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AMANDA PALMER WANTS TO SHOCK YOU. Just Don’t Get Upset About It, ‘Kay?

Hey, everybody: it’s story time!

So, I don’t like Amanda Palmer. The idea of her, I mean! Obviously, I don’t know the woman. Maybe if we met we would braid each other’s hair and trade favorite Lucille Clifton poems; who knows, really? But this, this not-liking-the-idea-of-Amanda-Palmer, has been a contentious issue in my life, it turns out. A lot of feminists really do like her. They like that she is a survivor of sexual assault who has gone public with this information; that she has had an abortion, and talks about that as well; that she did that whole slightly-convex-belly-awareness campaign; that she doesn’t shave her armpits; that she seems, in some manner, deeply unconcerned with what anyone else thinks of her, and deeply devoted to doing what she likes how she likes when she likes it; that this is, in some manner, “feminist” or at the very least kind of healthy, compared to the other things ladies in the public eye tend to do.

These are good points! Fine points! However: we need to clarify. When I talk about not liking (the idea of) Amanda Palmer? I’m talking about shit like this.

Yes, Amanda Palmer has found an exciting new band, “Evelyn Evelyn,” to nurture and hand-hold and bring into the spotlight. This band is composed of conjoined twins who (a) have separate names, but prefer to be called by the same name, (b) fear all publicity so much that Amanda Palmer has to personally shield and protect them from it (and give them a record contract, because that helps them to avoid publicity…??? No words, just punctuation marks, this is what I’m thinking), (c) are child-porn survivors, (d) used to be in a circus, and (e) have really detailed descriptions of their disability written by one Amanda Palmer on her professional Internet website, because this is fascinating, and also apparently their marketing gimmick.

Also? These twins are fictional. They are played by Amanda Palmer and her friend Jason Webley. Leaving aside all of the many many issues here for just one moment, I invite you to revel with me in this amazing fact: Amanda Palmer actually is in a position to locate new and unknown bands, support their work, and help them to achieve their goals. And the remarkable new unknown band she has decided to do this incredible favor for contains Amanda Palmer.

Yeah, I thought that might be fun for you, too!

But, beyond that, yes: obviously, this is fucked-up on every level you can fuck a thing up. She’s trivializing childhood sexual abuse, by using it as a way to spice up what would otherwise be a still-pretty-ridiculous concept band; she’s trivializing the way disabled people are marginalized, stared, mocked at, and defined as Other, which would appear to be the entire concept of the concept band; she’s releasing a song “by conjoined twins,” which is a cover, and which would appear to be “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

“Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Conjoined twins. “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”

Because she’s fucking ARTISTICAL, that’s why. Stop questioning it! Give in! Give in to the outrageous artisticality of Amanda Palmer!

But that’s not what I want to focus on, for the moment. What I would like to focus on is her response. Which is, from her very artistical and outrageous Twitter: “setting aside 846 emails and removing the disabled feminists from her mental periphery, @amandapalmer sat down to plan her next record.”

So, the disabled feminists were on the periphery, Amanda Palmer? Like, on the margins, sort of? And you want to get them out of there? You want to, like, marginalize them even further? Yeah, okay. I just wanted to be clear, Amanda Palmer! That is all!

Because here is the deal: the armpits, the belly-awareness, the blog posts in defense of your right to do what you want with your body and your lyrical content, sure. I won’t say it means nothing, per se. It means something, insofar as your fans might take some inspiration from it, might assign their own meanings to it. But you? You don’t get to claim credit for that. You appear, with one fell Tweet, to have debunked the idea that this was about anything other than you.

