Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Shocked by Michelle

What do you do when an artist whose work you like offends you by their words or deeds? Do you reject them and flush them from your life? Do you shrug and forget it? Or, something else?

1980s folk rocker Michelle Shocked has, some people are saying, ended her career with an anti-gay rant in San Francisco. It’s a bizarre story, documented fully by Chris Willman on the music blog of Yahoo! (the fullest recounting I’ve seen so far).

In a nutshell, the singer launched into what witnesses called “a tirade” against marriage equality and homosexuality generally. Accounts suggest that it was a pre-meditated attack. What is certain is that it was a stupid thing to do.

Leading credence the suggestion it was premeditated is that she made her remarks in San Francisco—the place where she could be guaranteed to cause the maximum amount of offence. She also was encouraging the use of Twitter, suggesting she wanted her remarks to have maximum impact—and cause the most offence, I’d add.

What confuses so many people is that she has identified in the past as bisexual (in an interview with Chicago’s LGBT Outlines, now merged with Windy City Times) and as lesbian. She has recanted the first and said the second was in error. Regardless, her fanbase has always been largely made up of LGBT fans and heterosexual leftists, sympathetic to the political causes of the LGBT fans.

Michelle’s leftist political activity is well known: She was arrested at an Occupy protest in 2011, she denounced George W. Bush and her best-known album, Short, Sharp, Shocked, has as the cover art a photo of her at a protest, being held in a choke hold by police.

For some fans, it seems impossible to reconcile Michelle’s politics with her rightwing religious beliefs, so they assume some sort of breakdown was involved. But Michelle belongs to an African American evangelical church, and it’s not unusual for them to be leftist on political issues—except for LGBT rights, where they can be as hard rightwing as their white counterparts. In that sense, Michelle seems to fit right in.

So: Where does this leave us? Some are pledging to throw out their CDs (or, these days, delete her from their iTunes playlist…), but I think that’s a little silly, since they’re already paid for. Donating the CDs to a thrift shop so a charity might make some money from them might make sense, but to me, throwing them away seems kind of pointless.

On the other hand, I won’t be giving any of my money to her NOW. One of my favourite albums back in the day was Short, Sharp, Shocked, which I had on vinyl. I’d planned on eventually buying it through iTunes, but I won’t be doing that now. In fact, today I deleted the album from my “wishlist” on iTunes (basically, a sort of shopping list of things I may eventually buy). And, I’m done—nothing more I need to do.

I don’t really care what she says or thinks based on of her religious beliefs. She’s entitled to them, and she’s entitled to express them. But she’s not entitled to expect me to subsidise her tirades against me and my human rights.

Of course, I’ve been down this road before, especially with Donna Summer. Then, too, I backed away from a singer I liked because of anti-gay remarks. Back then, in the pre-Internet Age, the veracity of the claims against her were less certain, and Summer spent many years repudiating the remarks and trying to make amends. Nevertheless, I never again bought any of her albums.

Michelle’s fall is well documented, even if the specific reason or motivation is a bit murky. It will be difficult for her to ever make amends, even if she wanted to (and I don’t know that she does).

The rightwing will claim that Michelle is being made a “victim” for expressing her religious beliefs. That’s utter nonsense—and will be, more often than not, a politically motivated lie. She knew damn well what her fanbase was, she knew how offensive her remarks would be to them—especially in San Francisco!—and she chose to disrespect her fans, anyway. She made her choice, and all choices have consequences—and that includes a choice to express personal religious beliefs.

People must be free to make their own decisions about how to regard Michelle Shocked from now on. Whether they buy her music or attend her shows—or, for that matter, whether they throw out CDs they already own—is and must be a personal choice. As for me, I won’t knowingly subsidise artists speaking out against me and my rights, and that includes Michelle.

Still, the harshest truth is that Michelle Shocked had become for me little more than a bit of nostalgia. Now, she won’t even be that. Nothing shocking about that.


Nico Martinez said...

My first thought when reading about what her remarks was huge disappointment since I like her work, and felt sort of sad. I'd read about the idea of her having a breakdown and thought the San Francisco location of doing this odd, but you're correct, it must have been calculated, so I'm sad no more about not buying any of her work again.

Roger Green said...

I started to respond to this, and realized it was getting almost as long as a blog post...

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I've had that happen to me—mostly on your blog, actually. Some have even become blog posts here.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Yeah, I have to admit, when I first read about it, I went looking for multiple sources to verify it because I thought it had to be a mistake. Very upsetting, for a lot of reasons.