The world we live in undeniably has a lot of commodities to offer, which is deadly to a certain extent. In a post-Fordist world we are permitted and expected to make choices with regards to our commodity consumption and what it says about us as individuals to the rest of the world (Example: my own laptop is COVERED with stickers of various TV shows, films, etc. that I enjoy so much I decided that I needed to spend a hefty portion of my limited funds in ensuring that anyone who sees me typing in public is like “oh, that girl is a Ravenclaw, message received”). This commodification culture, while seemingly harmless from that angle, has also unfortunately led us, as consumers, to commodify non-commercial things that give us enjoyment, including celebrities. We consume celebrity culture with determination and compile copious amounts of information and facts about them to prove to others that our consumption is substantial (another example: I cannot remember one iota of information in the last assignment I did, but I can tell you Billie Joe Armstrong’s birthday on cue). What this level of ownership over celebrity information has led to is the insistent prying into the lives of these people (no, I swear, they actually are technically human underneath the fame and fortune) and, not surprisingly, people often eventually come back with some info that upsets them, which will be the focus of this article.
We all have probably heard the term “problematic fav” at this point. It’s essentially when someone becomes incredibly popular within their respective fields of celebrity status and they inevitably do something offensive or “problematic”, and they are labelled as “your problematic fav”. The question that I have found myself asking lately is what is the line? At what point do we allow personal opinions or a celeb’s private life or their questionable or sometimes downright disturbing behaviour affect our opinions of their work? The focus of this article will be on the music industry; however, the general premise can be applied to any person in the public eye that has been considered “problematic” either due to their work or their behaviour. I would also like to establish from the get-go that I am 100% guilty of most, if not all, of what I mention within this article. One of my top spotify artists is Hollywood Undead, no joke.
So, to start off with a bang let’s talk about lostprophets. Ian Watkins’ criminal charges shocked us all to our cores in 2013 and I personally have yet to encounter a person that hasn’t written off lostprophets completely. Unfortunately, I was one of those teenagers that was super into lostprophets (even had an embarrassing tattoo idea inspired by them) and when I heard these allegations I, obviously, stopped listening to them as I didn’t want to endorse a paedophile that appeared to be miles away from contrite or remorseful, a man who is reminiscent of the likes Gary Glitter and should receive a similar societal and cultural fate. However, if we take a look at artists that are culturally prominent, it appears as though there is a certain amount of leeway given to artists that condone rape, violence, and abuse and some of these artists are even praised by their cult followings. Eminem has lyrics like “Slut, you think I won’t choke no whore / Till the vocal cords don’t work in her throat no more?” and “My words are like a dagger … whether you’re a fag or lez, Or the homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest, Pants or dress—hate fags? The answer’s ‘yes'”, yet a quick google search shows me that he has never actually been charged with rape or hate crimes etc. so… in essence he doesn’t condone these acts, but he presents art pieces to the world that suggest otherwise. Seems straightforward. And, furthermore, we, as consumers, willingly listen to these songs and these artists and insist that it’s in the name of artistic licence and that we always write off offending artists.
Except that we don’t always write off offending artists.
A disturbing aspect of the music industry that is often glamourised is the “baby groupie” era of the 70s. This was when a group of 12 to 16-year-old girls associated with and slept with rock stars such as David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, among others. This is unequivocal statutory rape, yet names like Lori Maddox or Sable Starr are rarely referred to as victims or survivors, but often are commended for being the “Queens of the Groupie scene” who “broke the rules of style and sexuality”. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge supporter of celebrating your sexuality and supporting women in their sexual endeavours, but the fact that these women were largely underage says to me that we should not condone this kind of activity, yet a lot of us wouldn’t dream of writing off these rock stars for sleeping with these girls because they’ve shaped who we are; what pop culture is; and what the music industry is. We find ourselves making excuses we absolutely should not be making like “oh but it was a different time” and “it was entirely consensual” etc. but we all know damn well that we would never excuse some rando in the same way if we heard about a thirty-year-old engaging and encouraging 12-16 year olds to perform sexual favours simply because that’s the fashion.
Human beings tend to blame industries when heinous acts committed by people are uncovered. The Catholic Church is to blame for the molestation of children. The BBC is to blame for the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal, and so on. Is this because we are too ashamed to admit that human beings have the capacity to physically do these things and that’s too uncomfortable to accept? If that is the case and we insist that we refuse to endorse celebrities that genuinely engage in these acts, then why is Tupac Shakur still posthumously praised for his contribution to hip hop, and not condemned for being convicted of sexually assaulting a fan? And why do we actively listen to lyrics like “Our victim, forced into a sixsome And ain’t nobody leaving ’till all of our dicks cum” without batting an eye?
I know you may be thinking “Ok so what’s the answer then? You’re after making me feel bad for loving Bowie”, or words to that effect. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to any question I have posed, but hopefully the message to take from this is that we will or have progressed to the point where we as a society have become more sexually mature without such heinous behaviour being excused on an institutional level and perpetrators have a 50/50 chance of being excused or written off completely.