Because, here’s the thing: if these issues actually matter to you, if other people actually matter to you, then you pay fucking attention and care about issues that don’t directly affect you. Yes, Amanda Palmer, even issues pertaining to people with disabilities! I don’t know if you thought disabled people were so very rare on this Planet Earth that there were none of them in your audience to hurt. Perhaps you thought people with disabilities (or, you know, child-porn survivors: I can’t get over the child-porn thing, how it’s just thrown in there like a fun little Cracker Jack prize to make the project more amusing, instead of being a pretty serious thing that actually happens to actual people who suffer from it immensely and every day of their lives – child pornography, for the sake of our Sweet Lord Baby Jesus) were fabulous mythical creatures, like unicorns, that you got to repurpose for your own personal entertainment. But, you know, apparently they aren’t! Apparently some of them are, or were, fans of yours! And apparently you screwed up on this one! Because this isn’t an experience, like abortion or rape or having a stomach or armpits, that  you own. This is an experience that you are dressing up in, for fun. And some people had understandable problems with that. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the history of entertainment, it’s that non-marginalized people who dress up as marginalized people for entertainment purposes tend not to make those marginalized people terribly happy, so you could have foreseen this. But you didn’t, so you got called out. And apparently you responded, not by thinking about it, not by thoughtfully defending your position or explaining yourself or making it a goal to re-tool this project so that it doesn’t hurt people this way, but by complaining about the number of e-mails you got and “removing” them from your “mental periphery.”

Which doesn’t work. It doesn’t, and I’m sorry, and I sure do hope you can get over that fact. But this “feminism” thing: it’s not for some people, it’s not for you specifically, it’s not a fun little badge you get to slap onto your actions when it suits you. It is a system of carefully worked-out thought, which has been developed for many, many years by many thousands of people, and one of the most unavoidable parts of this system, which we can’t get away from if we are thinking for even a second with any ounce of intellectual rigor or honesty, is that everybody matters. Everybody matters precisely as much as you do. Which is why you don’t get to use them as a means of gratifying yourself with attention when the attention is good, or deny them the right to be heard or respected when the attention is bad.

Feminists disagree all the time; feminists screw things up all the time. Nobody is denying your right to disagree, or to make mistakes. But if you’re going to disagree, you’d better have a good argument to back it up, and you’d better be able to handle disagreement. If you’re going to make mistakes, you’d better be ready to say that they were mistakes, and to correct them.

Some of the reasons I once had for disliking (the idea of) you were mistakes, Amanda Palmer! It’s none of my business who you date or what you wear, but once I thought it was, and that was fucked-up! I officially don’t care about how you dress, or your personal life, or even your music because it is not to my taste and I never listen to it, Amanda Palmer! I might think that this Onion headline is a dark and prescient glimpse into your future, but whatevs! I don’t pay attention, except when you execute tomfoolery along these lines, so why should I care? Sorry for acting like it was my business, Amanda Palmer.

See? I just owned up to it, just like that. Doesn’t make me a better person, or erase the fact that I once disliked (the idea of) you for bullshit tabloid reasons, but it means I’m trying. And you seem to be… not. You seem, from the evidence supplied by your Internet media presence, to be petulant about the very idea of trying. Which, as a person who tries, and would like more people to try, does make this sort of my concern.

As I said at the top of the post: you really do seem “deeply unconcerned with what anyone else thinks of you, and deeply devoted to doing what you like how you like when you like it.” And good luck with that. I mean it. But if you carry over that attitude into conversations like these… well. It’s not evidence of how cute or outrageous or artistical or “feminist” you are any more. It’s just one more way you, and this project, have failed.

[UPDATE: Amanda Palmer has posted a response that is longer than 140 characters. This is what I was hoping she would do, so: good for her! I’m not totally sure how I feel about all the response, but then, this is complicated by the fact that I just don’t know how to feel about Amanda Palmer. It has a lot of that society-and-everyone-else-is-out-to-get-Amanda-Palmer thing that makes me want to sit her down and do an intervention sometimes. “I make people angry!” “People love to judge!” Yes, honey, I bet they sure do, but if you are a shock artist – and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, people do that, Bob Flanagan did it more than you – you are courting this reaction, so does it really make sense to get all wounded when you “shock” them by doing something that crosses a line? In summary, I think of Amanda Palmer as the girl who would come over to your house, take a shit on your couch, and then make a self-righteous speech when you got angry about it, along the lines of, “man, you are such a conformist! Society tells you we have to use bathrooms, and you just fall for it, man! Not me! Couches are for sitting and shitting! Why do you hate me for not doing what society tells me to do?” Regardless, there might be some substance in here – there is also, I think, some (better) substance in Jason Webley’s post on the subject – so if you can read anything Amanda Palmer writes without getting a massive irritation headache, be my guest.]


