity. Everyone is out to get each other. There’s no room or opportunity for personal improvement. We’re more on the internet now than ever before and everyone has a paper trail and digital footprint. How is this going to work for the younger generations whose whole lives are online? I can’t wait to see those political debates where millennials and zoomers start printing out old tweets and clapping back at each other. It’s gonna be a shitshow.

Is there a more reasonable way to think critically about public figures’ and even ordinary people’s behaviours? Yes! Nuance is often forgotten about. We’re living in really polarising times, everything’s gone to extremes. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Time to bring up a common cognitive bias I see in terminally online people, it’s called splitting, AKA black and white thinking. This sort of thinking is common in people with depression, autism, and borderline personality disorder. Basically everything is all good or all bad and they think in absolutes. I have depression and autism and I sometimes have the tendency to use splitting, but I try my best to keep that in check and remind myself a lot of times things are more complicate than they seem and a lot of times the answer isn’t a simple yes or no. A lot of things in this world aren’t pure good or pure evil. People are mostly a mix of things. Think about the people you love. There are many things you love about them, but there are going to be some things you don’t like about the people you love, but you still love them nonetheless.

The culture war is one big distraction

At the end of the day, cancellings are part of a part of the culture war, which is one big distraction from the real issues we are facing in this world. If your biggest problem is someone’s stupid tweets from the past, then you need to go outside and get some perspective. There are people who can’t pay rent. There are people who can’t afford food. Wages are stagnant. Healthcare funding is being cut. In America, the cost of healthcare is extortion. You can get into debt through no fault of your own, all because you have a medical condition or get into an accident. Wars need to end. Climate change is threatening us all. These are real issues. Not Dr Seuss, Potato Head, or whatever The Republicans choose to whinge about now. Enjoy whatever music, movies, or books you want! Life is short. Fight for real issues, not petty distractions.

This parody of a Soviet propaganda poster says it well. Say nyet to the culture war!

Shoutout to Patrick and Jeffrey from Maryland for supporting the blog!

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