The future may be odd, but…

November 9, 2011 in General

Last week, American hip-hop collective Odd Future – or to address them by their full title Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All – have had their licence to rap revoked, at least as far as appearing at next year’s Big Day Out is concerned.

The promoters decided to pull them from the lineup after Sandra Coney from the Auckland Council, owners of Big Day Out venue Mt Smart Stadium, had a word with them.

Why? Well, we’ll let GayNZ.com take up the story:

After he heard they would be visiting New Zealand for the annual music festival, gay Wellington man Calum Bennachie set off a chain reaction when he wrote to the Big Day Out promoters expressing his concerns and putting forward a strong case for his argument that: “lyrics such as those played by Odd Future increase the societal discourse against lgbt people, a discourse that encourages bullying and violence”.

Bennachie cc’d the email to a number of people, including the Chair of Auckland Council’s Parks and Heritage Forum Sandra Coney, who quickly found she agreed with the writer.

“I approached the CEO of Regional Facilities Auckland John Brockies with Calum’s concerns and my own having watched Youtube,” she says. “After a discussion with BDO organisers this group will no longer be appearing in BDO in NZ.”

Bennachie had a Facebook page set up in his honour for his troubles called “Fuck Calum Bennachie”, with commenter Michael Rawnsley saying “wonder if i put my dick in his ass if they will let odd future back in. sounds like thats all he wants. something to fill up his mouth”. The page’s original moniker, since removed, was “against the faggot who got Odd future banned”.

Needless to say, it’s all a storm in a teacup, the fans aren’t homophobic and it’s all a bit of fun irony. But that’s all by the by.

They banned a band? This looks like one for the freedom of speech crusaders, Batman. Let’s go!

But, before we start, let’s have a look at whose freedom of speech we’re defending here:

  • Odd Future’s frontman “Tyler The Creator”, 20 years of age, uses the word ‘faggot’ 213 times on his second album “Goblin”
  • In his defence, Tyler claims to be not homophobic but that he says ‘faggot’ and ‘gay’ “to describe stupid shit” and that ‘faggot’ “hits and hurts people”
  • His songs about raping and murdering women have also come under fire – sample lyric from the song “Assmilk”: “I’m not an asshole I just don’t give a fuck a lot, the only time I do is when a bitch is screamin’ “Tyler, stop!” and “To have a bitch, ready to stab a clit with some glass and shit”
  • The song goes on to describe Tyler digging her dead body out of the ground and performing cunnilingus on her with mustard
  • When female Canadian guitar duo Tegan & Sara spoke out about the above, Tyler responded with: “If Tegan and Sara need some hard dick, hit me up!” on Twitter

Thankfully, the collective is balanced out with a lesbian female member, Syd tha Kid, which according to some fans, cancels out both the homophobia and misogyny.

I guess we’ll have to look at her track record to see how that pans out:

  • Her first music video for a side project “The Internet” is a song called ‘Cocaine’ – in it, she hooks up with a girl, dopes her up on drugs, and when she passes out in Syd’s truck, she smirks, chucks her out on the road and drives off
  • In her defence, Syd revealed to MTV during an interview with the other members of Odd Future that her father disapproved of her being part of such a misogynistic group – her response: “I’m like, that’s what I do. I slap bitches” – her male cohorts laughed

Still ready to step up to defend their freedom of speech? Ah, of course – freedom of speech is absolute isn’t it, as exemplified in the quote:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

Ironically, it was a woman who said that – Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

The problem is, some people do actually end up dying – or at least being violently attacked – because of the things people say.

Fans of the group and freedom of speech campaigners pooh-pooh such arguments as hysterical.

The fans say the group’s lyrics are “ironic” and they’re capable of understanding the difference between spending your time head-bopping to someone rapping about raping a woman, cutting up her clitoris, and digging up her dead body to violate her further and actually being influenced to go and do same.

Well, the ones capable of forming sentences do, anyway. Some of them.

Anyway, the freedom of speech campaigners say that stopping the group performing is censorship, and all censorship is bad. Bad, bad, bad. It’s never solved anything.