  1. Bloomer wrote:

    I don’t have an opinion on her band or her as an artist, or I should say: I didn’t have. I have one song by the Dresden Dolls, that will be trashed, and I’m not going to buy anything she is remotely involved in ever again.

    As for Neil Gaiman, he’s a decent comic author, but only ‘decent’ because frankly, what is there to compare him too? Women and minorities still don’t get a break in the OB fraternity of comic books. He’s a decent children’s book author, with girl main characters. That doesn’t automatically let him off the hook; Roald Dahl is a decent child book author with girl main characters, and yet: serious racism issues. Gaiman’s misogynist issues became apparent in the over-hyped American Gods, a less than stellar effort, and his defending of Harlan Ellison. “Misogyny is bad, but not when my good old friend does it.” And now: “Ableism is probably bad, but not when my woman does it. AND YOU WILL SEE THAT IF YOU PAY FOR THE RECORD, AND BETTER, THE SHOW!” Cold day in hell. I downloaded the free E-E song, and trashed it after one hearing, it was crap.

    And both of their defenders going on about how their critics are ‘too politically correct’, most of that written by able-bodied, white men, who go around flapping their privilege. Boycott over the entire line until we get a real apology.

    Friday, February 19, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  2. Astute! wrote:

    You have hit the nail on the head with your suspicion that everything has always only been about Amanda Palmer.

    She champions ‘connection’ from her fans and by connection she has always only meant ‘worship’. She is the first to admit that music is important to her only as a means to acquire fan connection worship.

    Friday, February 19, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink
  3. Joe wrote:

    I’ll attempt to be as brief as possible. As bona fides have been defined as important by some of the complainers, I’ll state that I’m a feminist (assuming you allow XY people to be feminists) and have a congenital disability. As a child I was made to feel awkward about my deformed appearance and lack of abilities; even as an adult my friends will inadvertently do it not realizing that I’m not capable of some normal things.

    It’s fairly common for people to pretend to have my disability (or more accurately, very similar disabilies) for Halloween. And you know what, that never bothered me.

    I don’t think this project is particularly interesting or well thought out, but it’s no more worth getting worked up about as a persons with disabilities issue than the Rocky Horror Picture Show (which, incidentally, contains what could easily be considered incestuous pedophilia). I do think it’s interesting (at least based on a google search) that none of the offended people have bothered bring up the song Two Headed Boy (which Amanda has repeatedly covered and is one of the Stairway to Heavens of the offbeat pop music genre), particularly given the elephant imagery.

    One of the problems with the internet is that a few very loud people can appear to speak for a larger group than they do. The post at reads like someone who has a serious axe to grind and (subconsciously or not) looks for the opportunity to get offended. Her reading of “A Campaign of Shock and Awe” is amazingly tonedeaf, like conservatives who can’t detect that Stephen Colbert is being facitious. If all of the criticism Amanda was getting was like that, I can’t quite blame her for wanting to blow them off, though it wasn’t all that well handled.

    Neither were that site’s actions, shouting that the only thing that matters is that they’re offended and then disabling comments. If the only things that were allowed were those that offended no one, we’d have no art.

    The bottom line is that I’m glad I live in a world where she can make this album, George Carlin joked about rape, the Rite of Spring caused a riot, and Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 made it into an art gallery despite being mocked.

    Friday, February 19, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
  4. Sady wrote:

    @Joe: Obviously, no-one is saying that – as a person with a disability, or, you know, as a PERSON – you can’t have a different take on the matter. You can have any take you want! You can post any blog comment you want, although you seem to be spending a lot of time complaining about someone else’s post (and the fact that you can’t post a comment on it) rather than addressing this one. Similarly, people CAN make any joke they want, paint any painting they want, write or perform or record any piece of music they want: I have friends who are musicians, and have access to recording equipment, so if I wanted, I could go in tomorrow and release an entire concept album of me reading the copy off various cereal boxes while playing one long synthesizer chord. I am thinking A minor!

    But one of the fun things about this particular culture we live in, where you can safely say or do or make any piece of art you like, provided that you’re not actually and non-consensually hurting anyone or breaking any laws to make it, is that people have feedback. Sometimes it’s not pleasant feedback. And if you are going to do this, if you’re going to put shit out there, you need to be prepared for feedback that is not pleasant.

