Music Re: More Buju Than You
Eternal props to Dave Schmader for wading through the comments on the Buju Banton controversy and calling a lot of them exactly what they are: “Willfully obtuse.”
I can’t improve upon what he said about the necessary distinction between free speech and hate speech, but I do want to add one thing, since I’m being called a censorious hypocrite in the comments. (And via the work of the Heptones no less!)
I totally agree with Kerri Harrop when she says in the comments, in reference to the Buju controversy:
i’ll say it again: freedom of speech is a protected constitutional right. the public also has the right to decide whether or not they will support such actions. a business owner has the right to provide a venue for whatever sort of art they see fit — even if that art offends and/or is hateful.
Correct, correct, correct. Right on.
But here’s something a lot of the commenters seem not to know: The Stranger is not the U.S. Supreme Court or the Seattle Police Department. We don’t interpret the Constitution and we don’t enforce its provisions. (And as far as I know, this blog doesn’t have the power to single-handedly repeal the First Amendment — and wouldn’t even if the worst fever-dreams of our commenters proved true and we suddenly had Constitutional veto power.)
The First Amendment continues to exist despite Neumo’s cancelling of the Buju Banton show. Neumo’s still has the right to put on offensive shows if it wants to. We still have the right to put up blog posts about Buju Banton if we want to. And Buju Banton himself, if he really still believes in the urgency of an artistic message that includes glorifying anti-gay violence, can stand on the street in front of Neumo’s (or in any other public space) and shout that message as loud as he wants.
If he can afford to buy a printing press, he can print copies of the lyrics to Boom Bye Bye and distribute them far and wide. If he can afford a club, he can put himself on its stage every night for the next year and perform his song for whoever will come. If he can’t afford either, and he can get someone else to believe in his message, then maybe that person will pay to get it out into the world.
But what he can’t do — and what the people in the comments can’t do — is force anyone to promote a message he or she doesn’t want to promote. And the Neumo’s ownership has said quite clearly that it doesn’t want to promote homophobes. End of story.
Dave resents having to parse the comment bullshit comparing Banton to the Beastie Boys. Here’s something I resent: Being bullied by people who use the idea of protecting artistic expression as a dodge for their own responsibility to exercise some artistic judgment.
This is not to say that there ever should, or could, be a bright line between what is art and what is not, or between what is good art and what is bad art. It is simply to say that we don’t do art any favors by pretending all art is equal and equally deserving of a wide audience.
p.s. I think the most interesting question this whole fiasco brings up is one about the limits of apology and forgiveness. We tried, but we couldn’t find any evidence of Buju himself actually apologizing for and disavowing his anti-gay, violence-inciting lyrics. If Buju had made a clearer and more public apology for Boom Bye Bye (and stopped playing it), would people be willing to forgive him, move on, and welcome him to Seattle? That’s a more interesting question that unfortunately we won’t get to answer.