Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Odd Future, Stuff and Freedom of Speech

I know, I know, criticising Stuff polls goes very well with the words 'fish' and 'barrel', but something's got to ease me back into blogging after my mostly study induced hiatus.

Background: hip hop (or possibly rap according to another source; I'm too musically clueless to attempt to settle this) group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All was booked to perform at the Auckland Big Day Out. A Wellington man wrote a letter objecting to the homophobia and misogyny of their lyrics which resulted in their invitation being rescinded.

Which brings us on to Stuff. Stuff has a poll on the issue which gives three options:

  • Yes, their lyrics are homophobic and misogynistic
  • No, I love the band
  • No, I don't really like the band but I'm for Freedom of Speech

Which, seriously. It is entirely possible to object to the band playing at BDO, believe their lyrics are homophobic and misogynistic and still believe in the helpfully capitalised concept of 'Freedom of Speech'. No Platform is not a new concept (that link goes to a specific example of an anti racist policy, but it's the best general explanation I've can find easily). It's not new to state that limiting someone's freedom of speech is not uninviting them to perform at a music festival, but imprisoning people or executing them. But I think sometimes we miss just how much how giving a platform to some people limits the ability of others to speak.


Comment direction: I won't accept queerphobia  in the comments, but feel free to discuss this issue generally from a feminist/queer rights perspective. There have been a few interesting points made, including a possible racial dimension, whether the banning will actually cause more problems for the queer community and the subtleties of the musical genre (of which I admit to being rather ignorant).


11 comments:

James said...

BDO is a privately organized event. It is consistent with freedom of speech (in the way you use it) for them to give the group a platform if they wish. Of course, they'll suffer any consequences of doing so (lost revenue from people boycotting, lost sponsorship, other bands pulling out in protest, etc). But it should not be within others' power to force the BDO organizers' hand(s) as the Auckland City Council appear to have done:

http://publicaddress.net/muse/the-very-odd-future-according-to-sandra-coney/

The thorny issue, however, is that the council owns the grounds at which the BDO takes place. I'm less clear about whether the council should be able to run a No Platform policy. Reading the publicaddress account, it doesn't sound like that's what they're doing, rather it sounds like they're trying to "protect" the "impressionable". That position, it seems to me, has a much weaker grounding than the No Platform position.

Hazel Parson said...

Hip hop and rap as a genre has of course a very long history of social commentary, but I don't know anything about this particular group: whether they are homophobic and misogynistic, or whether it's all satire and meant to make us think deep thoughts.

I entirely agree with you that giving people a platform to speak can limit the ability of others to do the same; and while I'm very, very reluctant to silence people, I think there's a distinction to be made between--
a) not letting someone state their [objectively offensive] views at all; and
b) not encouraging someone to state their [objectively offensive] views by giving them a public platform in which to do so.

For me this definitely falls into the latter category; and while as James said in comment #1 BDO is a privately organised event, so it should be their decision, I don't think being a privately organised event should prevent anyone from criticising them for their decisions, whatever they may be.

It can be really really hard to criticise people in power, and being paid to be on stage and speaking through a microphone is a form of power. And critics are often not given that same power, the legitimacy of being the person on stage with a microphone. When they are (which happens rarely), they're often dismissed as being anti-fun and negative -

- which, okay, maybe critics are anti-fun and negative, but that doesn't make the original statements inoffensive.

IDEK.

Hugh said...

One of the members of Odd Future is an out lesbian, but I think she's always managed to avoid commenting on the homophobia of their lyrics (which are admittedly mostly aimed at gay men when they're explicit).

Craig Ranapia said...

The thorny issue, however, is that the council owns the grounds at which the BDO takes place. I'm less clear about whether the council should be able to run a No Platform policy. Reading the publicaddress account, it doesn't sound like that's what they're doing, rather it sounds like they're trying to "protect" the "impressionable".

@James: As the author of the Public Address piece in question, my issues are more basic and disturbing.

As far as I can see, Sandra Coney got a letter she agreed with, called the (unelected) CEO of the council-owned company that manages Mount Smart Stadium who has "discussions" with the BDO organisers.

When Auckland City owns a hell of a lot of Auckland's cultural infrastructure - and has a lot influence over a lot of cultural/arts bodies - this is IMO completely inappropriate. No due process or natural justice. No public scrutiny or debate until after the fact. And, most worrisome, no evidence I can find that Coney bothered seeking any kind of mandate from the Mayor and full Council.

