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.]