Lollapalooza: 'No concerns' about Eminem’s hate

July 14, 2011

 

UPDATED WITH (NON-)COMMENT FROM THE PARK DISTRICT, 9:15 a.m. Thursday

Confronted by a coalition of domestic violence groups, rape victim advocates, and gay rights organizations, the promoters of the Pitchfork Music Festival belatedly invited those activists into this weekend’s festival in Union Park to present a counterpoint to the hate-filled lyrics of Odd Future, the most controversial booking in the fest’s six-year history.

More than five times as large and set in Chicago’s prestigious front yard of Grant Park, Lollapalooza has no plans to do anything similar to balance the anti-woman, anti-gay views frequently espoused by Eminem, one of the six key headliners in that event’s seventh year as a reinvented destination festival.

Though Eminem has been working hard in recent years to seem more cute and cuddly—and he now is safe enough to preside at the Grammys and provide the soundtrack for Detroit car commercials—he once was pop music’s reigning bad boy of shock, outrage, and venomous spew, before Odd Future and after Marilyn Manson, and part of a long line of acts that includes Alice Cooper, the Geto Boys, Slayer, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the Meatmen, and many, many others.

The man born Marshall Mathers is infamous for his particularly nimble flow of invective about gays and women, especially the mother who done him wrong and the ex-wife he is forever fantasizing murdering. He also is, no surprise, one of the few influences and musical heroes that the devoted button-pushers in Odd Future happily acknowledge and celebrate.

Between Friends and Rape Victim Advocates are two of several groups attending Pitchfork in an effort to raise awareness about violence against women and gays in counterpoint to Odd Future. Asked if those or similar groups will be represented on the Lollapalooza midway—which usually hosts a wide array of activists, from environmental and voter registration groups to the non-profit Parkways Foundation, which applies for all of the concert’s licenses—Lollapalooza spokeswoman Brittany Pearce responded via email.

 “We have not received any concerns from our ticketgoers regarding Eminem performing at Lollapalooza,” Pearce wrote. “We always address questions, concerns that come to our website accordingly.”

Since that didn’t answer the question, I repeated it in a second exchange. “We did not receive applications from any such groups,” Pearce wrote, echoing the excuse Pitchfork originally gave. “We do, however, support domestic violence shelters and human rights organizations through our charitable donations.”

Asked if Rape Victim Advocates and Between Friends are considering an attempt to raise awareness at Lollapalooza similar to what they are doing at Pitchfork, Sharmili Majmudar, executive director of the former, wrote, “We’ve been focused on Pitchfork, as you know, and so haven’t discussed Lolla yet, though I was very aware Eminem would be performing. As I had mentioned to you before, we are also planning to have at least one if not more follow-up events to continue the conversation about music, culture, violence, misogyny, homophobia, and responsibility…

“We are trying to promote having the larger, more nuanced conversation rather than targeting single artists/groups, especially since general critique around violent lyrics is disproportionately targeted towards hip-hop artists of color.”

Hip-hop artists may indeed get more flak for their homophobia and misogyny than, say, death metal bands or witch house groups. But then this critic would argue that Eminem and Odd Future both have made this kind of hate an emphatic and disproportionate part of their oeuvres, if not their key selling points, in contrast to Cannibal Corpse or Salem or, hey, the Rolling Stones of “Brown Sugar” and “Black and Blue.” We shouldn’t let any of them off the hook, either. But they aren’t playing a festival in a public park.

As noted when I first wrote about this issue in May, thanks to the Eminem and Odd Future bookings, this summer is a banner season for lyrics full of hateful fantasies about women and gays issuing from the big festival stages in Chicago’s parks—a fact that is all the more disturbing given the city’s statistics for sexual assaults (the Chicago Police crime index listed 1,359 cases in 2010) and the recent increase in violent crimes in Boystown. The Park District, however, does not seem any more concerned about the issue than Lollapalooza’s promoters are.

I’ve been chasing Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner for comment on this issue for weeks, and I finally told her that my deadline was 6 p.m. yesterday. If or when she or anyone else from the city responds, those comments will be posted.

UPDATED: "I am unable to comment at this time, as we have not been able to discuss the matter with Lollapalooza organizers," Maxey-Faulkner wrote on Thursday morning.

To be clear, only a fool would contend that hateful lyrics about women, gays, or anyone else directly prompt hateful actions; we aren’t yet such a nation of zombies that free will no longer exists. And only an idiot or a fascist would argue that these artists do not have the right to freely say anything they want to say; free speech does and needs to reign supreme.

But free speech does not mean that promoters have to book an act whose lyrics offend many of their concertgoers, and with which they themselves may disagree. They have chosen, for whatever reasons, to do so. And it’s the critic’s job to question that decision and to say whether or not that speech is art.

This critic believes that both Eminem and Tyler the Creator, the driving force behind Odd Future, are betraying their considerable talents as rappers and lyricists by dwelling on hateful, violent fantasies, which are, sadly, clichéd, redundant, intentionally disturbing, and ultimately pathetic for their transparent attempts to shock us. Nothing in popular culture ages or gets tiring more quickly than contrived shock. But that is not to say that, whatever the intention, the substance of those words should not be addressed. Words matter, and arguably in no genre more than in hip-hop, where the true measure of an artist remains the ability to thrill us with nothing more than a microphone and freestyle lyrical skills.

As someone who has covered both Lollapalooza and Pitchfork since their inceptions, both festivals originated as true alternatives to the kind of prejudices prevalent in too much mainstream culture. While they have never exactly been Woodstock, Lilith Fair, or a Gay Pride parade, they did once stand for exactly the opposite of the kind of hate and exclusion that Odd Future and Eminem proudly flaunt.

Yes, I remember the controversy that the original Lollapalooza faced in the early ’90s for the shortage of women on its bills, something it addressed by adding L7 and the Breeders to the lineup in 1994. And sure, the old Lollapalooza booked Ice-T’s Body Count, complete with its “Cop Killer” and home invasion fantasies. But the overall vibe of the old festival overwhelmingly was anti-hate and pro-inclusion, in large part due to that significant social activism component on the festival’s midway, which invariably spilled onto the stage.

Is the Grant Park Lollapalooza paying any more than lip service to social activism? Does it stand for anything other than booking the acts that will sell the most tickets, beer, and souvenir crap that weekend in the park? And will Lollapalooza reconsider, as Pitchfork did, the need to present the other side of the hatred heard onstage by inviting activists to provide the counterpoint at the concert?

At the moment, the answer to all of those questions seems to be “no.”

EARLIER REPORTS IN THIS BLOG ON PITCHFORK AND ODD FUTURE

July 13: Linksomania: More on Pitchfork, Odd Future and the advocacy groups

July 7: Better late than never: Pitchfork invites advocates to balance Odd Future

June 30: Pitchfork promoters to meet with rape and domestic violence groups

June 29: Domestic violence groups to protest Odd Future at Pitchfork

May 8: Odd Future/Pitchfork fallout

May 2: Pitchfork & Odd Future: Endorsing rape or showcasing art?

SOME OF THIS BLOGGER’S EARLIER CRITICISM OF AND REPORTING ABOUT EMINEM:

2009: Album review: Eminem, “Relapse”

2002: Eminem’s big mouth just melts

2001: Teens ‘stand up’ on Eminem