We could point out that if censorship is ineffective, then it might be worth trying the extreme libertarian social experiment of repealing all laws, because despite prohibitions against murder, rape, and robbery, these three things still happen.

But instead we’ll do something that none of the pundits so far have done and look at some evidence.

There appears to be a substantial body of research which has examined the effect of violent music and their accompanying videos on the attitudes of young people, Odd Future’s target audience:

  • A 2003 study by Anderson et al “randomly assigned youths to watch either a short violent or a short nonviolent music video” and then observed their interactions afterwards. The results “showed that exposure to media violence had a statistically significant association with aggression and violence among youth.” (1)
  • A 1995 study by Johnson, Jackson and Gatto took three groups and showed them violent rap videos, non-violent rap videos, and no videos. The group exposed to the violent videos reported “greater acceptance of the use of violence against women.” (2)
  • A 1995 study by Barongan and Nagayama took two groups of 27 men apiece: one listened to mysogynistic rap music, the other neutral. Afterwards, both groups were asked to select one of three videos to show to a female colleague: one neutral, one containing an assault, and another containing sexual violence. Those listening to the mysogynistic content were far more likely to choose the violent or sexually aggressive content to show to the female colleague. (3)

Now, many of these studies are contentious – as one would expect – and I haven’t investigated the links between advocating homophobic violence in music and accompanying behaviour, because there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of research in that area. But the above should at least give one pause for thought about what we’re endorsing, especially when you consider the implicit link between mysogyny and homophobia.

In Kimmel and Mahler’s 2003 paper “Adolescent Masculinity, Homophobia and Violence”, the pair examined the psychology of school shootings in the US between 1982 and 2001. They reference the notoriously homophobic Eminem’s liberal use of the word ‘faggot’ and his belief that it is “the lowest degrading thing you can say to a man” because, he believes, it takes away your manhood.

As the authors summarise astutely:

“Here, homophobia is far less about the irrational fears of gay people, or the fears that one might actually be gay or have gay tendencies, and more the fears that heterosexuals have that others might (mis)perceive them as gay. Research has indicated that homophobia is one of the organizing principles of heterosexual masculinity, a constitutive element in its construction.

“And as an organizing principle of masculinity, homophobia—the terror that others will see one as gay, as a failed man—underlies a significant amount of men’s behavior, including their relationships with other men, women, and violence. One could say that homophobia is the hate that makes men straight.”

So not only are we talking about the potential of increased violence against women and gay men, but the potential of increased violence against men who are *perceived* to be gay. Or, it would seem, anyone who has the word ‘faggot’ lobbed at them, given how loaded the word is.

Worth slowing down for a second and thinking about the freedom of speech you’re defending before leaping in with the crusader flag, don’t you think?

Or is waving the freedom of expression flag and saying “game over” just an easy way to make yourself look liberal while neatly avoiding having to answer difficult questions that affect the moral landscape?

Given that Odd Future are going to be coming to Auckland anyway to perform a gig in a private venue, they have not been censored at all. No-one intervened to stop them entering the country, as was done with Holocaust denier David Irving in 2004.

The fact that one group has been prevented from performing at a Council-owned venue does not automatically mean that other bans will follow. It’s a fallacious use of the slippery slope argument, akin to those who said that legalising same-sex marriage would inevitably lead to people being able to marry a horse.

Freedom of expression needs to be carefully balanced with the responsibility to protect ratepaying citizens from threat or harm, and there will never be a clear line in the sand on this. Case-by-case examination would seem to be the most sensible way forward when situations like this arise.

If art is to be given the special privileges accorded religion and not be examined for its potential as a harm-causing agent simply “because it is art”, then I look forward to freedom of speech campaigners encouraging white power duos like Prussian Blue to visit our shores.

The outcry from many quarters, including mine, would be audible from the Moon – but would such bands find themselves a spot at the Big Day Out?

I think we know the answer: if they thought they could make money out of it, then yes.

The safety and wellbeing of the community doesn’t enter the equation, and that should worry us all.

