We live in the era of social media, which means that everyone has a voice they can project to their audience as loudly as they please. Given the tense political climate, many musicians, producers, and artists of all forms have been using their platforms to express their views with the hope to inspire change. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of idiots out there who think that they have the right to tell said artists to “stick to what they get paid to do.” Art is subjective, it’s meant to be consumed as we interpret it. But artists also need the freedom to create how they see fit.
For those who are unaware, music has been utilized as a form of protest, at least in America, dating all the way back to the 18th century and our country’s birth. On top of that, most protest music in the United States was born of a desire for social change. Performers like The Hutchinson Family Singers sang at the White House (for both Presidents John Tyler and Abraham Lincoln) about the abolition of slavery, and social equality. The 1920’s/30’s saw the birth of the Blues, and songs written about the oppressive nature of both the Great Depression and segregation in America. Fast forward to the 1950’s/60’s, and we find that many of the contemporary genres of music we’ve come to enjoy were born of political speech and the desire to use music as a platform for change.
So why, in 2019, do so many people feel the need to disparage artists for using their platforms to project their beliefs? Just this past weekend, after the horrific tragedies in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH, Black Tiger Sex Machine’s Julien Maranda (an often outspoken member of the scene) took to the BTSM Church facebook group to open a dialogue about gun control in America. Within the first minutes, things got nasty between fans and a slew of commenters made it a point to tell him to “keep politics out” of their music. While we understand that many people may use music and festivals as a form of escapism, it’s important to remember that many music scenes (specifically electronic music) were born as a means to provide a safe space to disenfranchised individuals. People who seek to silence others’ opinions are more than likely acting out of a place of privilege, ignorance, apathy, or an aggregate of all three.
Here’s the problem with escapism: it’s an attempt to block out issues that genuinely affect a lot of people in our society. Saying that artists shouldn’t use their platform to speak out and work to promote change is a symptom of ignorance and a lack of empathy. There are horrific atrocities taking place almost daily; everyone should rally around the need for change. If you choose to ignore these issues because they don’t have any bearing on your own personal existence, you’re complicit in maintaining the barriers that prevent progress within our society.
The policies in this country have made being born a straight white male like winning the genetic lottery. I often see people over-react and become defensive if they read things that make them feel attacked, even when they’re not meant to be. Yesterday, Penn representative Brian Sims posted the above tweet that sent white men of the internet into a frenzy. No, we’re not saying that ‘if you’re a white man, you are a part of the issue.’ But, given your privilege in a white, male-dominated world, it’s important to work that much harder to enact change if you truly believe that change is necessary.
Just because you’ve spent money to support an artist, you can never presume to think you have the right to tell them how they should express their feelings, vision, or opinions. Instead of sputtering incoherent babble about “sticking to music,” maybe you should take a trip through the annals of history and remind yourself that music has been one of the greatest platforms given to us, and think about how much incredible music would have been lost if it were never political in the first place.