Here is the thing that is frustrating: I believe all art, all speech, all perspectives have the right to be made and voiced. I absolutely do not believe in censorship.
Saying ‘I find this offensive/hurtful’ or ‘I don’t want this in my space’ or ‘This isn’t a band I personally want to support because of this’ is not censorship. There are many other places that art/speech can go. There is an audience for it. It is just not an audience I feel personally comfortable being a part of, if that is what I am saying.
I also feel that every piece of art should be judged carefully, in context. Who is making it? What perspectives is it coming from? What does it hope to achieve? How does it make me feel? Why is that? Who is the intended audience? What materials were used?
This is why it is hugely frustrating to me when people bring up other pieces of art, other actions in discussions like this. It is one thing to say ‘Punk has a long history of confrontational and provocative art and actions, and that is part of the context.’ Absolutely, I agree! It is something I always take into consideration when I’m looking at art/listening to music/considering choice of imagery. But to bring up art that is canon-acceptable today: ‘Well, what about this? Or that?’ We can talk about those works, sure, but there are two false arguments embedded in that line of conversation: an equivalency between two works created at different times by different people in different contexts (they are only equivalent insofar as they are both provocative, but then we have to get back into individual contexts and ask all the questions again that I did above about the art that is being compared).
This is not to say that I think that hamfisted progressive ideology works either. I don’t think just roundly condemning one’s peers is all that useful (this is where I part ways with many people and where I have been called weak), though I understand and empathize with the reasons why it happens (when it is coming from those who are marginalized in a situation). It is just not the rhetorical choice I make for myself most of the time (unless I am directly and personally insulted and in that case I tend to just shut down and leave).
There have been arguments made that the power structure in HC/punk has changed, that ‘social justice’ now has the floor to the exclusion of other perspectives. I’d like to examine that argument a little bit. I agree that there are certain words and concepts that immediately provoke a reaction. I agree that sometimes that reaction goes into places that are not helpful, especially if they are coming from allies and not marginalized people affected by said phrases, words and concepts in a visceral way. I agree that we can sometimes get carried into argumentative places we don’t necessarily want to go because of strong emotional reactions, and that is a thing that I think is worthy of recognition and respect - if someone is coming at you from a forceful emotional place, this is because these are subjects that are very important to them personally, and that is something worthy of respect in and of itself. (I am thinking here specifically about the Church Whip controversy and how I saw them called ‘rape apologists’ a lot when that is not actually what was happening - as someone who does a good deal of sexual assault advocacy I find it important to name the phenomenon that was actually happening - they used a word that has a good deal of specific emotional weight in a way that was, to me, irresponsible and which tied into a general at-large rape culture that minimizes rape-as-sexual-assault. But that is not what rape apologism is. To position yourself against something you must understand what’s actually going on at the root of that thing. But I understand why people were using that phrase - they felt that they didn’t have better words to describe it, and they got caught up in the emotion that word can provoke. That is a legitimate thing worthy of understanding. It is still inaccurate.)
I also think that there is plenty of support out there for people who want to use provocative, potentially hurtful language, concepts and imagery in ways that I might personally avoid or consider irresponsible. There is a very loud voice that has, in my experience, even more punk legitimacy than the more ‘social justice’-oriented voices that says ‘Why are you politicizing this,’ ‘You have a stick up your ass,’ ‘You’re no fun.’ That isn’t conducive to actual worthwhile discussion either, no matter how it would often like to frame itself as the ‘more enlightened’ view because it can ‘separate’ itself from emotional reaction (an idea steeped in white male intellectual/academic supremacy). There are histories of resistance to change on both sides. Both sides want to be right.
And I find it interesting how reactions to differing sides of this argument differ. While there may be threads on a messageboard discussing blacklisting a band (of white men) for using certain imagery (I am not getting into things like actual sexual assaults here because that is a different conversation not about art), calling them idiots or assholes or whatever, it is unlikely there will be long-term reporting as to their personal lives, habits and appearances. There are threads on messageboards that I have learned to avoid (but that get reported back to me sometimes) that I have mentioned in this space before - fat (I am, it’s fine)/ugly (to some, not to others)/feminazi (have you read anything I have to say about mainstream Feminism ever, also that is the goofiest word)/bitch (also debatable)/lesbo (pretty much, it’s fine). And what that means for my life, for my personal safety, is far different. Why? Because structural oppressions still exist in our sub/culture.
I would also like to investigate why when we tell our own stories - when I write about mental health, or being raped, or addiction, or the things I have faced being an out queer person, for instance - those things get dismissed as ‘whiny narcissism’ or whatever. A white straight man who has never dealt with mental health or sexual assault or gender/sexuality issues would get praise from the same crowd that would condemn me for writing about my life for work tackling the same subjects.
Position matters. Perspective matters. Power matters.
Why does it take removal from a subject to make it ‘legitimate’? I would argue that it makes it less legitimate if you are not telling your own story. I write (fictional) stories from perspectives not my own sometimes, or using characters who have backgrounds and experiences very different from my own, because I live in a world that contains people with backgrounds and experiences very different from my own, but I am very careful about how I handle such things, and I try to handle them with respect. I listen to people with those backgrounds and experiences if they tell me I am wrong. I am aware that I will probably fuck up. I do not CLAIM their experiences. They are not mine to claim. Especially if they are people I hold social power over (within and without punk), they are not mine to claim.
Position matters. Perspective matters. Power matters.
This is about discussion. This is about dialogue. I want to talk about these things. We may differ on them, but, as I have said before in this space, if we come to all of this from a place of basic respect for one another, if we listen to one another, if we truly engage with one another’s arguments instead of talking past one another, getting stuck in talking points rather than actual give-and-take dialogue, something worthwhile is happening. It happens, often in spaces away from the public eye, but I would like to happen more often (between parties who agree AND disagree with one another).