Sunday, January 27, 2019

Aesthetics v ethics

"How do we live with music made by problematic artists?" asks Jayson Greene in a (rather pretentious) recent piece for Pitchfork. That same question was the subject of much discussion and debate on Episode 36 of Sounding Bored, specifically in relation to Hookworms and the end-of-year album poll.

Some of the team - including at least one who had previously adored Microshift - felt unable to vote for it in light of the allegations of "sexual, physical and emotional abuse" directed against frontman MJ. For them, the album and the band are (to use Greene's term) "cancelled". Others, myself included, were shocked by the allegations but nevertheless also uncomfortable with the idea of entirely airbrushing from history both an album that had been almost universally lauded and its creators.

MJ isn't the first artist to be accused of misdemeanours and won't be the last; indeed, many others have had their crimes proven in a court of law and yet seem to have avoided being blacklisted. MJ's case provoked a particularly strong reaction because of his prior "woke" pronouncements on feminism, sexism in music and toxic masculinity.

As Greene states, "Deciding where to draw or redraw our lines is always messy, retconned, and incomplete". Very often, the Sounding Bored crew agreed, that decision is influenced by whether or not we like the music of the artist in question - which means adopting a moral relativism that involves calling out, criticising and dismissing some for their (alleged) crimes and defending or turning a blind eye to those of others. No doubt some people would claim to be holier than thou, but I suspect that the vast majority of us lapse into this sort of hypocrisy at least occasionally.

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