PS. Prussian Blue aren’t actually racist anymore. Well, sort of. They still think that people need to “get over” the Holocaust. But they attribute their extreme right-wing views to “youthful naivete” and now proclaim to love diversity. Incidentally, Tyler “The Creator” thinks people should ease up on him cos he’s “just a kid”. Go figure.

REFERENCES

(1) Anderson, C. A., Berkowitz, L., Donnerstein, M., Edward, K., Huesmann, L., Rowell, J., Johnson, J., Linz, D., Malamuth, N., & Wartella, H. (2003).

(2) Johnson, J. D., Jackson, L. A., & Gatto, L (1995). Violent attitudes and different academic aspirations: Deleterious effects of exposure to rap music. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 16(1- 2), 27-41.

(3) Barongan, C. and Nagayama, G. C. (1995), THE INFLUENCE OF MISOGYNOUS RAP MUSIC ON SEXUAL AGGRESSION AGAINST WOMEN. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 19: 195–207. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1995.tb00287.x

The future may be odd, but…

15 Comments

    1. Craig says:

      With all due respect, Chris, antisocial and violent behaviour has many possible causes, and media effects on behaviour may be only one of them. Abusive and dysfuctional families and peer groups may be the other.

      Aren’t we at risk of turning these blokes into martyrs? They’re not in the same league as the Jamaican hate music ‘ragga’ artists.

      • Bipolar Bear says:

        Martyrs are traditionally people who are persecuted for refusing to renounce beliefs or positions, who then inspire others.

        In my opinion, people who celebrate violence toward women and gay men should be castigated, and if others are inspired to write further songs about cutting up women’s private parts and raping their dead bodies as a result, then we have a far deeper problem in society than we first realised.

        • Craig says:

          I think there are still questions about context and magnitude that need to be answered here. Granted, one might find Odd Future’s lyrics rephrensible, but come on- they’re hiphop artists, and any effects are limited to a relatively marginal youth subculture. And not all hiphop fans like them, for that matter.

    2. Craig Young says:

      As for the social scientific examples that you cite, they could be critiqued on several grounds. One of them might be whether or not actual social behaviour can be extrapolated from behavioural lab experiments that may not have taken into account other biographical factors on the respondents expressed attitudes.

    3. Alex says:

      To be honest

      I happy that these marginalised individuals were misunterstood and banned by the Auckland council from playin on public Space

      Cos now their 45min performace has exploded into a 3 1/2 set! Thank you Bennachie.

      P.s that Late shift add looks like softcore porn. Censorship? NAAAAAAA

    4. QueerDuck says:

      There is something seriously wrong with Facebook that hateful people are able to setup pages anonymously.

    5. QueerDuck says:

      We now have a Facebook support page to support the stand taken by Calum, the action taken by The Big Day Out organisers and counter the haters.

      http://www.facebook.com/pages/We-support-Calum-Bennachie/243029172417498

    6. Conor says:

      It is understandable that you do not want them to play big day out, but you do not want them entering the country? This has gone from matter of principle to a downright power trip. You have to understand that beside the offensive lyrical content of the artists, there are people in this country who actually enjoy their music, and it frustrates me that there are people who will go to such extremes to have these people revoked from our country just because of what they say on their album? Are you trying to tell me that if eminem came into the country you would try and revoke him entry as well? He has used far more hateful lyrics towards women and gay people, but he has developed a following within the lgbt community. This may be because of a live set of him performing with gay singer/entertainer, Elton John.

      Just because people can say hateful things, doesn’t mean that they truly mean it in their hearts. Nor does it mean people are going to persecute gays just because OFWGKTA says the word “faggot” in their songs. I am a big, big fan of Odd Future and Tyler the Creator. I also have a s**t load of gay friends. And these gay friends of mine are also fans of odd future.

      Also, keep in mind: the word ‘faggot’ had originally meant sticks on a fire. I know it was later as a hateful term on gay people, but it doesn’t mean that whenever people call one another faggots, they are saying that they are gay, and to be gay is wrong. This is just preposturous.

      Peace!

