The other day, the shoutbox of my favorite streaming music station, Sanctuary Radio, held a discussion on whether to play music by certain Goth/Industrial bands who have some strike against them: singer who rapes women, Nazi sympathizers, terrible anti-woman lyrics, etc. etc. etc. Nobody wants to support bad people, but–should we or should we not play their music?
I come at this from the perspective of a childhood in the Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian subculture. From my earliest days, I heard about backmasking and that rock music was of the Devil (or “jungle music”). I thought the devilishness was in the secular bands backmasking Satanic messages and singing about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, so I turned to Christian rock. My parents didn’t restrict us too much with music, but my denomination’s teen magazine posted letters from youth pastors who said ALL rock music is of the Devil. That even included the saccharine, poppy tunes of Amy Grant.
It was also sinful just to go into a movie theater, no matter what movie was playing. I never went to prom because I didn’t want to go to Hell for dancing.
Then I started hearing from The 700 Club how the Devil was in everything: Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars (because of the Force), Halloween, stories about witches, etc. etc. I eventually got away from that, but then Harry Potter came along and Evangelicals went crazy.
Then there were the books your parents didn’t want you to read in high school English because of sexual or other verboten themes. And you’d read the lists of books which were banned the most often from schools/libraries by conservatives who thought Oh my gosh the kids can’t read that!
And of course, there have always been groups more extreme than mine, saying girls can’t wear pants or cut their hair, you can’t wear shorts, some even taking things so far that you can’t even have music at all, or use electricity.
Nowadays it’s coming from the other direction: liberals saying you can’t watch that, you can’t read that, you can’t listen to that, because now it’s violating other sensibilities: subject matter contains rape, the main character is played by a rapist, it’s cultural appropriation, the movie or its director is racist/sexist/ableist/etc. etc. etc.
I learn a bit about the lives of the classic authors and artists and discover that Picasso was a narcissist who treated his women like crap while also making them addicted to him; that Dostoevsky was a terrible human being; that Charles frickin’ Dickens abandoned his loving wife for a skinny young thing because she got fat after bearing him 10 kids.
I hear countless stories of rock music greats committing sexual assault or statutory rape.
I feel guilty repeating some beloved old line from a Cosby routine, or watching a Woody Allen movie.
Warring shippers for the show Timeless argue that the other side is promoting misogyny: “How can you put Wyatt and Lucy together when he was jealous all season?” “How dare you put Flynn and Lucy together in this age of metoo?”
I already knew there were guys behaving badly in movies like Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club, but it had been so long since I saw those movies that I forgot the stuff that Molly Ringwald pointed out. And yeah, now I can see the problems, the echoes of rape culture, the idea that boys do whatever they want while girls have to stop them–But do we ditch the movies now?
I could see the problem with Mister Mom when I saw it about ten or so years ago: Not just assuming that men can’t parent, but the shades of 50s sitcoms when Mom goes to work, and the house is in chaos until she comes back home. But do we never watch it again?
Or The Little Rascals–Yeah, it can get racist at times, but it was the 1930s and here were kids of various races playing together like equals. We grew up with Spanky and Porky and Buckwheat etc.; is it wrong for our kids to enjoy it?
Do we reject Kermit falling for Miss Piggy in The Muppet Show incarnations because she’s a domestic abuser?
And now I hear that Rudolph and some Christmas song I never heard of, are in the crosshairs. I can’t speak on a song I don’t know, but the whole point of Rudolph is that a bullied reindeer gets honored. Are we not supposed to depict bullying onscreen now? Do we stop showing anything bad that ever happens to people and pretend everything’s always great?
It just gets to the point–Where does it end? Am I to toss out all music, all books, all art, all movies, all TV shows? Because is there anything out there not touched by, or depicting, some horrible person who did some horrible thing?
It starts to remind me way too much of growing up Fundamentalist and being told to separate myself from worldly things.
From the article Old favorites, outdated attitudes: Can entertainment expire? by Ted Anthony of the Associated Press:
They exist throughout society’s pop-culture canon, from movies to TV to music and beyond: pieces of work that have withstood time’s passage but that contain actions, words and depictions about race, gender and sexual orientation that we now find questionable at best.
…What, exactly, do we do with this stuff today? Do we simply discard it? Give it a free pass as the product of a less-enlightened age? Or is there some way to both acknowledge its value yet still view it with a more critical eye?
…The solutions suggest a general direction: Don’t simply ban or eliminate or delete. Talk about stuff — whether formally, when it’s presented to the public, or informally at home. And involving more voices in the production of today’s popular culture — and the selection, curation and characterization of yesterday’s — can make sense of this more than dismissing the issue as overreaction or scrubbing the leavings of less-enlightened eras.
Let Molly Ringwald have the last word: “Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art — change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.”