    I don’t think Amanda Palmer needs you to defend her from various opinions on the Internet, actually. Maybe they sting, but you know: I get feedback that stings almost every single day – at least once in this thread! – and, if it’s not openly disruptive or shitty, I publish it, and I think about it, and I respond to it. Because my goal is not to hurt people’s feelings in the same old boring ways they get hurt so much of the time anywhere else. Amanda Palmer made some art (no matter what I think of it, or whether I think it deserves that name) and she is facing one of the consequences of art, which is: unfavorable reviews and opinions. Getting upset about unfavorable reviews and opinions, and framing your upset reactions as a defense of “free expression,” is one of the greater and more common ironies in this world. I’m not surprised she’s doing it, because, hey: people get petulant. But it’s a reaction that deserves a closer look.

    Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink
  5. annaham wrote:

    Hey Sady,

    Please feel free to not let my earlier comment out of moderation. I was frustrated when I wrote it, but I realize now it doesn’t really contribute anything to the discussion here. My frustration got the better of me, and for that, I apologize.

    I guess I’m just pretty much over people personally attacking me for what I wrote instead of actually critiquing what I wrote. PWDs are not a monolith. We are allowed to have our own opinions, some of which — surprise — may not match up with those who are not disabled (and I think Joe’s comment, even though it does go into personal attack territory and does so without mentioning me by name, demonstrates the whole PWDs-as-not-a-monolith very well). What I posted on FWD consisted of my personal opinion on the matter. However, since my post has (and I don’t mean to take credit or anything for ALL of the posts thereafter that were not mine or Lauredhel’s) apparently provoked quite a bit of discussion, I think it’s something of a testament to the fact that people *do* have strong opinions on this issue, and many of them are willing to discuss their opinions sans the use of questionable tactics. Other issues aside, I think that is pretty great. Silver lining, perhaps?

    Anyway, thank you for writing this. I will be linking it in my upcoming post on this whole thing–I hope that’s okay.

    Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink
  6. Sady wrote:

    @Annaham: Oh, lady! I would like to let your earlier comment out of moderation, actually! (For the record: if comments are slow to be unmoderated, it is because we have been attacked with linkspam, all coming from different IP addresses so blocking does nothing, and so your comment is buried under the 50 spam comments that came in TODAY ALONE. It’s an uphill battle, and I don’t know if I’m paranoid or if someone is doing this shit on purpose. But it sucks, regardless.) Anyway, I don’t think you were at all rude. And I think you’re absolutely right: people have been engaging in the “she is so bad for saying this” rather than discussing anything that anyone has actually said, a lot of the time. I hope that the original post didn’t do that (I have this weird bias toward this one celebrity, so I felt like I had to acknowledge it, but for the most part I hope it was critique rather than attack) and I hope we can avoid doing that in the comments here, insofar as possible. Joe’s was the most semi-productive of all those comments, and so I let it through. But, yeah, obviously feel free to link. And don’t apologize for expressing frustration. You’ve earned that right, in abundance, I would think.

    Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Permalink
  7. Brooke wrote:

    @Bloomer – I’m not sure what the quality of Gaiman’s comics have to do with the topic at hand. It seems like petty bashing and a personal attack, something that doesn’t add to the conversation about -isms. Shakesville, for example, prohibits these sorts of comments on posts about celebrities’ problematic behavior.

    One of the issues is that many of the people who have expressed their outrage are FANS – fans of Amanda Palmer, fans of Neil, fans who are disturbed that people they expected better from are exhibiting their privilege and not getting it. It’s something worth talking about meaningfully, and I don’t think you comment was relevant at all.

    Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Permalink
  8. Sady, you reading cereal boxes to a continuous A minor chord would actually be a very cool kind of performance art.

    Thank you for pointing out that the freedom of expression of one’s artistic nature is accompanied by the freedom of others to critique that expression. Like many other artists and performers, I would be most happy if I was only ever praised by adorers, but it’s a delightfully free country, where all can make free expression of their feelings.

