another open letter to Joshua Zimmerman & The Silent Comedy

So here's a little tiny bit of San Diego music world buzz/drama...

A few days ago, popular and successful San Diego band The Silent Comedy released a music video for their song "Always Two." The video was directed by Krista Liney, and according to the band, the video was mostly her vision. 

You can view the video here: trigger warning for violence and rape. 

I left a huge, novel-length comment on Chris Maroulakos' insightful and detailed post about the video on Owl & Bear. You can read that post here. I applaud Chris and the staff at O&B for proving that they are one of the few journalistic outlets here in San Diego who a) has a spine and b) has morals and c) isn't afraid to write an article standing up for their thoughts and views in a respectful way.

As I said on my novel-length comment: it's not easy to call your friends out, it's not easy to write a post saying that you are offended by a music video released by one of the most successful bands in town. The Silent Comedy is a well-produced band, they have a huge fan base, and they do a lot of touring. I was at the San Diego Music Awards and they took home quite a few awards, if I remember correctly. They're a homegrown band who is really going places in their careers, and most people in San Diego are pretty stoked on that. I am certainly stoked on bands in San Diego being successful, whether or not I'm a fan or go to their shows all the time, I think it's been a while, but whatever...

I've been too busy baking cookies and doing other festive shit to really respond. I'm also in the midst of finishing up my first book about my touring and music experiences. So when Justine Marzoni wrote a beautiful open letter to the Silent Comedy, I read it, I slow clapped, I listened to the new Beyoncé album, and then I went back to my business: making macarons, sugar cookies, candied grapefruit peels, and madeleine cookies as gifts for friends and family.

I thought this whole thing was over until Owl & Bear posted Joshua Zimmerman's comments on the Silent Comedy's blog. And that's what caused my blood pressure to spike enough to take to my blog. This may be long and rambly because right now I'm on a bit of a food allergy cleanse, and I haven't had any sugar or carbs in three days. While I am a bit out of it, I wouldn't say I'm particularly grumpy or anything today, I got a decent night's sleep last night and overall I've had an awesome day.

A little bit about me: I am a woman in music, I am a rape survivor, I've been in an abusive relationship, and I am a person who grew up in a household where physical and emotional violence were present. I also make a mean apple pie, and I am a huge Arrested Development fan. My favorite album of 2013 was "Random Access Memories." My mom got me a wetsuit for Christmas and I'm looking forward to not having excuses to not go surfing next year. I am working on New Year's Eve and I'm really excited for 2014.

I say this because it's important for Joshua, The Silent Comedy, Krista Liney, and everyone in the world, really, to know that the people who were deeply upset and triggered by this video are normal, everyday people who often do normal things like... go to bars and sing karaoke. Sometimes we go out to eat! And we have lots of local bands that we like, too! Here's a very important point I want to make sure y'all understand: Sexual assault survivors or abuse survivors in general are not people who go through life searching high and low for reasons to be upset or to be reminded of the abuse that we went through! But when we are triggered, or when we see things that affect us deeply, that remind us of the abuse we went through, it can really affect us in a way that it DOESN'T AFFECT SOMEONE WHO ISN'T A SURVIVOR OF ABUSE, RAPE, OR OTHER VIOLENCE. 

Our feelings and our triggers are not "misinterpretations"! If we say that we were deeply upset by something, that's what it means! To us, and that's important! It means that we watched something, and it triggered us, and we thought of some of the awful things that had happened to us, or maybe that had happened to friends of ours. We sometimes can't help it - I certainly can't help if I'm triggered emotionally by things I see. Like many people in the world and on the internet, I rely on trigger warnings. If something has a trigger warning for rape or abuse, and I'm having a decent day, I might click on it. If I'm having a really shit day, I probably won't. You know why? Because I know that as a rape survivor, as an abuse survivor, it might set me off. It might cause me to have a completely horrible rest of my day. So my methodology of maintaining sanity is to avoid certain things, which can include social media, music videos, or television shows. If the Silent Comedy's video had a trigger warning at the beginning that said something like, "This video depicts violence. Viewer discretion is advised" I most likely wouldn't be writing this post.  

The Silent Comedy is not the only band to be called out for this. Your music video is not the first or only thing to really hit a nerve with me, or with others. There was an episode of "Scandal" recently where one of the lead characters was raped in a particularly disturbing scene. And I love Scandal!!! I love almost everything about it! But I still found myself wishing that Shonda Rhimes and Co. had put a warning at the beginning of the episode. It was a spectacularly acted scene, and it was a necessary facet of the character's development, but if I had known how awful it was going to make me feel, I would have skipped through those minutes of the episode.

Does this mean that Shonda Rhimes & Co. are terrible people? No. That's not what I'm saying. Does this mean that I'm never going to watch Scandal again? No, not at all. What it means is that the way the rape was presented made me feel uncomfortable and upset. It was difficult for me to watch and it was painful for me to watch. I felt it was very insensitive to the viewers.

Being sensitive to people's opinions, feelings, and emotions is not laying down and dying or giving up your artistic integrity: it's actually just a very important part of being a decent human being. If people are offended and upset by this video, you're not "taking a stand" by refusing to apologize, or refusing to even admit that the video depicts sexual violence!

I've said this before, and I'm not going to stop saying it until I die: it's not "edgy" or "hip" or "cool" or "taking a stand" or "being creative" or being a "maverick" to make a piece of art/tweet a joke/say something that offends somebody and then act shocked and refuse to apologize or take responsibility when people are offended. It's not edgy; it's reinforcing existing power structures and hierarchies and it's boring and it's lame and quite frankly, I think artists are here to disrupt and dismantle those power structures and not to perpetuate them.

