A confession (part 3), or, what ends when the symbols shatter?

Now it’s time for me to speak a little more abstractly.

I want to make it clear from the start that I’m not attempting to police anyone’s musical taste. I’ve been trying to explain why I became increasingly uncomfortable with a specific artist and decided that I couldn’t in good conscience continue to support them.

One clarification I’d like to add is that when I talk about having been involved in the neofolk subculture/Death in June fandom I’m talking about very peripheral involvement. I’m not really a joiner and I don’t generally like to get involved with “groups”. I frequently say (jokingly but not really) that I find people who agree on things untrustworthy. As a result none of my friends share more than a couple of my interests and I’m not one for organized group activities. 

So when I describe myself as having once been involved with the neofolk subculture that means I had a couple of friends into the genre and I commented once or twice on a blog or two about the subject. I may also have had a half a dozen conversations on tr subject with non fans. The closest I ever got to going to a show was seeing Earth at the Empty Bottle last year (Douglas P’s refusal to tour was one of the things I liked about him). So DI6 fans can say that I was never a “true fan” and that what I’m saying reflects an upstart outsider’s misperceptions.

I’m largely interested in where we should draw the line. A common theme I’ve seen in the ex neofolk crowd is rejection of artists who have collaborated with the more problematic members of the scene. I’m not sure that’s exactly productive but I understand the impulse. 

David Michael/Tibet, for instance, was intimately connected with Death in June during the relatively early part of the scene. But if we reject Current 93 because of his association with DI6/Sol Invictus/whomever we ignore that those collaborations ended decades ago, and that it becomes easy to tar other artists with that same brush. 

I interpret Tibet/Michael’s wide variety of collaborators as indicative of his friendly outlook. It’s possible I’m being too charitable here, but Current 93’s recent support of artists like Baby Dee is a great thing to my mind. Of course, Michael/Tibet was also a supporter of Tiny Tim who wasn’t really any less racist than Douglas P is, not to mention his homophobia. Still, as I’ve mentioned above I think that anyone who portrays themselves as flawless or who will only associate with people who aren’t problematic in any way is at best lying to themselves and at worst actively trying to conceal something. So I don’t really begrudge David Michael/Tibet his acquaintances.

One point where Douglas P and I are in total agreement is that the words we use are important am potentially powerful. Which is one of the reasons I don’t really listen to his music anymore. I think DI6 is carelessly using imagery and language that is potentially quite dangerous, regardless of whether or not the symbolism is sincere.

David Tibet has made similar comments about his break with the OTO: that actions and words have consequences and thoughtlessly playing around can have potentially tragic real world consequences. 

It seems like Douglas P thinks that Current 93’s music is similarly irresponsible. In the end it comes down to ideological differences. I reject Douglas P’s libertarian perspective and so see his use of fascist imagery irresponsible, whereas he sees it as an emphasis on the importance of individual responsibility and self control.

The question I end up asking myself constantly is “if I acknowledge that nobody is ideologically|morally|spiritually|whatevery perfect, where do I draw the line?”

I still listen to Pat the bunny’s early work (the pre-rehab stuff he won’t touch now) despite the fact that I have serious problems with some of the lyrics (I wait outside of a cop’s house / holding a twelve gauge). I have problems with some of his new stuff too. I don’t think fantasizing about murder is cool, and I think he ends up undermining his anarchism somewhat by drawing an arbitrary distinction between the people who hold up the current political system and everyone else. 

I justify it to myself by pointing out that Pat constantly, in lyrics and in interviews, makes it clear that he’s not actually advocating murder, that he’s really just venting his frustrations. I am somewhat suspicious that this is a pretty thin justification and that a more likely reason is that Pat’s politics are closer to mine than Douglas P’s are and so I’m willing to forgive him more.

I think that the case of Death in June is interesting because it presents a different question than with Orson Scott Card or Marion Zimmerman Bradley or Ezra Pound or Adam Baldwin. In those cases it’s a question of avoiding art that is not necessarily problematic in itself because of the problematic views of its creators. In the case of Death in June it makes me wonder about the reverse: do we avoid problematic art by people who aren’t necessarily themselves problematic? I’m not saying that Douglas P isn’t problematic, but he’s not significantly more right wing than the current Republican Party. His personal views are frequently reprehensible, and I don’t intend to whitewash that. But what if the same music was being made by somebody who wasn’t a little too close to Le Pen for comfort. 

I guess Anne McAffrey would be a good example. Some of her work is seriously questionable in its portrayal of consent (and the age thereof).

I’m tempted to say that the answer is even easier: if the work itself is problematic then there’s really no reason not to stay away. At what point do the problematic aspects overtake other positives in the work? It’s a question that comes up all the time when reading classic fiction, but it’s also less pressing because most of those authors are dead and not in a position to benefit.

It’s a question that doesn’t really have a simple answer. I nearly quit reading Apropos of nothing because of how tone deaf it got at times. Perhaps the best recent example is the work of David Dalgish, which earnestly attempts to address serious issues but ends up failing miserably. It’s possible that The warded man falls into this category.

I know people whose response has been to pirate that material so that the authors don’t benefit economically from their prejudice (A did this with NSBM), but that doesn’t address the “words have meaning and can this be dangerous” or the “creeping fascism” issues.

I don’t know. What I do know is that I was a fan of Death in June, albeit a slightly uncomfortable one, and I eventually reached a point where I was uncomfortable with my own attempts to justify the problematic stuff.

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