    7. Conor says:

      I guess what I am trying to say is that if it is not being played at festival type show, instead, a solo show, what does it matter to you if they play or not? It is no different to Destiny Church, or a gay night club. If it isn’t for you, just don’t go.

    8. tony says:

      Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. As US Chief Justice Holmes once said: “No-one has a right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre”. But this band doesn’t go beyond the margin in that regard. So they should be allowed to make their hate remarks (which is a right guaranteed to all New Zealand citizens under the Bill of Rights Act by the way). In my view they are semi literate idiots but there’s a lot of that about and I’m sure they’ll grow out of it in due course.

      The issue is not one of freedom of speech at all. The band is coming here and is going to play at a semi public venue so anyone who wants to go and hear them can buy a ticket to do so. The issue is whether or not public funds should be used to provide them with a platform. Personally I don’t think so and I support those who have canned that

    9. bipolarbear says:

      Your response has answered your own question.

    10. Clasp says:

      “The fans say the group’s lyrics are “ironic” and they’re capable of understanding the difference…

      …Well, the ones capable of forming sentences do, anyway. Some of them.”

      I’m loving the pseudo-racist assumption that hip-hop listeners lack the intelligence of yourself and your film-festival attending friends.

      Very telling.

      • bipolarbear says:

        Funny that people like yourself can find irony and humour in a group that raps about cutting up a woman’s clitoris and a frontman who uses the word “faggot” 213 times on one of his albums, and say that is not homophobic or misogynist; yet I am “pseudo-racist” because I make a lightweight (completely non-racial) observation about the literacy and intelligence of the group’s fans based on their own hysterical reactions to this whole affair (see “Fuck Calum Bennachie” Facebook group).

        Who am I being racist towards, exactly? Given that a race was not named?

    11. Craig says:

      Hiphop fans are predominantly members of specific ethnic minorities, such as Maori, Pacific Islanders or African-Americaans. Sorry, Chris, but I’m afraid you are playing into arguments about ethnic minorities, educational levels and dialect here.

      And remember LA Zombie, Chris? Remember certain scenes within that? Added to which, I hope you’re not seriously arguing that the expression of such OTT misogynist lyrics is going to lead to actual necrophilia against female corpses? To date, there has never been any invocation of Section 150 of the Crimes Act in such a context.

      And take a look at the latest UK Gay Times. There’s no mention of homophobic song lyrics as causally related to recent homophobic assaults in London.

      • Bipolar Bear says:

        Craig, this is clearly going nowhere. Anything you or anyone else wants to know about what I’m “seriously arguing” can be found within the original post.

        I hope we would all agree that homophobic prejudice exists, and that we should do all we can to counter it.

        Personally, I take the Broken Windows approach to homophobia – the same as other minority groups do, ironically, toward racism – and the post above would not differ in substance if we were talking about a white rock group.

        This very rarely happens, however: can you imagine Odd Future as an all-white hip-hop group, with “faggot” replaced in their lyrics with “nigger”, “kike” and various other racial slurs?

        Firstly, I doubt such a group would attain popularity because society as a whole – rightly – finds racism so reprehensible that to even be accused of it shuts debates down, as you and ‘Clasp’ have tried to do.

        Why is it only when the prejudice is homophobic in nature that we must resort to pages of intellectual discourse to justify our existence?

        Because homophobia is still largely acceptable in all its forms, from the social and cultural level right through to the political and legislative.

        How do you think this gets countered? Not by sitting quietly in the corner and quoting Voltaire.

        If you or others wish to detract from the substance of the argument by pulling out ad hominem and well-poisoning attacks of racism on me, veiled or otherwise, then you’ve completely missed the point of this entire debate.

        In response to the oft-used “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, which is akin to the saying “you can’t have an omelette without breaking eggs”, I give you the response of historian Richard Pipes:

        “Aside from the fact that human beings are not eggs, the trouble is that no omelette has emerged from the slaughter.”

        Unless you count the homophobic, mysoginist omelette that this group and their record company are making a lot of money out of.

        Thread closed.

The future may be odd, but…

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