    Annaham and Lauredhel wrote very cogent expressions of such. đŸ™‚

    Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Permalink
  9. billie rain wrote:


    i had no idea this was going on until i read your post. thanks for warning me. as one of the “disabled feminists” i’m glad i didn’t come upon this project cold. i’ve been visiting your links and reading comments, and now i feel like i wanna beat my head against the wall. and the wall is a perfect metaphor for the folks who are ignorant about the realities of ableism and are determined to keep it that way.

    i admire everyone who is attempting to elevate the dialogue about ableism. i’m just too overwhelmed and disgusted by the whole premise of the “evelyn evelyn” project to think clearly enough to articulate a response.


    take care,
    billie rain

    Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink
  10. CassieC wrote:

    Thanks for this post, Sady, and to Annaham and Lauredhel for your writing.

    I have a generic issue with the comments that say “I never liked her, and now I know why, thanks!” I don’t think that this sentiment is ever really appropriate: either you don’t like someone for a reason, or you try to understand where your feelings come from. This is exactly the line of argument racists and others use when their prejudices are confirmed by some anecdote. It is also used by mean girls everywhere and reminded me of this post: .

    The other is that just because Amanda Palmer is doing something objectionable doesn’t mean her art sucks 100% or that we should all go burn her CDs and so on. I am personally a fan not only of AFP, but a whole bunch of artists (B. Dylan and L. Cohen have been mentioned here recently) whose politics and behavior are sometimes pretty hard to stomach. I struggle with that, but in the mean time, I’m not going to hold Amanda Palmer to a higher standard because she’s a woman and possibly a feminist and I want her to know better. I’m going to keep admiring what I admire and criticizing the rest – but not more or less than with male artists.

    Monday, February 22, 2010 at 2:39 am | Permalink
  11. Jake wrote:

    Call me old-fashioned, but she lost me at the lack of capitalization.

    Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  12. Masha wrote:

    Ugh, this and the Katy Perry thing have just rolled together into this big ball of “hell no”.
    It kind of hurts, because I love so much of her work. It’s helped me through so much shit. And then it turns out she’s… like this. I just watched the Katy perry thing a few minutes ago (though I’ve heard about it previously) and dear Amanda, I appreciate your intent — as a bi woman, Prop 8 and Katy Perry’s songs piss me right the fuck off, but I am also a sexual assault and rape survivor, and a physical abuse survivor (and the latter was by a woman) and all this does is make me angry at you and at the world in general. What were you thinking?
    It seems like everyone I admire eventually turns into an asshole. As someone above has said.
    And despite this crap, much of her art remains great. I guess it’s a question of whether you can stand it — so many great writers, artists and musicians have been assholes, or abusers of some kind or another, and everyone who knows has varying stances on it between “I’ll never read/view/listen to their work again,” and “Well, it doesn’t matter.” I guess I understand both (the last one as coming from denial).

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 2:26 am | Permalink
  13. Jennifer wrote:

    Weird fact: there was a book I read a few years ago called “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” About conjoined twin singers (basically the Hilton twins as Britney Spears), no less. Interesting coincidence, if it is one.

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 11:17 pm | Permalink
  14. Sarah wrote:

    Wow. Amanda Palmer mentioned this whole debacle on Australian TV last night…Oh dear.

    Monday, March 1, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink
  15. naanie wrote:

    The quip about Amanda Palmer being the kind of person who would shit on your couch just to be edgy is my favorite description of Amanda Palmer and how she presents herself to the public. Seriously, I laughed, I cried, I wished I had written it myself. You completely nailed it. I adore this critique of the whole situation; you said it better than I could have.

    Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

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  1. broken hearted « gender, rants, and sodomy. on Monday, February 22, 2010 at 2:43 am

    […] blog covered the issue very well, and although the author clearly has some issues with AFP herself that […]

  2. […] everyone of all sorts of (sometimes nasty) things, some even saying that Amanda Palmer would shit on a couch just to be edgy, but some interesting discussion took place in the midst of the shitstorm. Palmer […]

  3. […] “AMANDA PALMER WANTS TO SHOCK YOU…” by Sady of Tiger Beatdown (Feb 17). […]

  4. […] of “Never Been a Bad Girl” suggested Dresden Dolls (though not Evelyn Evelyn’s super-problematic crip drag) on first listen, as well as Inara George and Jolie Holland in louder moments. The emphasis on […]