Your opinion, as voiced on your blog, is that the video in no way depicts sexual violence. I disagree, and there are others who disagree. I also cannot follow the dangerous logic that the depiction of an abusive relationship is separate from the depiction of sexual violence. Sexual violence is often part of an abusive relationship. Many people spoke in comments and said extremely disturbing things. I read many comments that said "How can she be raped if it's by her boyfriend?" Ummmm... consent doesn't cease to be important just because you're in a relationship with somebody! 

The video was also shot in a way that confused and misled a lot of people. Many people voiced that the video's plot was unclear. It was unclear to me that "Jenny," the protagonist of the video, was actually leaving her abusive lover. That is a storyline that I would have been more likely to get behind.

 

You got a very nice open letter from a fan, you got a thoughtful article from Owl & Bear, and then you got even more coverage from Jeff at CityBeat. Your response is, in my opinion, inadequate and derails the conversation that's been taking place all week.

A respectful open letter from a fan on her personal blog is not a "fruitless social media spat." Two lengthy articles and multiple social media posts from some of the biggest and most important music blogs in town are not a "fruitless social media spat." People are engaging with the video in thoughtful and insightful ways; it takes time, energy, and a lot of effort to write an open letter like Justine did. Chris at Owl & Bear didn't churn out that article in 15 minutes, and I'm sure Jeff at CityBeat took time away from other things he had to do to call you and interview you for the post. People having strong feelings about a public work of art and voicing their opinions is not a "fruitless social media spat."  To dismiss the very real discussion that's taking place as a "fruitless social media spat" is a flippant way of casting off your responsibility in creating and approving the video that started the discussion to begin with. It's also a lovely way of dismissing the people who have negative feelings about the video as "crazy" or "silly" or "whatever." To say that these well thought-out open letters, comments, and articles are just a silly little spat is so dismissive to your fans, both ordinary people and members of the media, who chose to watch a video that made them deeply uncomfortable and write about it without flaming you, or your band. If someone is flaming you, I certainly don't know about it. All the discussions that I've seen taking place are respectful and come from a place of reflection and deep thoughts, (not Jack Handey-style).

And by the way, this very real discussion that's taking place is about the VERY REAL and heavy issues of domestic violence, abusive relationships, sexual violence, and rape. If you didn't want to have a conversation about these things, your band probably shouldn't have released a music video where these issues are explicitly addressed. 

If you wanna talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk. (excuse the tired cliché) If your band is going to release a video that was interpreted by multiple people of all genders as depicting sexual violence, abuse, and rape, then you need to have the metaphorical balls to be able to talk about that and not derail the conversation. 

I do not think that the role of an artist is only to make people feel good. I do not think artists are here to paint a clown face on ourselves and do our little dance for the world and make people laugh, and that's it. I believe in art that disturbs; I believe in art that unsettles. I don't believe it's an artist's job to "make people happy" or "make people feel good." You belong to a successful band, so obviously, your art does make people feel good, and that's great. I also think that artists should be free to create art of whatever they want, that doesn't make people feel good.... but ..........

I also think that a large part of creating art involves responsibility. If you want to make art that disturbs and disrupts, if you want to make art that talks about the difficult and nasty shit in life, then you have to be able to back it up, take responsibility for it, use trigger warnings if necessary, and deal with the consequences. 

The biggest thing that pissed me off about the thoughts posted to their blog is that somehow the Silent Comedy is now the victim of a flame war, and their band is now being "publicly shamed." 

Thoughtful discussion/disagreement and respectful open letters that address you, your band, and the controversy you've created are not public shaming. Again - I haven't watched or read every single thing about this, but to my knowledge that is not what is happening. People are discussing your video and they are discussing the way that it made them feel, and if someone was upset by your video and chose to post about it, that is not public shaming. This blog post? Also not public shaming. Even though I'm angry, and even though I am so sick of white men getting a disproportionate share of attention in the music scene, I am using respectful language to address you and your band. Me voicing my opinion... is not public shaming. Using those words to address the people who have thoughtfully and tactfully called your band out on a poorly-executed music video is quite dismissive. The discussions that are taking place are responsible ones, ideas being traded among mature adults. If you ain't grown enough to run with the big dogs, then you better stay on the porch. I'm not even going to get into how disrespectful it is to derail the conversation on your blog post and how incredibly patronizing it is to tell people who were offended by the music video to "take action" by giving our money to organizations that help stop domestic violence. We are taking action, by saying how we feel publicly and opening ourselves up to the consequences of doing so; the consequences of calling out one of the most popular & successful bands in town.

Maybe it's necessary for you to take some more action. Honestly, I would be happy if you would just put a trigger warning at the beginning of the music video. It's your video, and it's really well shot, and after seeing the director's explanation of the events, I was much less shocked and offended than I was before I understood the plot. Give people like me (1 out of every 3 American women is the victim of sexual assault) a chance to know what we might be getting into, and allow us the space to decide whether we are having the kind of day where we can watch scenes of an abusive relationship or not. Artists have a right to create the art they want, whether it's disturbing or triggering; AND people who are triggered have a right to decide whether or not they want to see it and support it. 

Ultimately, your fans are going to make up their minds about supporting this video and supporting your band based on your responses, not mine. And since you're a white man, your voice is probably always going to be taken more seriously than mine, but that's another post for another day.

*drops mic*

*heads to holiday party*