The politics of listening to music
Posted on March 29, 2018
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hughes also posted a fake photograph of Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that helped spawn the protest, and called her “the Awful Face Of Treason…..survivor of Nothing….Lover of Treason…..enjoy your little moment…..it’s about to End…… #stupidity #hatersofliberty #loversofsatan #borntolose #2ndamendment”. He went on to say the shooting survivors were “exploiting the death of 16 of our fellow students for a few Facebook likes and some media attention.”
Hughes is himself the survivor of a mass shooting, as Eagles of Death Metal was playing in Paris at the Bataclan theatre in 2015 when terrorists stormed the building and killed 89 people. After that attack, Hughes suggested that staff were in on the attack, and that it may have been because they were Muslim (he also said that gun control was to blame, which is by all accounts a mainstream view in the U.S.). I cannot imagine what one would think or feel after experiencing this sort of attack, so I took Hughes’ immediate reaction with a grain of salt. Indeed, Hughes eventually apologized for some of those comments, stating that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Even so, some of the aforementioned comments were made in an interview with Gavin McInnes, who has a “sordid history of racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments.” I am not implying Hughes is guilty by association, nor that he agrees with McInnes’s views simply because he agreed to an interview with him. But the banter between the two suggests they are indeed in agreement on a number of issues.
Since Bataclan, Hughes has also used his Instagram account to call political opponents “bullies” and “fascist neo-Nazis” (though he quickly edited that particular post and has since deleted all of his posts about the March for Our Lives).
But, to be sure, his recent remarks are far more incendiary than anything he’s previously said.
What’s my point? Musicians are people, and hold political and religious opinions just like anyone else. Some entertainers divorce the two—keeping their politics or religion to themselves for the sake of their professional career—and that is their right. But entertainers also have the right to chose to not divorce the two. I would submit people, including entertainers, have not only a right but—in most cases, and within reason—a duty to their conscience to express themselves as they see fit.
Despite criticisms that entertainers should stick to entertainment (actors to acting, musicians to music, etc), entertainment has always been, and I believe is inextricably, linked to politics. In fact, it is fair to say some forms of entertainment were created in direct response to politics. Entertainers have used and continue to use various forms of entertainment, or else their platforms as performers, to convey political messages, either subtly or overtly, throughout the history of humanity. That’s their right.
But they do not have a right to have me or anyone else as a supporter or listener. This is especially true when the entertainer expresses and argues for not simply a different political opinion, but the view that people who disagree with them are despicable. This is why I am seriously questioning my Eagles of Death Metal fandom.
One might argue that it is hypocritical to support the right of entertainers such as Hughes to express their views, and then turn around disengage from them once they do. But this completely consistent: we all need to act according to the dictates of our conscience. Sometimes that brings us together; other times it tears us apart. How that turns out is largely our responsibility. We must strive to understand each other, our opinions, and our motivations. But there are realistic limitations to these efforts.
If musicians should not be forced to separate their politics from their music, then why should fans? If musicians find it difficult to separate their inner convictions from their public personas and performances, fans can find it difficult to devote their precious time, energy, and financial resources (sometimes significant in scope) to musicians who have expressed opinions which offend them.
Of course, one might also ask Hughes why he, as someone who relies on public performance, would want to alienate his fans. But why should it be any other way? Why should Hughes have to lead a secret life? Why should he want to fool people? Why should we want to be fooled? Should we all lead secret lives in order to please more people? Is that what we want?
Music is a form of expression, and for many musicians it is their chosen outlet for expression. I wouldn’t tell a musician to shy away from what motivates them, whether personally or professionally.
Then again, as a moral agent in this busy and complex world of ours, where do I draw the line?
The overarching principle is not yet clear in my mind, but in this particular situation the answer does appear clear. Vile abusers of the dead. Haters of liberty. Lovers of Treason. Lovers of Satan. This is not political disagreement. It’s dehumanization.
Eagles of Death Metal is one of my favorite bands. Their music is fun, their concerts even more so. I saw Eagles of Death Metal in concert in Washington, D.C. September 2015, and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen since moving to this city. It was more than a show; it was an experience. The band was one with the audience.
The attack on the Bataclan theatre happened two months later, nearly to the day.
There’s a certain pull to remain supportive of, or loyal to, a band you’ve loved for years. It’s probably not much different than the pull to remain supportive of a team or a person you’ve loved for years. You’ve invested time, energy and money. You’ve enjoyed time spent with them. They may have even had experiences which endeared you to them, such as surviving a horrific attack. What horror to think of one of your favorite bands on stage, the band members in full flow, the crowd having a blast, when terrorists with guns begin spraying the room with death?
And then to find out those same musicians are now spending some of their free time spewing their own form of toxin.
The pull to remain is natural, but that doesn’t make it right.
Why should a consumer in a free and music-saturated market feel any moral pressure to support any musician? Especially if and when the musician spreads views the fan finds abhorrent? What exactly does society gain from people feeling the need to provide loyalty to entertainers who have insulted them? Do we not gain rather from individuals fully exercising their intellectual faculties?
Still, questions remain. How far can or should I extend this principle of the inextricable link between entertainment or music and politics? (Note: the answer to that question does not suggest anything about whether or not the principle is wise). Should I run a Google search before listening to any new artists? Should I Google search all the artists I already listen to?
Further, isn’t engagement better? Well, I’ve commented several times on Hughes’ Instagram posts that his personal attacks on people with whom he disagrees are insulting to the many Eagles of Death Metal fans who hold the same or similar views. But my impact as one fan is severely limited, if not non-existent. Why should I expect to impact Hughes or his bandmates in any way?
I love the music of Eagles of Death Metal, and I want to like Jesse Hughes. I’m sure if I had a chance to speak with him, I’d even find I share some values with him. Life is complicated. But Hughes’ recent comments are beyond the pale, and for that reason, I am done with this band—at least for now.
Update, 3/31/18: Hughes has issued an apology. Sort of.