Perhaps I'm too cynical, but if Sandra Coney was a right-wing councillor responding to the fundie lobbyists to get an offensive queer act pulled from the BDO, I think the reaction would be very different.

And before "the gay community" and feminists applauds Coney too loudly, how soon we forget David Hay. Or certain anti-feminists trying to prevent Germaine Greer delivering her now infamous "bullshit" speech at the Town Hall.

Be careful what you tolerate today, folks, because tomorrow you may find the hand holding the whip a lot less congenial.

Hugh said...

That's a good point Craig, and the internet is full of people who will get their wicks up about proper procedure to a quite minute level when some decision they don't like is made, but ignore it when the result is something they do like.

However having said all that I'm comfortable with this. If the Council allows land it owns to be used for homophobic activities, it's going to look complicit.

I'd say the real situation is the one where the Council owns so much cultural infrastructure that it is put in the position of having to do this.

But this isn't a freedom of speech issue. Tyler was not (as some internet mugwumps are claiming) denied a visa, he's more than free to show up in Auckland and stand on a street corner on K Road explaining why "gay means you're stupid".

James said...

@ Hugh: which forms (and contents) of art, if allowed/not blocked by the council, would make the council
unacceptably implicit? That is, beyond what threshhold of "unacceptability" (if any) ought the council
step in to prevent arts/activities from occuring on public property? And if such a threshhold exists
to what extent should it differ from the threshhold beyond which authorities can step in to
prevent arts/activities on private property?

I'm of the view that there should be as little difference in threshholds as possible when the space
in which the arts/activities can be viewed is one in which people can freely choose to avoid. BDO
seems to meet that criteria (even more so given that there are a variety of stages to choose from at
the event itself).

Hugh said...

@ Hugh: which forms (and contents) of art, if allowed/not blocked by the council, would make the council
unacceptably implicit?


Homophobia, racism, classism, transphobia, ablism. You know, the usual stuff.

Keir said...


But this isn't a freedom of speech issue. Tyler was not (as some internet mugwumps are claiming) denied a visa, he's more than free to show up in Auckland and stand on a street corner on K Road explaining why "gay means you're stupid".


It is a freedom of speech issue. Tyler was denied a platform. Likewise, even when you are banned from having work published, you could still tell people your idea. But it's still censorship.

(And of course, Hugh, the Council has to work within the BORA framework, and BORA explicitly protects free speech at s 14.)

Hugh said...

If we interpret the right of freedom of speech to mean not just the right to speak but a right to have a platform, then my right of freedom of speech was curtailed because I wasn't given a slot at the BDO.

Keir said...

If we interpret the right of freedom of speech to mean not just the right to speak but a right to have a platform, then my right of freedom of speech was curtailed because I wasn't given a slot at the BDO.


But this is absurdly specious; freedom of speech has to mean a right to a platform, otherwise it is worthless. If no one can hear, then a theoretical right is useless. (And of course BDO itself isn't BORA constrained.)

We can also use the right to receive information here. Clearly the right of consenting adults to hear OF was hit, and that can't simply be remedied by a lunchtime gig on K Road.

It is impossible to seriously maintain that free speech wasn't attacked here. Someone who otherwise would have been able to disseminate their work has been prevented from doing so, by the actions of a governmental body.

You can try and defend that attack by reference to other rights, and eh, in some (many) cases I would be pretty down with that. In this case, I am very much not.

I should say (to Hazel) that Calum Bennachie is also a powerful person. He has worked with a current MP (Charles Chauvel) on a high profile lawsuit, he has a doctorate, he has a control of a very powerful discourse that is quite easily able to assert authority by reference to science and rationality. In this way he is able to rewrite a group of young black people as essentially animalistic and barbaric, in a way that I think is quite problematic.

Hugh said...

If we interpret the right to speech as a right to a platform it just becomes unenforcable. A right to what sort of platform? How many people need to hear us for our right to be exercised? 10? 20? 100? Is it different for different people? As far as I know I don't have any right to a platform - my right to free speech is constrained to whoever I can get to listen to me. In other words, I don't have access to any platforms. Why isn't this a problem for you?

As for the right to listen, it's not like they're taking Odd Future etc etc out of record stores or off the internet (which I would be opposed to).