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