A few months ago, the band Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All jumped into the national queer news spotlight when their invite to the Big Day Out was revoked.
At the time, I sat back and watched the argument for and against them, did a bit of reading and found myself torn between deciding if they were genuinely homophobic or whether it was part of their “art”. I consider few things to be beyond the reach of ‘art’, and often find myself defending art that is deliberately provocative — it is the job of artists to push our boundaries.
But if they’re going to push our boundaries, they need to be prepared for the rebuttal. There is a fine line between offensive and abusive.
To be honest (and this should serve as a context-giving disclaimer) I only know the context of their use of “faggot” by reading the lyrics and interviews with the artists online and in magazines. I don’t listen to their music. (Nothing to do with snobbery, just don’t like the genre.)
In the same way that Tarantino defends himself by saying that he doesn’t make evil films, he makes films about evil people; Odd Future defend their music by saying it tells a story, which has homophobia in it, rather than the music itself being homophobic. (I’m heavily paraphrasing.)
But people were offended, they complained, and the organisers of the Big Day Out decided to revoke their invitation. Instead, they would play a separate gig, disassociated from the BDO event. I feel this is a worthy compromise — people who go to the separate gig are more likely to be familiar with the band’s work and the context of the lyrics.
I’ve defended free speech and offensive art before, but when it offends me, when my demographic is the one in the firing line, it gets harder to stand back and say, “No, it’s art. Freedom of speech, and all that. Nothing should ever be taboo.” But I have to at least try. This is why I chose not to post any commentary on here at the time — I found myself torn between two sides I didn’t want to fully defend and preferred to just avoid the whole can of worms.
But the can has been opened and the worms are in my face, and it would be disingenuous to shy away because the argument is both heated and complex.
The separate gig was fine, it was going without a hitch; no protests, people who knew the band went and enjoyed the music. But…
There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there…
Here’s the limited edition shirt that the band’s frontman Tyler “the Creator” designed:
On the back it says “Big Gay Out”. It’s an apparent stab at the gays who supposedly kicked them out of the BDO (and presumably they don’t know about the actual Big Gay Out). They had kicked up a stink at the time, and accused BDO organisers of racism, and this looks like a bit of middle finger waving at the gay men who complained.
There is room in this world for middle finger waving — I do it a lot — but don’t do it to repressed minorities. If it is art, defend it, but don’t be a dick about it.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people about it, and they find Odd Future’s homophobic lyrics abusive — too abusive to be defensible under the banner of “art”. And after all my defending trying to be neutral, I have to agree with them.
“I’m not homophobic. I just think ‘faggot’ hits and hurts people. It hits. And ‘gay’ just means you’re stupid. I don’t know, we don’t think about it, we’re just kids. We don’t think about that shit.”
That from Tyler. “we don’t think about it, we’re just kids. We don’t think about that shit,” is not how you defend art — and the fact that you’re aware enough to know that kids get away with not knowing shit, means that you’re aware enough to know what you’re doing.
The lyrics disgust me. Now, as I’ve often said about offensive artworks, disgust is an emotion and drawing out emotion is the job of art. But, people find the word ‘faggot’ and the homophobia in the lyrics to be very hurtful and triggering, and defending them is like defending rape jokes — yes ‘freedom of speech’, yes ‘in context with the right audience,’ but for many people, the shit it too real, and it hurts too much, and for many, many others, it validates and perpetuates their own internal homophobia (or misogyny and rape culture).
And in a world full of homophobia, with a culture rife with bullying and bigotry, we don’t need more things to put us down, whether you call it “art” or not.